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The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan

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CHINA, 484 A.D.

A Warrior in Disguise
All her life, Mulan has trained for one purpose: to win the duel that every generation in her family must fight. If she prevails, she can reunite a pair of priceless heirloom swords separated decades earlier, and avenge her father, who was paralyzed in his own duel.

Then a messenger from the Emperor arrives, demanding that all families send one soldier to fight the Rouran invaders in the north. Mulan's father cannot go. Her brother is just a child. So she ties up her hair, takes up her sword, and joins the army as a man.

A War for a Dynasty
Thanks to her martial arts skills, Mulan is chosen for an elite team under the command of the princeling--the royal duke's son, who is also the handsomest man she's ever seen. But the princeling has secrets of his own, which explode into Mulan's life and shake up everything she knows. As they cross the Great Wall to face the enemy beyond, Mulan and the princeling must find a way to unwind their past, unmask a traitor, and uncover the plans for the Rouran invasion . . . before it's too late.

Inspired by wuxia martial-arts dramas as well as the centuries-old ballad of Mulan, The Magnolia Sword is perfect for fans of Renee Ahdieh, Marie Lu, or Kristin Cashore--a thrilling, romantic, and sharp-edged novel that lives up to its beloved heroine.

348 pages, Hardcover

First published September 10, 2019

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About the author

Sherry Thomas

35 books6,258 followers
USA Today-bestselling author Sherry Thomas decided years ago that her goal in life is to write every kind of book she enjoys reading. Thus far she has published romance, fantasy, mystery, young adult, and three books inspired by the martial arts epics she grew up devouring. Her books regularly receive starred reviews and best-of-the-year honors from trade publications, including such outlets as the New York Times and National Public Radio.

A Study in Scarlet Women, A Conspiracy in Belgravia, and The Hollow of Fear, the first three entries in her gender-bending Lady Sherlock historical mystery series, are all NPR best books of the year. The Magnolia Sword, her 2019 release, is the first young adult retelling of the original Ballad of Mulan in the English language.

Sherry emigrated from China at age 13 and English is her second language.

“Sherry Thomas has done the impossible and crafted a fresh, exciting new version of Sherlock Holmes. From the carefully plotted twists to the elegant turns of phrase, A Study in Scarlet Women is a splendid addition to Holmes’s world. This book is everything I hoped it would be, and the next adventure cannot come too soon!” —Deanna Raybourn, New York Times bestselling author

“Thomas weaves a lush, intricate fantasy world around a gorgeous romance that kept me riveted until the very last page. What a breathtaking journey!” (Marie Lu, New York Times bestselling author of the Legend series )

"Sherry Thomas is the most powerfully original historical romance author writing today."—Lisa Kleypas, New York Times bestselling author

Visit Sherry at her website

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5 stars
1,304 (37%)
4 stars
1,373 (39%)
3 stars
603 (17%)
2 stars
147 (4%)
1 star
26 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 697 reviews
June 28, 2020
I'll be honest, I have a soft spot for this novel because I'm a simp for fancy, flashy martial arts (points for style, right?).

The prose is simplistic and trim, and yet richly atmospheric. The author has a clear vision for the settings, and it's obvious in the traces of her figurative brush, from the vibrant, deliberate dabs to the subtle touches, all coalescing into artistically authentic vignettes of fifth-century China.
It's proof of all the research that has been put into this—that the descriptions are, to me, at once foreign and familiar, as if full of imagined pasts and missed memories and a longing for a home I'd never been to (don't judge, just my smol Chinese heart getting nostalgia for thousands of years ago).

The plot hits all the right notes—at times, it's tense and energetic, and at times, it's soft, poignant and full of deeper thought. And the romantic elements are threaded so seamlessly throughout, from the deliberate ambiguity of dialogue (haha double entendre, lobe it) to scenes of tender and uninhibited vulnerability (for sanity's sake, kiss already).

Profile Image for Cindy ✩☽♔.
976 reviews776 followers
Want to read
February 9, 2019
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I really hope this is legit.

Ooo this finally has a title! The Magnolia part really makes me think of the Mulan Chinese drama I watched a while back.
Profile Image for April (Aprilius Maximus).
1,089 reviews6,594 followers
November 11, 2019
“What is courage but strength in the face of fear?”

representation: own voices Chinese rep, gay rep, disabilities (father is paralysed from the waist down and another character has an unspecified disability (I honestly think the disability rep is verrryyyyyy questionable).

[trigger warnings are listed at the bottom of this review and may contain spoilers]

✧・゚: *✧・゚:* 3 . 5 s t a r s *:・゚✧*:・゚✧

I was SO excited for this book. A Mulan retelling???? by a Chinese author???? YES, YES AND YES PLEASE. And it was good? But I definitely had some issues with it, so let's get into it.

