China: 1200 A.D.
The Song Empire has been invaded by its warlike Jurchen neighbours from the north. Half its territory and its historic capital lie in enemy hands; the peasants toil under the burden of the annual tribute demanded by the victors. Meanwhile, on the Mongolian steppe, a disparate nation of great warriors is about to be united by a warlord 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 to one day confront an opponent who is the opposite of him in every way: privileged, cunning and flawlessly trained in the martial arts.
Guided by his faithful shifus, The Seven Heroes of the South, Guo Jing must return to China – to the Garden of the Drunken Immortals in Jiaxing – to fulfil his destiny. But in a divided land riven by war and betrayal, his courage and his loyalties will be tested at every turn.
This is the first book of it’s kind that I’ve ever read and I really enjoyed it – sure, the martial arts descriptions were very Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with the flying and impossible feats but that was very much the book’s charm.
It was a bit slow in places, going into historical detail and reiterating certain information but for the most part, it was classic kung fu excellence. It highlighted the many virtues that were expected of masters and the importance of being pure of heart (I’m a sucker for this kind of thing) and though it hinted at future romances, this book was about a young man uncovering the secrets of his childhood and how they came to be.
Obviously, having never read the original, I can’t comment on the accuracy of the translation or any stylistic changes – some of the dramatic character and kung fu names were entertaining, but the narrative was very enjoyable.
It focuses more on the graphic depictions of the fight scenes and landscapes rather than the characters themselves, which makes it quite impersonal but I could see it playing out in front of me.
I can’t fathom why this book is being promoted as a ‘Chinese Lord of the Rings’ though – I didn’t note any similarities apart from the fact the female characters in both are a bit naff.