Before I write this review, let me summon my inner neigong strength
I’ve had Jin Yong/Louis Cha’s Legend of the Condor Heroes books on my radar screen for a little while. Ever since the first book in the series, A Hero Born came out in the U.S. in 2019. But I held off on reading them. I was a little nervous that there might be a cultural element that might make the books tough for me to access.
Earlier this year, I finally listened to the audiobook of book 1, A Hero Born. I don’t know why I waited so long and proceeded to blitz through books 2 and 3, A Bond Undone and A Snake Lies Waiting. I’m now eagerly awaiting book 4, A Heart Divided, which is due out August 2021.
It turns out that years of watching martial arts, kung-fu, and wuxia movies; and watching movies/TV shows and reading fiction where Eastern philosophy, religion, and culture have been used (correctly and incorrectly) prepared me for immersion into this world.
The Legend of the Condor Heroes books are hugely successful and influential. It’s estimated that they have sold nearly a billion copies. That doesn’t even factor in his other successful books and series. Bits and pieces of these books have shown up in so many other things (fighting on treetops, string instruments battles or used as weapons, focusing and channeling of internal forces) that there is an air of familiarity that makes for an easy on-ramp to the story.
The world of Legend of the Condor Heroes is populated with colorful characters who are kung-fu masters and disciples from competing schools. There is a ton of action as these different factions cross paths and square off. The structure of the series is episodic so the whole thing has a loose feeling.
This a classic story that works in the framework of themes and ideas like honor, love, loyalty, revenge, destiny. Modern audiences seeking more psychology, internalism, and grey area morality may need to adjust their expectations, but they too will soon be swept up in these grandiose emotions. In the world of the Condor Heroes there are clear heroes and clear villains.
Women are well represented in these books also. There are multiple female characters that are every bit the equal of their male counterparts (and in some cases superior). They aren’t shrinking violets or damsels in distress, they are quick witted and have superior kung-fu.
One final note. The original series consists of three books made up of shorter books (hence that loose episodic feel). The first book in the original trilogy is The Legend of the Condor Heroes. It is that first book that is being translated into the three volumes covered here and the upcoming title later in the year. Because of this, sometimes one of the English translated versions will just end right in the middle of some action or leaving things that had been built up unresolved. It’s an unfortunate function of breaking the original series up into different volumes to fit the Western book market.
The Legend of the Condor Heroes is a total blast to read.