So this story follows Hua Mulan (obviously lol). When she was just a child, her twin brother tragically died and instead of removing his name from the official records, her father removed Mulan's name and made her pretend to be him ever since she was young. Only her family members know her true identity. At the beginning of the book we learn that her family has also been in a centuries-long feud with another family and each generation, the heirs get together for a duel. Mulan has gone out 3 times for a practice duel with the other heir, but they always cover their faces whenever they duel. Then the war comes and each household must send one man to fight and of course, Mulan goes. When she arrives at the war camp, however, one of the royal duke's sons happens to be there.... and he looks very familiar.....

Sounds amazing right?? And to start off with, it was! The story was so fun, the chemistry and tension between the two main characters was SO good, and I was loving it! But then came the VERY questionable disability representation. Mulan's father was hurt during his duel back in the day and is now paralysed from the waist down. The way these characters view his disability is honestly terrible. There is use of a slur and it's implied that because of his disability his life is awful. It's also implied that another character has a disability that I cannot name (it's not explicitly stated), but it's said that "he is in his early thirties but still has the mind of a child" and that "he becomes anxious and difficult to manage when he is farther than twenty paces away from his mother" and just... yikes. I even read the notes at the back of the book and the acknowledgements to see if the author had any experience with these disabilities or if anyone helped her write about them but there was unfortunately nothing (but please note that I read an ARC version).

Another thing that let me down is how confusing one of the families was. I was like... okay so she's his aunt but married his father so is now her stepmother....


Aaaaand one last thing (i promise this review isn't all negative lol), but the ending, in my opinion, was very underwhelming. It started getting so exciting and there was an epic battle but then.... everything that happened was so conveniently wrapped up and anticlimactic and just... I wanted more :(

BUT I loved how much research went into this and I LOVED being transported back to this time. I could picture everything so perfectly in my mind! I also loved, like I said earlier, the chemistry between the two main characters, but I wish we got a bit more romance.

Overall, I enjoyed it, but some of it really let me down. But don't take my word for the rep. I'd definitely recommend checking out some own voices reviews! (I'll try and find some when I'm not about to fall asleep haha)

“A Heart As Limitless As The Sea.”

trigger warnings: slurs (cr*pple), very questionable disability rep, sexism, death of loved ones (in the past), war and everything that comes with it (death, gore, murder, violence, etc.)

Huge thank you to Allen and Unwin Australia for the ARC!
Profile Image for Nina.
306 reviews408 followers
Want to read
September 29, 2017
Last time a book lured me in with the promise of a Mulan retelling, I was so disappointed because the storyline barely resembled Mulan, save for the fact that the heroine dressed as a boy (yes, Flame in the Mist, I'm looking at you). But this premise sounds more like an actual retelling. Written by a Chinese-American author who knows her shit. So, you'd better deliver me what you promise, book!

Profile Image for Krystal.
1,360 reviews352 followers
September 16, 2020
Loved the martial arts, liked the characters, not a fan of the war strategy.

Also super weird reading a rather modern, first person account of something that allegedly was taking place back in 484 AD.

But I liked it nonetheless.

One of the best things about this book, in my opinion, is Mulan's fear. She's a trained warrior, which is excellent, and she is loyal to her family, so she doesn't think twice about enlisting to save the rest of her family. Her intentions are honourable. But she wants to come home to them, so if that means hiding out on the sidelines then that's what she'll do. When she does finally see battle, there's no fancy fighting - there's just Mulan dealing with the first serious fight she's ever been involved in and her reaction is raw and real. She's terrified - as anyone would be.

It's lacking the fun of the Disney version, and there's a lot more emphasis on China politics at the time. There's no Mushu or lucky cricket sadly, and there's a serious tone to the whole thing that did unfortunately drag it down for me. But the characters to serve to lighten the mood a little - particularly Kedan, who I was quick to take a liking to.

The martial arts scenes were clearly written by an author who did her research. This was probably my favourite part of the book, reading the intricate details and the strategy of each fighter. I loved it all. Plus I really enjoyed the chemistry between Mulan and Kai when they're fighting - both with and against each other.

I have mixed feelings about it being a YA novel, because the tone seemed wrong to me - it was light on details and the language was modern, so it failed to properly immerse me in the setting of ancient China. But, at the same time, I wasn't particularly keen on all those details anyway so I'm kind of glad it skimmed over it all.

In the end, it was an easy read with some memorable moments, but nothing particularly special. I found it a little bland, but it was a decent re-telling of the legend.
Profile Image for Mlpmom (Book Reviewer).
2,981 reviews363 followers
September 9, 2019
If there was one person I knew I could trust to do a retelling of the Mulan ballad, it would be Sherry Thomas.

