We have new releases in the store today! Since you can’t come inside, we’re now putting them in our window display for you! Patti Callahan Henry has a new historical fiction out today, Becoming Mrs. Lewis, and the second book in The Legends of Condor Heroes is out as well. Emily St. John Mandel who brought us Station Eleven now has The Glass Hotel and, not pictured (I guess shipping delays because of Coronavirus??) is N.K. Jemisin’s fantastic new Urban Fantasy series, book one of which is out today, The City We Became. Also, a kids new Middle Grade, a new Horror novel, and a new WWII biography and more!
One of the perks of this job is getting access to ARCs. I get to see stuff that may not be out for months yet and try it to see if I like it. It gives me an incentive to try things I never would have on my own, and there’s no better case of this than A Hero Born, the first part of Legend of the Condor Heroes.
I had no idea what it was when I got hold of it, but doing some research on all-knowing Google filled me in on the basics. Legend of the Condor Heroes is a Chinese novel written in 1957 by Jin Yong, the pen name of one Louis Cha. It was originally serialized in a newspaper, and it’s been called–and not inaccurately–the Chinese equivalent to Lord of the Rings; Condor Heroes has proved enduringly popular in Asia, and spawned countless adaptations in various other media, and a major influence on following works, putting a mark on an entire genre of fiction. In this case, that genre is wuxia.
Yeah, it’s not one we really have in the west. But here’s the deal: wuxia is a genre where martial artists go on journeys, learn more and improve their skills, and right wrongs along the way. The action is very frequently over-the-top, with master martial artists capable of feats of strength, control, and athleticism that are straight-up superhuman. Fight scenes can resemble Crouching Dragon, Hidden Tiger wire-fu, rendered in print. It’s fantasy, but instead of outright magic they usually have really good kung fu.
Now that we know what the genre even is, we can talk about this in particular. Legend of the Condor Heroes hasn’t, as near as I can tell, ever really been officially translated and published in the US until now. It’s probably always been seen as too culturally Chinese to fly over here. It’s a shame because it’s been a fun read thus far.
Yes, I’m not done reading it yet. Condor Heroes is, like Lord of the Rings, a very long work being published in chunks. A Hero Born is the first part, and we got an ARC about five months before it came out and I thought the cover looked interesting and tried it. The second part, A Bond Undone comes out today, and there’s two more parts forthcoming.
Y’all. Put it like this. This book is so good I had a complete copy of it, for free, and I still bought it when it came out. It’s been a ride and one I’m thoroughly enjoying.
Condor Heroes happens in the 1200s during the Jin-Song War, when China was split into north and south empires. As the book portrays it, the northern side, the Jin, was a more mountainous, less hospitable land than the fertile south and didn’t have nearly the population of the southern Song empire, but the Song court and government in general was corrupt and the military leadership was weak, while the Jin had some extremely sharp princes and leaders, giving both sides a parity that led into an extremely long stalemate.
I’d never really heard about this before, and it’s not only explained but it’s what sets the plot in motion and shapes the world these characters live in. In the beginning, a hotheaded martial arts master has vigilante-killed a Song official for taking Jin bribes to let the Jin do what they want in his area–in fact, the master killed the official and most of the Jin he was dealing with (see above regarding ‘hotheaded’), and he flees through the winter snows. He passes through a remote village, where he gets invited in by the hospitable locals, gets in a brief fight with one of them (hotheaded, remember?), and then makes friends with his opponent and his opponent’s best friend.
The two men are descended from famous Song patriots and they’re both married, with children on the way. The master proposes that when the children are born, in the fullness of time, he’ll come and train the children in the ways of kung fu, and even suggests names for them: Guo Jing and Yang Kang, the two main characters of the novel.
That’s right. This novel starts before the main characters are even born. For all it sounds like a slow start, it really moves rather briskly–I think it’s a result of its original publication. A serialized work has to have something interesting happen in every chunk to keep the reader’s interest from part to part. The sequence I described up there isn’t even the entirety of the first chapter.
