I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade is heavy on Mongolian culture, history, and horses, but light on story. First and foremost, this is a horse book, one of those stories that show or celebrate the special bond between a girl and her horse and, in this case, her improbably ever-present cat, (a trio also present in the similarly horse-themed novel Blue Sword.)
The plot of this book is reminiscent of the story of Mulan with one key difference. Mulan dresses as a man to take her injured father's place in the war against the Mongols. Oyuna, on the other hand, is a Mongol. She doesn't join the army out of any particular love for her father (though in doing so she does sacrificially take the place of her stepbrother.) Her motivation for joining is a wish to stay with her recently conscripted horse, Bayan. She is also determined to banish her curse of "unluckiness" to bring good luck to her family once again.
Oyuna is unlucky because of her crippled-since-childhood foot. As is authentic for this ancient Mongolian setting, all the characters are extremely superstitious. They constantly make offerings to the spirits, to their many gods, and to their ancestors. Through the course of the book Oyuna believes in her curse until at last she has an epiphany moment, in which she makes the predictable discovery that she can "make her own luck" and sets out to do something on her own.
The Mulan comparisions really only extend to a couple of chapters worth of this 257-page book, and, oddly enough, Oyuna suffers none of the same ramifications. For all her claims of being unlucky, Oyuna is able to get away with masquerading as a boy in the army with the knowledge and grudging permission of the general himself. Later she approaches and crosses the Khan, but comes away without so much as a reprimand and is instead rewarded.
The main feature of the novel is the lush and detailed descriptions of the plains and of Mongol culture, down to sprinklings of Mongolian phrases and rituals of the Mongols (which, as a heads-up for the sensitive horse-lover, include a scene in which they slaughter two horses for burial with their owner.) Being Mongol culture, of course, there are enough horses to satisfy even the hungriest horse-lover (including the drinking of horse milk and the eating of horse meat.) But sometimes this novel tends to focus on those two aspects to the exclusion of plot and conflict. A definite drawback to an otherwise lush and well-written book.
Review by Lauren Shearer
Lauren Shearer writes words for fun and profit. She also makes films, but everyone knows you can't make a profit doing that. Her other hobby is consistently volunteering way too much of her time. You can read more of her reviews here.
Review by Lauren Shearer
Lauren Shearer writes words for fun and profit. She also makes films, but everyone knows you can't make a profit doing that. Her other hobby is consistently volunteering way too much of her time. You can read more of her reviews here
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