I am so pleased to say that trust wasn't misplaced because not only was this an incredible read but it was captivating, entertaining and had enough of Sherry's creative imagination added to the story that it almost felt like it could stand up all on it's own and not even be a retelling, while still maintaining the integrity of the original. It short, it was breathtaking.

So hard to put down, so beautifully done, and so completely addicting. I truly did not want this story to end and I loved every heart stopping, heart warming, heart pounding page of it.

*ARC provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*
Profile Image for Cheryl Klein.
Author 5 books848 followers
March 25, 2019
This is the first novel I signed up as an editor at Lee & Low, and it has all the excellent things you want a Mulan retelling to have: a Mulan who's figuring out who she is, an epic sweep in the war against the Northerners, family drama, terrific fight scenes, romance. I've loved reading every draft, and I think readers will love it too.
Profile Image for Mogsy (MMOGC).
2,004 reviews2,596 followers
September 3, 2019
5 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum https://bibliosanctum.com/2019/08/31/...

After consistently being disappointed by so many books described as “Mulan retellings”, you can probably understand why I went into The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan with no small amount of trepidation (though of course I could hardly resist it). And quite honestly? I was blown away by this “Own Voices” novel. Sherry Thomas has written a refreshing new take on this famous Chinese folktale about the legendary female warrior, applying her own unique approach to the portrayal while staying faithful to the original story and ensuring historical and linguistic accuracy.

In this version of the tale, Hua Mulan has always been a skilled fighter. Each generation, the Huas and their rivals the Yuans vie for the honor to safeguard the two fabled swords named Sky Blade and Heart Sea, the outcome determined by a duel between one representative from each family. From a young age, Mulan has been trained for the role by her father, who made her disguise herself as a boy and take on the name of her twin brother who died in infancy. If she wins her duel against her Yuan challenger, Sky Blade and Heart Sea will be reunited under their house, and she will also score a major victory in the feud between their two families, avenging her father who was maimed in his own duel a generation before.

However, right before the duel, the Huas receive a letter from her opponent requesting the match to be postponed. War is brewing, and it seems the Yuans must focus their attentions elsewhere. At first, Mulan’s father regards the missive as a snub, until a messenger from the Emperor arrives at their own village along with a royal decree demanding each family put forth a male recruit for the war effort. To protect her little brother, who is too young, and her father, who is disabled and too old, Mulan decides to enlist using her male persona. On her first day in the army, she manages to impress the son of the duke with her martial arts skills, earning herself a place among his elite guard. To her surprise though, the position is not the safe assignment that she had expected. The young princeling is determined to fight on the front lines, and when Mulan discovers the secret he has been hiding, she realizes they may be in more danger than she thought.

Inspired by the traditions of wuxia, a genre which translates to “martial-chivalric” fiction, Sherry Thomas spins an epic tale of courage and adventure. I adored her depiction of Mulan, who embodies all the traits we think about when it comes to the character—fiercely independent, altruistic, and honorable. At the same time, the narrative never lets us forget that behind all that armor, our protagonist is a teenager, and wholly human. She is everything we want out of a kickass heroine, and yet still has a vulnerable side to her that makes her sympathetic and easy to relate to.

The story also takes place in 5th century China, during a period known as the Northern and Southern dynasties which was marked by much political unrest. Frequent references are made to these conflicts between the north and south, creating an atmosphere of tension that pervades through the entire novel. Major kudos to the author for doing what must have been a staggering amount research to get certain details as accurate as possible, and her afterword at the end of the book, including historical and linguistic notes, was a fascinating look into that process.

I really enjoyed the story as well, and the way it retained its folktale roots. Action played a large part, featuring both close-quartered martial arts and large-scale fighting in heated battles. But my favorite scenes were always the quieter moments where we got to explore the character relationships. There is a super sweet romance between our protagonist and her love interest, a man who is as honorable and brave as she is. They were certainly well matched, and I was rooting for them every step of the way. I was also glad this story shone a light on Mulan and the love and respect she has for her father, which a surprising number of retellings tend to neglect, considering his role in her decision to enlist in the army in his place. The Magnolia Sword adds another complex layer to their bond, making the final chapter with Mulan’s homecoming and seeing her father again even more touching and poignant.