A Hero Born features Guo Jing’s origins, his childhood and early training, and him setting out when he’s 18 to see the world and fulfill a promise made.
A Bond Undone, the second part of the novel, is Guo on his journey and finding out about the world and this is where he starts to really come together as a person: He gets more advanced training, learns more about himself, does some good, and starts to show flashes of insight and ability that people don’t expect from him
Yeah, that’s another thing. Guo Jing is canonically, officially dense and a very slow learner. He’s not stupid, precisely, but he’s not a swift thinker. I didn’t quite expect that.
The book has made me confront my own biases: I, in my ignorance, flat-out didn’t think I’d see a Chinese novel written in 1957 have a female lead character as strong as Lotus Huang–she’s as swift-thinking and intuitive and imaginative as Guo isn’t, and they make a strong pair. In fact, she’s the one responsible for a lot of Guo’s upskilling–they meet a martial arts master, a true master with some profound and powerful techniques to offer, who’s irascible and eccentric but he’s also a gourmand, and Lotus’s education, provided by her polymath father, has included a good deal of fine cuisine. She bribes him with a different exquisitely made dish every meal time in exchange for lessons for both herself and Guo Jing. This master is legit and he teaches them things that never stop being useful in a fight.
Yeah, Lotus is a good martial artist in her own right, too. She just doesn’t want to be the absolute best like some other characters, and this is presented as a valid choice.
Also in my ignorance, I did not expect to see a sympathetic portrayal of the Mongols, either, but they’re portrayed as…well, a lot. They’re fierce adversaries while also being some fearsome allies and friends. And yes, the book goes to Mongolia. It goes to lots of places.
So let’s talk writing. This book wasn’t written in English, and it shows. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just different, especially when it comes to writing about action. The book tends to baldly state what someone did and leave it to you to get excited. Further, it’ll say a martial artist performed a specific named move, like Push Back the Mountain or Wind Parts The Clouds, but it won’t tell you what that move looks like, it’ll just leave it to your imagination and whatever imagery or motion is suggested by the name.
There are also some translation conventions happening here. The translators, rightly or wrongly, seem to assume that some western readers won’t be able to cope with the straight Chinese names of most characters. Guo Jing gets off easy, but other characters are often given a title or a straight-up western-style name to replace one of their names–Sha Tongtian becomes Hector Sha, for example–and characters who share a name might have one switched. There’s already a Ke Zhen’e in the book, so a later character, Ouyang Ke, becomes Gallant Ouyang. I’m not going to judge one way or another, but it is something jarring if you’re not expecting it and it might bother some people.
As you might guess, I’m enchanted with these books. They’re great, and gave me something I never knew I wanted. There’s adventure, romance, history, action, and even illustrations! They’re also so beloved and fondly regarded that there’s a statue of the author on Peach Blossom Island, a real place that’s a major location in Condor Heroes.
If you’re interested in some new in action, fantasy, or history, I give these my utmost recommendation. Now I’m going to go back to reading them
A Hero Born
A Bond Undone
It’s been a tough week keeping my spirits up while hanging out in my bookstore with my employees working at home and without y’all to brighten my day. Seeing upcoming event stuff now sitting forlorn in corners… Reading the news… Trying to get work done… Stressed and worried. Last night as I went up to the readers lounge to eat a frozen dinner I actually broke down and cried. This morning though, I had an idea — I’m going to do all my home and curbside deliveries wearing my Ravenclaw robe! Sure it won’t do anything practical to help fight the coronavirus, but if it helps lighten my customers’ day, in a time when we’re all hungry for anything bright, I’m all for it!
How deliveries work:
Go to my website and browse my selection of books and place your order into a cart. Before you hit checkout, choose whether you want to do curbside pickup or home delivery–if curbside, select “pick up in store” under fulfillment options; if home delivery, leave it at “ship order” and when checking out, use the Home Delivery shipping option! For more details, see my Ordering FAQs page on my website
I’m a tad late in posting these due to pivoting to online/delivery only, but here are the books released this past Tuesday, March 17th! Local author E.O. Wilson’s latest is now out in paperback, some new Who Was books, and more!
