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Mulan Must-Reads: 7 Epic Books with Women Warriors

by  | March 16
Books in a row

As a child, I was absolutely obsessed with Mulan. I was the proud owner of four Mulan Barbie dolls collected across multiple birthdays, the Mulan computer game, the Mulan soundtrack, and—of course—Mulan on VHS. And there’s no question that I’ve seen the movie several hundred times. So, I was definitely excited when the Mulan live-action remake was first announced, and I’ve been thrilled to hear this film will stay closer to the source material—even if we’re losing everyone’s favorite talking dragon. (Never fear. You can always rewatch the original film for more dishonor to be placed upon your cow.) While the movie’s original release date of March 27 has been moved back to an undetermined date, I still wanted to share some books that remind me of this amazing story of a strong woman fighting to protect her family and save China. Hopefully these must-reads help pass the time until the movie premieres. 

The Island of Sea Women

The Island of Sea Women

by Lisa See

Do you love Mulan because she defies her patriarchal society, saves her country, and is overall hard-core? Of course you do! And that’s why Lisa See’s The Island of Sea Women is the perfect book for you. This historical novel, based on true events, shares the story of the haenyeo, female divers living in a matriarchal society on an island off the coast of South Korea. These women, fierce and resilient—survivors of gruesome wars and hardships—support their families by completing the almost impossible physical feat of diving deep into the ocean without any equipment.

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Women Warriors

Women Warriors

by Pamela D. Toler

Have you seen the recent news stories about the discovery of graves of female Viking warriors? Have you thought their stories would make equally good Disney films? It can’t just be me, right? So, for the Disney executives reading this post, I highly recommend checking out Women Warriors. This well-researched book details the stories of women warriors throughout history. From the West African ruler who led her warriors for thirty years in a fight to expand their territory, to the female leader who killed Cyrus the Great of Persia, there are so many awesome women to read about. And plenty of ideas for new films just in case it’s determined we don’t really need Frozen 7.

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The Incarnations

The Incarnations

by Susan Barker

I adore this novel. It begins with a Beijing taxi driver finding a series of letters left in his cab. Each letter claims to describe one of the driver’s past lives, intertwining Chinese folklore with real events from the age of Genghis Khan to the Opium Wars. This is the perfect story if you love Mulan for its fantastical look at Chinese history and culture, and it will leave you thinking about reincarnation and the journey of our souls. I highly recommend reading it with a friend because you’ll want to talk together about this one after.

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The Woman Warrior

The Woman Warrior

by Maxine Hong Kingston

I first tried to read this memoir as an assignment for a multicultural studies class I took as an undergrad, and I’ll be honest, I was taking 22 credits—nine of them in French—in over my head, and didn’t finish it. Already recognizing just how gorgeous this memoir is, though, I swore to myself I would return to it one day, and I’m so glad I did. Maxine Hong Kingston shares her family’s stories, intertwining them with folklore and giving voice to legendary Chinese heroine Fa Mu Lan. It’s an immersive look at a Chinese-American upbringing and culture, centered around the women—fictional and real—that played a significant role in the author’s life.

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Hild

Hild

by Nicola Griffith

So, you loved Mulan as a child, but maybe, as an adult, you’re kind of wishing it didn’t just end with her returning home. (For the record, I refuse to acknowledge the direct-to-DVD release of Mulan II as part of the Mulan canon, so we’re starting from the premise that Mulan returned home, invited Shang over for dinner, and he might have stayed forever, but that’s where it ends.) Maybe you wish she’d accepted the Emperor’s offer of an advisory position and went on to rise to further power. If you’re looking for a story that involves an intelligent woman bending the ear of the king, I recommend checking out Nicola Griffith’s Hild. The title character establishes herself as the king’s seer, amassing an increasing amount of power as she defies the expectations set for her gender, rides into battle, and becomes a formidable political strategist—maybe exactly what Mulan would have done if she’d taken a different path.

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Circe

Circe

by Madeline Miller

I’ve heard that the new Mulan movie has a witch—how cool is that?—so that makes Circe an obvious addition to this list. While Circe focuses around mythology from a very different part of the world than China—Greece—it includes many of the themes seen in Mulan. Circe is a child of the gods, but born without her parents’ powers, she finds companionship in the world of mortals, discovering that she actually has a knack for witchcraft. Banished by a threatened Zeus to a deserted island, she hones her powers, ultimately finding herself standing against both men and gods as she fights to protect those she loves.

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Leviathan

Leviathan

by Scott Westerfeld

Another of my favorite “girl-disguises-as-a-boy-to-join-the-army” tales, Leviathan is the first in a steampunk trilogy featuring Deryn Sharp, a girl who dresses as a male in order to join the British Air Service. In this alternate-timeline World War I story, the British Darwinists use genetically altered animals as weapons—and airships—while Germany is known as a “Clanker” nation that relies on machines. Deryn serves aboard a giant airship made from a whale and must fight to keep her real identity a secret while her ship becomes part of an important diplomatic mission involving the son of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

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