Bottom line, I just loved this. The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan is one of the best Young Adult novels—and easily my favorite retelling—that I’ve read so far this year. A very satisfying novel overall, which filled me with all kinds of warm and happy feelings when it was over. Highly recommended!
Profile Image for julianna ➹.
207 reviews264 followers
Want to read
February 19, 2019
ownvoices mulan retelling ownvoices mulan retelling ownvoices mulan retelling ownvoices mulan retelling ownvoices mulan retelling ownvoices mulan retelling ownvoices mulan retelling ownvoices mulan retelling ownvoices mulan retelling ownvoices mulan retelling ownvoices mulan retelling ownvoices mulan retelling ownvoices mulan retelling ownvoices mulan retelling ownvoices mulan retelling ownvoices mulan retelling

also hello title!! The Magnolia Sword sounds amazing
Profile Image for Zitong Ren.
504 reviews152 followers
February 12, 2020
The Magnolia Sword is a retelling of Mulan I believe and is set in the same time period as the legend turned Disney film. I don’t actually know all that much about Mulan as most people would know her since I, shamefully have not seen the Disney film. Which, I understand, may be shocking. This does man I don’t know a whole lot about her story beyond the fact that she did have to dress as a male and enter conscription. I got this part from the story, the rest I have no idea about.

I did happen to enjoy this novel, and recently, it seems that I am picking shorter books more often than note which is interesting, as it shows that I’m reading less heavy fantasy and branching out into different genres which I like. This time, it was historical fiction, but also a retelling at the same time. It’s set in the Northern and Southern dynasties period in Chinese history, but was a period of political turmoil, after the collapse of the Han and before the rise of the Sui. I really do love historical setting, especially in Eastern settings so the world was an absolute treat for me.

Now, some may have noted the three star rating. For some reason, this makes it seem negative, but it’s not, it just means that whilst I enjoyed it, it simply was not my favourite thing in the world. I certainly thought that it was good, but it didn’t happen to be the best thing I’ve ever read. I did like the fact at how the author did take the time to research the time period so that it would be as accurate as possible while telling a story in that period of history. There is often nothing worse when being a history nerd and seeing obvious inaccuracies in the text. It’s painful.

I found the plot to be engaging and I was invested in it and I really enjoyed reading about most of the characters. For some reason, I almost wished that it could be just a bit more thrilling, since whilst there are really cool sword fight scenes, there are also parts where it seems to slow down quite a bit. Though I will say that the ending was handled really well and didn’t expect some of the things to happen as it did. There is a fair bit of travelling in this book, but I didn’t really mind that since we get to explore the landscape and I’ve rad enough fantasy at this point the I can actually appreciate really long travel scenes.

There does happen to be a sort of romance between Kai and Mulan. There is really nice chemistry between the two of them and the interactions and dialogue between them was expertly handled. However, I almost wished that there was a but more passion in their actions, although, I understand that this was 5th century China and upon looking at it, what the author did do fit the time period much better as too much love before marriage would probably have been unseemly and quite inaccurate for the time period.

I suppose that if you are a Mulan fan, then this book is well written with well realised characters to I recommend this book to you. Even if you are not a Mulan fan but looking for some Chinese historical fiction, then this book might not be a bad one to check out. 6.5/10
Profile Image for Barb in Maryland.
1,843 reviews106 followers
September 25, 2019
All the stars. Plus another star for the gorgeous cover.

10 year old me would have bought this with my own money and then read it to pieces. It has everything the younger me wanted in a story--real history, action, adventure, and Romance.

70 year old me wants the same things in a story and this one satisfied me right down to my bones. The characters are real people, with flaws and strengths and the ability to grow emotionally. The prose is fluid and rich, without being ornate or overblown. The author gives us political intrigue, treachery, marvelous sword fights and other derring-do; all of which is balanced by fellowship among the small band, humor, loyalty, and courage.
The current feud between Hua Mulan's family and Yuan Kai's has a heartbreaking foundation; the romance between our two young protagonists is very satisfying. Tissues may be needed near the end.

I will be buying a copy of this for my sister and one for myself. I don't know if the book will be 'read to pieces', but it will be close to hand, ready for me to re-read as the mood strikes. I feel sure it will strike often.
Profile Image for Namera [The Literary Invertebrate].
1,180 reviews2,804 followers
April 25, 2019
Every woman has a great deal of experience presenting herself as someone other than who she is, since no girl is ever everything the world wants her to be.

OH MY GOD, YOU GUYS. This is, without a doubt, the BEST Mulan retelling I have ever read.

Granted, I don’t remember having read a huge number of Mulan retellings. But this one is definitely still the best, by any margin. It’s gloriously well-researched, with spectacular characterisation and writing, and though I’ve rounded down (because I’m a stingy bitch) this is really 4.5 stars.

Nineteen-year-old Hua Mulan has spent her life masquerading as her dead twin brother. She’s trained and trained for one purpose: one day soon, she will have to meet a young man named Kai in a duel. Their families have been rivals for generations, and every generation, two representatives are forced into combat. The prize? Ownership of the swords Heart Sea and Sky Blade, two swords of extraordinary quality and craftsmanship.

