Book Review: A Hero Born by Jin Yong

Title: A Hero Born (Legends of the Condor Heroes 1)

Author: Jin Yong, translated by Anna Holmwood

Publisher: St.Marin’s Press

Publication date: September 17, 2019

Genre: Fantasy, Kung Fu, Historical

Summary: Raised on the Mongolian steppes by his mother, both of whom were under the care of the future Genghis Khan, Guo Jing was unaware he was the son of a Song patriot who was brutally killed by the Song dynasty’s enemy, the Jin. Only after he had been trained for several years by the Seven Heroes of the South was he told he was meant to travel into China to face an opponent trained by a master of kung fu, the son of his father’s sworn brother. But Guo Jing travels with little understanding of who he is to face and why.

For years, I have shied away from reading books by Chinese authors and books about the Chinese even though I am Chinese American. But, for some reason, I felt like I ought to read this one. I am not as familiar with Chinese history as I should be. My education focused on Western history with only the lightest brushes of Eastern history. Perhaps the fact that this book is set during the Song dynasty in the 1200s  made me feel this was a good one for me to read.

I prefer to write more balanced reviews that are as objective as I can make them. But, in this case, I was so strongly reminded of my childhood that that might not be possible. I somehow missed the fact that this is a kung fu book, written by a master of the kung fu novel who popularized them in China. The book description talks about Guo Jing being trained and having to fight an opponent. The cover depicts a warrior. You’d think I would have figured it out. Instead, it was all the fight scenes I kept reading. This book is littered with them. But of course it must be! It’s a kung fu novel. What is a kung fu novel without kung fu? I do not enjoy violence. I do not enjoy books with copious amounts of fighting. But I didn’t mind. Each fight scene reminded me of the old Chinese kung fu movies I used to watch with my dad. Granted, I never watched them closely, but, while reading, I could easily remember and imagine them. It was like having wisps of my childhood fed back into my brain. But what really struck me about the fight scenes in this book versus those in more Western novels was the respect given to and in the battles by the participants. They were different and so reminiscent of what I know of my heritage that I actually enjoyed fight scenes in a book for the first time ever.

But as much as I enjoyed and appreciated this novel, there were still a few things I didn’t particularly care for. This first volume spans almost 20 years, so there are massive time jumps, and sometimes they’re right in the middle of a chapter. It was a little disorienting. But, with those time jumps, come events that impact the present and future that then need to be told. I appreciate that the characters lived lives during the time jumps and what they did was important to the story, but those bits of information were seemingly dropped in the middle of the narrative when it became necessary for the reader to know that something had happened years before. I liked knowing what had happened because then it made the present story make more sense, but it did make the novel feel a little choppy. Lastly, the point of view shifted around between the two wives, Charity and Lily, in a strange, disproportionate way. This book is the first three volumes of the series put into one, but there is no delineation of this. The story simply runs together. After their husbands are attacked, the story follows Charity for a while, but then it switches to Lily, and then her son Guo Jing, and Charity and her child are seemingly forgotten.

My understanding is that Jin Yong’s stories are incredibly popular in China, so perhaps my complaints are due to my Westernized upbringing. Still, the story is enjoyable and does not disappoint as a novel focused on the martial arts. I loved the Eastern feel of it, and loved how nostalgic it made me. Overall, this is a fun story full of adventure and excitement.

How many cups of tea will you need?

4 cups should do the trick.

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Thank you so much to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for a free e-copy. All opinions are my own.

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  1. bitsanddragons

    I think reading popular titles of another culture is a nice way to get an idea of what is the culture about. So thank you so much for the tip, and I’ll add it to my reading list (quite long at this moment, unfortunately…)

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