Need picture book to teen and everything in between recommendations? Kidlit haint Candice will be taking over the Haunted Book Shop twitter account this Saturday from 1:30 to 2:30 CST. She’ll answer your questions, give personalized book recommendations, and, as a mom of two, offer tips on learning from home.
Soooo I’ve been swamped this week pivoting our store to online w/ deliveries and working on a shared doc for my employees to work from at home so they can still be paid and the deliveries have stacked up! This gives you an idea of how many NEW books arrive every week that we process and put on the shelves. Raided some today to get special orders fulfilled. Some are for a book signing that’s been cancelled. Some are new releases for this week and next week and some are for book clubs. Many are just restocking what’s sold etc. Also in these is that cute-as-heck Dogman standee that was for Independent Bookstore Day that has now been postponed. These are from since Monday
Book nerd Alex here. Looking for something to read? Or maybe you want something different? Here’s some some resources to get you through these hard times, legally available for free!
The Mobile County Public Library allows you to check out e-books and audiobooks, among others. Find out more here at their page: http://www.mobilepubliclibrary.org/resources/
Project Gutenberg is an online library dedicated to putting classics and out-of-copyright works for free online. Maybe get around to reading some improving literature you’ve wanted to, or maybe you’ll go for classic pulp magazine stories. Whatever floats your boat, we don’t judge. Their catalog is here: https://www.gutenberg.org/catalog/ but they also have a list of their Top 100 if that’ll help you get started https://www.gutenberg.org/browse/scores/top
Similarly, Wikisource puts up public-domain writings, but maybe you like how it looks better. Their main page is here https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Main_Page and check out their Literature portal here if you’re itching for some fiction: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Portal:General_literature
Now that some broad resources are out of the way, here’s some more specific favorites of mine.
Fantasy author Brandon Sanderson has a PDF of his novel Warbreaker on his website. https://www.brandonsanderson.com/warbreaker-rights-and-do…/… Politics and intrigue abound in a court of the gods: https://www.brandonsanderson.com/…/Warbreaker_hardcover_1st…
Fantasy author Ursula Vernon serialized a novel called Summer in Orcus, it’s available on her website. A very poignant story about a girl helping to fix a poisoned world. https://www.redwombatstudio.com/portfolio/summer-in-orcus/
Ursula Vernon also wrote and illustrated a webcomic called Digger, which won her her first Hugo award. Highly recommended as a good read. https://diggercomic.com/blog/2007/02/01/wombat1-gnorf/
Another excellent, and still ongoing webcomic, is Girl Genius Online. In an alternate history where mad scientists–and their egos–can break the laws of physics, a young woman finds out her heritage. http://www.girlgeniusonline.com/comic.php…
If you prefer to listen to your entertainment, I haven’t forgotten you. Try out the Magnus Archives, a horror anthology podcast about an organization in London that studies the paranormal. The first three seasons (forty episodes each) are available on YouTube, and there’s more on the various podcast apps, look it up. https://www.youtube.com/playlist…
Do you have any recommendations? Post yours in the comments below, let’s try to put each other on the good stuff!
Alex has been working at the Haunted Book Shop for a year and he’ll be at the helm of the Haunted Book Shop Twitter account tomorrow from 12:30 until 2:30 CST. So be sure to head to http://twitter.com/HBS_Mobile during that time! He’ll talk about a year working in a bookshop, answer questions, and give personalized book recommendations!
Starting this past Monday, we felt that in order ro protect our customers and the community we needed to do our part to help flatten the curve. To see my full statement regarding our response to Covid-19, see my Covid-19 page on our website.
Today, we were featured on WKRG News-5 about how we’re finding creative ways to still serve our customers and pay our staff!