Book Reviews: A Hero Born (Legends of the Condor Heroes #1) by Jin Yong

I have mentioned this frequently on my blog before, but I am a massive fan of Chinese dramas, especially Wuxia dramas. Wuxia pretty much combins martial arts with heroes (wu 武 meaning military and xia 俠 meaning hero or chivalrous person). Probably the most famous Wuxia author is China was Louis Cha, who wrote under the pen name of Jin Yong. He was born in 1924 and passed away just a few months ago in October of 2018 at the ripe age of 94. He wrote over a dozen books, but perhaps his most famous series was The Legend of the Condor Heroes and its two sequels, serialized in the late 1950s.

His books have been adapted into many Chinese dramas and movies, some of which I’ve seen and loved, including The Legend of the Condor Heroes (both the one from 2008 and 2017), The Romance of the Condor Heroes (2014), The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber (2009), and The Deer and the Cauldron (2014). And those are only the ones I’ve seen.

Suffice it to say, Jin Yong is incredibly popular in China! Unfortunately, I have been unable to get any of his books in English. That is, until now! Recently, The Legend of the Condor Heroes was translated and released in English. The first book, this one, was released in January of this year. Unfortunately, the next two books aren’t out yet, but I can’t wait to read them when they do come out!

Release: 1957 (this translation January 24, 2019)

Synopsis: (from back of book) “The Song Empire has been invaded from the north by its warlike Jurchen neighbours. Half its territory and its historic capital lie in enemy hands; the peasants toil under the burden of the annual tribute demanded by the occupiers. Meanwhile, on the Mongolians steppes, a disparate nation of great warriors is about to be united by a warlords whose name will endure for eternity: Genghis Khan.

“Guo Jing, son of a murdered Song patriot, grew up with Genghis Khan’s army. He is humble, loyal, perhaps not altogether wise, and is fated from birth one day to confront an opponent who is the opposite of him in every way: privileged, cunning and perfectly trained in the martial arts. Guided by his faithful shifus, the Seven Heroes of the South, Guo Jing must return to China to fulfil his destiny. But in a land riven by war and betrayal, his courage and his loyalties will be tested at every turn.”

If that doesn’t sound epic, I don’t know what does!

Review

Oddly enough, this is totally not my type of book to read. I love character-driven stories with less action and more philosophy. This book is the exact opposite, filled with action and adventure. Saying that, I loved reading it! My only regret is that my Chinese isn’t proficient enough for me to read it in its original language.

The characters are not highly developed, and often times I would confuse who was who, especially when it came to the seven heroes who trained Guo Jing. Many of the characters blended together, and it was my one main criticism of this book. However, if you prefer action and plot to characters, you will have no issue with this. Even for me, it didn’t detract too much because I knew who the main characters were.

The book truly shines, however, when it comes to the battle scenes. Jin Yong obviously studied The Art of War, as well as basic military and fighting strategies, because he’s got it all in this book. In detail he explains different fighting moves, the importance of breathing techniques, etc. It was also cool to see how fiction blends with non-fiction. The Jin and the Song Dynasties were really fighting for power in 1200 AD, and Temujin (the original name for Genghis Khan) did in fact work to unify Mongolia. While the majority of the characters are fictional, the real setting gives a depth to the fantasy.

The early part of the novel is all about Guo Jing’s father Skyfury Guo and his sworn brother Ironheart Yang, who are attacked and believed dead by the corrupt officials. Guo’s pregnant wife escapes to the steppes of Mongolia, and Yang’s pregnant wife is taken in by a Jin prince. The rest of the story follows the Seven Heroes of the South (frequently called the Freaks of the South, which isn’t really nice) as they try to win a bet from a man who knew Guo and Yang. Their bet is to teach Guo Jing how to fight and avenge his father’s death.

Basically, it’s a fun adventure. It’s got a wide array of characters and we learn about living in totally different parts of China and Mongolia. The themes are all about overcoming adversity, embracing morality, and finding inner and outer peace.

It’s such a beautiful book, and I can easily recommend anyone read it!

Saying that, this book does end abruptly, because the story was originally written in short chapters in newspapers, and it would be nearly 1,500 pages if published in one book. Thus it was broken up into three books, with the first one being this one. Unfortunately, that means the story ends abruptly with no resolution. So I’ll give my final judgement of the series after I finish all three of the books. Hopefully the second and third are released soon.

Have you heard of this series: book or movie/tv? What is your favorite Wuxia book/drama? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more musings and, as always,

Best wishes in your life full of adventure,

Madame Writer

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