Currently, each family owns one sword. Mulan’s father’s duel ended in a tie, but it left him paralysed, so she will also have to avenge this insult when the time comes for her own duel. Her skill at weaponry is second to none. In her own words:
I can make getting hit with a lotus seed paste bun hurt. Give me a walnut and I will break a man’s jaw.

Just as the day of the duel approaches, though, she’s hit with news. It turns out the duel won’t be taking place after all. The country is under imminent threat of invasion from the Rourans across the Great Wall of China, and Kai – whose face Mulan has never actually seen – is postponing it, since every available male has been conscripted into the army.

Every available male does, of course, also include Mulan, since she’s officially registered as male. So she sets off to the encampment – but she has no intention of dying in battle. Instead, she attaches herself to the personal warrior band of the princeling, cousin to the emperor, assuming he’s too important to see real fighting.

Can I just pause here for a moment and say how much I LOVED Mulan’s thought process here? She’s patriotic, but not blindly so; she’s smart and pragmatic enough to know that she doesn’t want to die on the battlefield, and she doesn’t care if other people would label her a coward for it. I found this aspect of her character way more realistic than the idealistic naïfs I’ve read about in other books.

Unfortunately for her, she’s incorrect about the princeling not seeing real war. But that ends up being alright, because she very quickly discovers that Kai and the princeling are one and the same. The discovery shatters some of the things she’s always believed about herself, her father, and the fateful duel which paralysed him. Moreover, the princeling is still unaware that she’s female, despite their growing friendship.

The rest of the novel is a wonderfully detailed account of a single moment from China’s immense history. Thomas researched the HELL out of this thing. Her author’s note says it better than I could, but she’s done her absolute best to recreate the world of Mulan in historical fiction. It was slightly confusing at times, yet never boring. That’s also because of her brilliant characterisation : almost every single character was fully fleshed out, and their motivations were explored in painstaking detail.

Also, I LOVED the really immersive look at Chinese culture we got. The matchmakers, the intense level of respect towards one’s elders, the elaborate courtly language – it all helped to build the atmosphere, even if Thomas’s descriptions of physical places was sometimes weak.

It was a quick read, so I won’t say much more beyond the fact that the romance was subtle but fairly satisfying. The girl-dressed-as-boy aspect was one of the more believable ones I’ve seen in the book world, though I wish we knew what she did when she got her period…


It didn’t really bring a new twist to the old story of Mulan, or anything like that, but it was lovely to read.

ARC received in exchange for an honest review - thank you!

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Profile Image for Darcey.
913 reviews192 followers
March 26, 2020
this was really cute!! my third Mulan retelling, and i loved it. the characters were well-done and really sweet, the plot twists were actually pretty shocking, and the bad-assery of Mulan was legendary. plus i loved the friendship that built between Mulan and the other men, it was really cute and i wish we got more of it! i also wish we got more romance... what can i say, i'm feeling smut deprived between Mulan and Kai. ah well, still amazing!!
Profile Image for ~Rajeswari~.
152 reviews33 followers
July 5, 2021
Every woman has a great deal of experience presenting herself as someone other than who she is, since no girl is ever everything the world wants her to be.

• Oriental Chinese Playlist-Yuecubed(Youtube Channel)
• Loyal Brave True-Christina Aguilera
• Reflection(Mandarin Version)-Yifei Liu
• Bamboo Flute-TaiGekTou(Youtube Channel)
• A beautiful myth-Chiki Chan(Youtube Channel)

The first written record of Mulan is the Ballad of Mulan, a folk song believed to have been composed during the Northern Wei dynasty (386–535 AD).Mulan got famous after Disney decided to include her in their set of princesses.I have always loved Mulan as a child and didn’t leave one adaptation of Mulan unseen.
Why would you love a cloth-clad innocent princess when you can love a fierce, brave and true fighter woman?!
This adaptation of Mulan was appeasing.I would have loved to see more Mulan-Kai scenes.The other characters were built with exceptional care too.As the plot was predetermined, the author couldn’t glamorize it anymore.The traitorous characters were also well assembled.
I would have loved to see more details about The then Chinese architecture.I loved the serenity of Ancient Chinese Constructions when I visited China.Some scenes were a bit fast-paced.Other than that, this book was addictive.
My heart is happy🎎

Profile Image for Dani ❤️ Perspective of a Writer.
1,512 reviews5 followers
October 8, 2019
Check out more reviews @ Perspective of a Writer...

The Buzz

Mulan retellings are such fun! I love crossdressing Asian girls who just want to be acknowledged. I liked the sound of an elite team and an almost Romeo and Juliet inspired family feud.

