Mulan-before-the-sword book cover

In Mulan: Before the Sword, Grace Lin takes her turn as storyteller of the Chinese folk tale of Mulan, female warrior of old. In Lin’s story, Mulan is a young teenager, living with her parents and younger sister.  When a magical spider bites her sister and sends her into a near-death state, Mulan summons a healer visiting her village. The healer can’t heal the sister right away, but he has a plan.

The healer turns out to really be the Jade Rabbit, a common character in Chinese folktales. With the Rabbit and eventually also Lu Ting-Pin, another immortal being from folk tradition, Mulan embarks on a quest to find the herbs needed to cure her sister, opposed every step of the way by a demon called the White Fox.

What’s so unusual about this story is the fact that it’s full of stories. Both the Rabbit and Lu Ting-Pin pause the action to tell Mulan stories from days of yore, and then pretty soon the characters and situations in those stories show up in Mulan’s story. It’s a very interesting technique that Lin calls layering.

Mulan is using her wits as weapons, not a sword. She is not a warrior yet. In fact, she struggles with her family’s gender expectations, which favor her feminine little sister and devalue much of what Mulan can do: ride a horse, speak her mind, and so on. At the start, Mulan feels pretty worthless. But finally, Mulan realizes she has a lot to contribute, too.

It’s a good story, well told. I’ll give it five stars. *****

Short Story by Phyllis Wheeler

Free short story! Subscribe to News and Reviews.

You can unsubscribe at any time! I'll never share your email address.

Check your email, including spam folders!

Share This

Share this with your friends!