Review of The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan

The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan
by Sherry Thomas
Middle School, High School    Tu/Lee & Low    348 pp.    g
9/19    978-1-62014-804-4    $19.95

Mulan has studied martial arts since childhood to prepare for her generation’s duel against a rival family for possession of two legendary swords. But the duel is postponed after the government announces a conscription to raise troops against an enemy invasion from across the Great Wall, and Mulan must answer the call — disguised as her deceased twin brother. At the muster, Mulan is assigned to serve the royal duke’s son. The princeling (who turns out to be none other than her rival for the swords) undertakes a covert intelligence mission across the Wall, and Mulan joins him and his team of trackers and fighters, going deep into enemy territory. Does the princeling suspect Mulan’s true gender, though? The portrayal of fifth-century China is engrossing, with descriptions of traditional foods, martial arts, and the flowery language of courtesy. The camaraderie among the princeling’s staff (and Mulan’s matchmaking between two of the men) will draw readers in, even as intrigue over a traitorous spy and a government coup heighten the suspense. It is Mulan’s story, however — her rocky introduction to combat and her growth in valor, plus the growing attraction between her and the princeling — that makes this revisioning of the ancient Chinese legend (that also inspired the animated Disney feature, scheduled for an upcoming live-action treatment) such a captivating tale.

From the September/October 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Anita L. Burkam
Anita L. Burkam
Horn Book reviewer Anita L. Burkam is former associate editor of The Horn Book Magazine.

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