The cover is so pretty! I wasn't sure about the cumbersome title... The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan ... come on! What a mouthful!! I thought the cover made it pretty obvious it was a Mulan retelling without the whole Mulan in big letters. I do however really love The Magnolia Sword part of the title. I think it makes the book stand out. While I didn't mind the vector nature of the illustration I could also envision a really pretty cover with a realistic sword and magnolia blossoms.

The Premise

Mulan has been training to win the duel she must fight against a rival family. When the Emperor announces war against invaders and a draft Mulan must fight in that too!

I loved Mulan. She made a lot of sense to me. Being raised as a boy she isn't overly dramatic or emotional. She's had to hide her feelings and sex for so long. But that doesn't stop her from doing womanly chores to help their servant. Nor does it keep her from doting on her little brother. She loves and respects her paralyzed father and appreciates that she is more educated than most woman, but she also wonders why he can't love her as a girl.

One of the things that I always have to suspend disbelief on in a Mulan retelling is the fact that a woman in a war situation is not going to fare as well as a man. It's not a one on one battle. It's a free for all. With The Magnolia Sword we get a Mulan who understands that the likelihood that she'll die is high. She maneuvers her way into a situation to up her odds. It could have been totally contrived how she met the prince and his connection to her family... but its made really clear early on that things aren't as they seem.

The Magnolia Sword isn’t what you expect... war torn battles with our little trained Mulan kicking ass against knights twice her size and quadruple her weight. This is a small group of spies learning about the hidden truth of a war about to get real. It reminded me of Kim by Rudyard Kipling except it’s a prince and a cross dressing woman who reveals the plot. Mulan's reactions take into account that she's been trained for a duel... not war. I really appreciated that and loved that the focus was more on her ability to think on her feet than stand up to men in battle.

Later as she gets closer to Kai I really appreciated how her strengths as a woman shined. It was about more than the fact he's a pretty face and she's able to be in intimate situations with a man during a time this isn't typically allowed. They come to rely on one another and share fears instead. It's about being equals in more than swordsmanship. The Magnolia Sword was an unexpectedly touching romance! But don't worry... the results of their spying and the duel are epic and well worth the wait too.

My Experience

The Magnolia Sword feels very true to the historical China time period its set in. And a lot of that has to do with the subtly brilliant way details about the culture at the time were woven into the story. They arose naturally in the narrative at times when it makes sense this small detail should be explained. We didn't get anything like an info dump! Instead consistently through the story moments for culture were created. It made for a really believable Mulan retelling!

The other consistent thing sprinkled throughout are mentions of different training of her father’s or skills she had or hadn't learned. I love this! It fit where it was mentioned but it’s nice to get a real sense of what she can and can't do. These moments worked really well with Mulan’s thought process. I enjoyed following her around and felt her experience was very natural too. One of the hardest things for a writer to do well is getting the world and the plot to flow together in a believable way. Sherry Thomas nailed it!

The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan was a Chinese treat!! I didn't expect to be so blown away with this Mulan retelling... It's not quite what you expect but I found that to be just perfect, giving us something subtly different and more realistic.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Authenticity
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Writing Style
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Plot & Pacing
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ World Building
B- Cover & Title grade

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review. It has not influenced my opinions.

You can find this review and many others on my book blog @ Perspective of a Writer. Read my special perspective under the typewriter on my reviews...

Please like this review if you enjoyed it! *bow* *bow* It helps me out a ton!!
Profile Image for Jeann (Happy Indulgence) .
1,003 reviews3,292 followers
September 11, 2020
This is such an amazing retelling of Mulan (the Ballad, not the Disney flick) covering a period in Ancient China where the tensions between each region are intensifying! I loved the martial arts, getting to know different regions from within China and even her background was really fascinating.

Full review to come!


This review was originally posted on Happy Indulgence Books. Check it out for more reviews!

Looking for a more accurate retelling of Mulan, rather than the Disney live action? Look no further than The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan! It’s based off the Ballad of Mulan poem from Northern Dynasties China, telling a story of a young girl who dresses up as a male and goes to fight the war for China. But there’s no Mushu or catchy tunes – instead, there’s a heavy focus on the historical tensions between Chinese nations during the War, uncovering the history behind Mulan and the prince, and wuxia martial art (which I lapped up)!

Any novel set in historical China is going to be challenge, due to the amount of inconsistent recording of texts, but I loved how the author pieced together 484 AD China where Mulan’s journey begins. One thing I found interesting about the world of Magnolia Sword, is that we often think of China as a unified nation. But here we see a cultural melting pot of different regional influences within China, from the language, how their names have been adapted and even the marginalisation that people from different regions may experience (even between the nomadic Han Chinese and other regions such as Xianbei and Yuan). Ethnicity is never something that is homogenous, and Magnolia Sword highlights several differences within Ancient China, that leads to its unified identity today.

