Mulan: Before the Sword, by Grace Lin

Grace Lin's Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a beloved classic, a story of a brave girl on a heroic quest that's sign-posted by stories.  Mulan: Before the Sword, her newest middle grade novel (Disney-Hyperion Februaru 2020), is another adventure in China of long ago, with another brave girl, on an adventure full of mythology and story and magical danger that is just as enchanting!

Mulan, clumsy and awkward, knows she's not a model daughter, like her sister Xia. But this hasn't made them any less fond of each other.  And so when Xia is bitten by a venomous spider, Mulan is willing to do whatever it takes to save her.  The Jade Rabbit of the Moon, the great healer of the immortals, just so happens to be in the nearby village in the guise of a man*, but the spider's poison is so strong that even he cannot save Xia without certain ingredients, including a flower that grows in the garden of the Queen Mother of the West.  But before the Rabbit can make the journey, two foxes (one white and one red) attack him, and he is poisoned by their bites, and cannot travel in his usual celestial way.  Mulan has a beautiful black horse, though, and volunteers to ride to the Queen Mother's garden with him.

And so they set off, but the white fox is no ordinary creature.  The reader learns about her twisted past and twisted schemes in the present both from the stories Rabbit tells as they travel, and through chapters from the perspective of the red fox, who is the white fox's unwilling servant.  The white fox, for reasons rooted in her dark past, wants Mulan's sister to die, and throws magical obstacles and dangers in the way of Mulan and the Rabbit.

Though in many ways it's a harrowing journey, and the White Fox is a conniving and sadistic antagonist, when I reached the end and considered it as a whole, it seemed to me a joyful book.  All the characters from the side stories are slotted into place, her sister is saved, the grown-up characters (Rabbit and another helpful divinity) are both supportive in a really nice way, and Mulan realizes that she has a great purpose in life.  I was a tad worried about this being a Disney tie-in, but Grace Lin has done a wonderful job making a new and heart-warming story.

Highly recommended!  I even enjoyed it more than the Mountain Meets the Moon books, although I did miss the beautiful illustrations in those books.

*because Mulan meets the Rabbit as a man, she genders them as "he", though they also can appear as as a woman; Rabbit does not object to this, and so I will also use "he/him."


  1. It seems something good can actually come of a movie tie-in! If this is even better than Where the Mountain Meets the Moon I'd love to read it.

    1. Not sure it it's necessarily better, but I enjoyed the story line more....

  2. My only disappointment with this book was no lovely illustrations in it the way Grace Lin included them in When the Mountain Meets the Moon series. Otherwise - it's perfect.

  3. That cover! It is gorgeous. You make the story sound pretty compelling. Thanks for your review.


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