The Legend of the Condor Heroes, a read-along

The Legend of the Condor Heroes is a seminal work of Chinese fiction, written in the 1950s by Louis Cha under the penname of Jin Yong. It has been adapted numerous times, and is credited with spawning the wuxia genre of fiction. If you’ve ever seen a kung fu movie where combatants flew through the air on the power of their own qi, you have seen wuxia. The Legend of the Condor Heroes has been translated into English in four volumes, the last of which will be released later this month!

Several of us on Facebook have been reading the books (some in Chinese, some in English) and I have been posting summaries and notes on each chapter as we progress. I will be posting my thoughts on each chapter here as well, and if you’d like to join the current discussion, come meet us in the Fans of Asian Urban Fantasy Facebook group! Send us a join request and let us know that you found us through this article.

And now, chapter one!

So right away, this is obviously very different from anything I’ve read recently. In fact, the closest thing that I remember that comes to this is my recent re-read of Dune. I read Dune first when I was a teen, about 30 years ago, and was completely blown away by it. On the re-read, I noted a lot of story techniques that have fallen out of favor, such as the omni viewpoint and a lot of head hopping. So that’s my first impression of A Hero Born.

Before I get into the chapter, I will also note that my mother and I already found a big difference from my English version to her Chinese version, and that was the cast of characters before the first chapter.

In the first chapter we find ourselves in Ox Village, in southern China, and meet a wandering beggar who tells a story of the invasion of the Jin into northern China. Through the storyteller we meet Skyfury Guo and Ironheart Yang, two brothers in arms who have fled the north and are eager for news of their home. The north is under strict rule by the invaders, while the south lives in relative luxury, under the rule of the corrupt government who has let the Jin take the northern territory.

(I’ll also add now that my Chinese history knowledge is practically nonexistent, so any nuance and backstory I’m missing I apologize for now.)

In a move that reminds me of nearly every kung fu movie I’ve ever seen (not actually that many), we learn that nearly everyone of consequence in the village is a hidden kung fu master. And of course, nearly everyone knows everyone else by reputation. So we get the thrilling fight scenes, followed by everyone acknowledging each other and their skills, and then sitting down to have drinks. Very civilized.

Real trouble comes around though, in the form of a group of government soldiers on the hunt for Skyfury and Ironheart. Though they fight bravely, the battle is lost.

(This is where I realized that the entire first chapter is really a set up to show how their sons are orphaned.)

The story then follows Charity Yang, Ironheart’s widow, as she flees Ox Village with Yan Lie, a soldier whom she had saved earlier. She is unsure of his intentions, but has no other choices with her husband dead.

That about wraps up chapter one. I will say I could immediately see the inspiration for books like Will Wight’s Cradle series in the fight scenes. The action is brisk, and the story was easy to follow, even for someone like me with little historical knowledge. I would guess that if I didn’t have any experience with kung fu movies, I might find the interactions during the fight scenes to be a little odd.

All in all, I’m looking forward to continuing. Especially given the title of the second chapter: The Seven Freaks of the South!

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