As someone who was raised by traditional Chinese parents, I found many of the discussions about the role of respecting your elders, family loyalty, and even gendered roles to be very relatable. Magnolia Sword explores how traditional Chinese women are to behave when it comes to males, from their place in society, to how having sons is important (to pass on the family name), and how you’re taught to obey and to “be a good wife”. With her very presence and how she becomes a respected xiong-di (brother) within her peers in the army, Mulan battles against everything she’s brought up to believe in and what she believes is the right thing to do.

Even the background of Mulan’s upbringing and why she has been brought up with martial arts and dresses like a man is explored in depth. Following the death of her twin brother, her father has treated her like a son, and although she has never contested with his decision (after all, filial piety is a part of being a good daughter), her insecurities when it comes to her identity and belonging is explored.

I enjoyed the development between Mulan and Kai, the Princeling, especially when it came to their age long family history with one another, but I did wish there was more in the romantic department. I was a big fan of the martial arts within the book and how exciting the action scenes were, and even the history behind the named swords – Sky Blade and Sky Sea.

If you’re interested in knowing more about historical China or you want to know a bit more about Mulan than what the Disney movie offers, The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan is a fantastic #ownvoices Mulan retelling that does the story justice.

I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Brie.
383 reviews93 followers
May 16, 2019
I don't usually do early reviews, but when I do, it's because the book was very good. And this one is better than that.

This book is so sweet and elegant and with so much restraint. There's not an extra ounce of fat in it but just the right amount to give it all the flavor; everything has a reason to be, and the world is so seamlessly rendered that it was easy to just be in it and let the story take me where it wanted. Mulan is a wonderful heroine, and so are all the the other characters. The romance is subtle but incredibly satisfying and super swoony. I really adored this novel. And the story is so thematically rich but never overwhelming. Just fabulous.
Profile Image for Amanda.
578 reviews62 followers
September 7, 2019
From the minute I learned that Sherry Thomas was writing a YA Mulan retelling, I could barely contain my excitement. Like many others my age who grew up with the Disney renaissance, I am a fan of the Disney movie, but I knew that was a very... Disney-fied version of the story. However, I just knew this was going to be good, and I couldn't wait to read an ownvoices Mulan retelling. I wasn't that familiar with the story aside from Disney, but from what I can tell, this book sticks closer to the more traditional folklore in terms of the setting and the central conflict. So don't go into this expecting a character-by-character match-up given Disney of course put its own spin on it.

I don't want to give too much of the plot away, so I'll just say that the basic story--Mulan disguising herself as a man to join the army when each family is required to send one able-bodied man from each household as a conscript--remains the same. Except this story goes a step further and introduces a really interesting rivalry between Mulan's family and another family, during which generations have fought over control of two almost identical "twin" swords. The title is therefore a play on both the name Mulan and the fact that Mulan possesses one of the two swords. This book also puts a wuxia spin on the story, which was a deliberate choice by Thomas and a brilliant one. I could honestly read a hundred wuxia-inspired novels by Sherry Thomas or any novels set in historical China. (Read her Heart of the Blade duology if you haven't already!)

This is not a capital-R romance, but there is a lovely romantic subplot/arc that runs throughout the story, and it will make you swoon. There are also so many strong friendships and an element of found family for me (even though Mulan has a family).

There are so many other things I want to discuss, including the treatment of romantic and platonic relationships between men in this story (which, based on brief research I did, wasn't necessarily uncommon or taboo in ancient China?), but that would involve spoilers. I will just say that I appreciated it, as minor as it was.

I tend to have very intense reactions to books immediately after finishing them, so part of me feels like I need to take a step back, but my instinct right now is to say this has easily become one of my favorite books of hers. I only put it down when I fell asleep or had to go to work today!

(Note: I received a copy of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.)
Profile Image for Mango.
208 reviews303 followers
December 3, 2022
THIS WAS SO CUTE. Mulan was an absolute girl boss!! I love how the romance wasn't the main thing the author focussed on, but rather Mulan and the prince's character development. LOVE IT DEFINITELY RECOMMEND IT!!
Profile Image for aarya.
1,209 reviews
September 12, 2022
Reread on September 11, 2022: What do I have to do for Sherry Thomas to write historical romance again??? Read via audio (narrated by Emily Woo Zeller).


First read on July 20, 2019:

2019 Ripped Bodice Summer Bingo: YA Historical

A- review: https://smartbitchestrashybooks.com/r...

Disclaimer: I received a free e-ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Ruth.
658 reviews257 followers
February 21, 2021
4 Sterne. Kurzweilige Mulan-Neuerzählung, die in genug Punkten anders erzählt wurde und sich die Figuren dadurch überhaupt nicht schablonenhaft angefühlt haben. Gleichzeitig war The Magnolia Sword weniger "episch" als die bekannten Mulan-Verfilmungen (nicht schlecht, nur anders).
Profile Image for Sara Saif.
543 reviews220 followers
December 8, 2019

- Of course, I loved this book, it was frickin' perfect.
- It was like Mulan, but not like Mulan.
- Mulan was badass, as usual.
- The historical aspect of it was intriguing.
- It's written by Sherry Thomas whose writing I was already a fan of before, and, whose female protagonists tend to pretend to be men, apparently. Iolanthe Seabourne from her Elemental trilogy passed herself as a boy too.
- I just had an amazing time reading this book. I didn't want to take breaks and stop reading, it was that good!
Profile Image for USOM.
2,332 reviews193 followers
August 29, 2019
(Disclaimer: I received this book from Edelweiss. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)

The Magnolia Sword is a story of finding our courage. There’s the thrill of swordplay, the right amount of swoon, and the question of stories. In a world that relies on our stories, how can we know that the version we know is the truth?

I have read a few other Sherry Thomas books, very much enjoying the Sherlock Holmes’ retellings, and now I can add The Magnolia Sword to the list. The characters come alive in this book. Living in the shadow of a duel, Mulan doesn’t want to live in the shadow of a duel, never measuring up, and being entangled in a conflict before our time. Foodies all around will adore this book because it will make your mouth water.

full review: https://utopia-state-of-mind.com/revi...
Profile Image for Janani(ஜனனி)⁷.
591 reviews232 followers
February 20, 2020
now that i have read a retelling of Mulan, i'm soooo excited for the live action movie(adored the animated one, mind you) coming next month. nothing or no one(cough cough) could spoil the excitement for me!

1) i had such a fun reading. i could've finished it in one shot but life happens. sighs. the pace was soooo good that i couldn't stop in the middle of a fight. it was alomost 400 pages but felt like such a short read. gimme more please.

2) writing was *chef kiss* the action scenes were so well written that i was practically swinging the heart sea blade.

3) could i say that this ship comes under the category enemies-to-lovers. i mean they have been told from the birth that one should slay another in the duel? also i'm so glad that they didn't eat their faces in the middle of a war. that would have got me on nerves.

4) i couldn't even remember all the english names then how in the name of hell could i remember the chinese names. lmao. i was like i see you but don't remember you.

5) i loved how she was proud of her own growth. self care is important especially when you have to deceive the entire world by being another person.
Profile Image for Nadja.
1,531 reviews59 followers
October 6, 2019
Somewhere between two and three stars. I liked the novel in general but was disappointed at the same time. Mulan is a brave woman in the original ballad but lacks colour and character here. I expected more thrilling action and oh how I hate .
42 reviews2 followers
September 12, 2019
There is a first time for everything - and this is the first book by Sherry Thomas I was truly unhappy with. According to the rules of entertainment it commits the most inexcusable violation of them all:


I do understand that the author wanted to show the world of Mulan’s China as accurate as possible, but to me the book comes across as a series of info-dumping specifications instead of a lively, fleshed-out story.

The first and biggest mistake - in my opinion - was the choice to narrate in present tense. It distinctly enhanced the sensation of a two-dimensional picture description and completely killed the pacing of the adventure story.

Another suspense killer was the multitude of courteous flowery phrases and explanations for who has to kowtow to whom and why. Sure, authenticity again, I get it, but oh dear, it was a bit too much and made the already drudging reading feel even more stilted.

The emphasis of the journey is placed on the journey itself. Our little group travels on horseback, it is cold, often dark, nothing happens, nobody talks, everybody is tired, me included. Very interesting indeed.

Furthermore, the author should have deepened her investigation of martial arts. Eastern fighting techniques never are simply a series of highly accomplished physical moves but always originate in the human search for personal growth. While Mulan seemed to outclass just about anyone with her parlour tricks the true benefits of martial arts training must have gone over her head - her insecurities, self-pity and craving for parental recognition take up a great part of the book. Her mind set was that of a raw rookie instead of the adept master she was supposed to be.

Sure, I am not part of the peer group - I am not a YA. But I also read the Elemental Trilogy and loved it. I think the problem of this book lies in its origins: it is the result of somebody else's brainchild and lots of historical data collection. And that is why here comes my concluding request to Kristin Nelson, the agent who proposed the writing of The Magnolia Sword:

Please don’t impose any more of your ideas for future books on Ms Thomas. Let her come up with her own stuff. It works so much better when she writes the stories she really needs to tell.
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