Review

Colourful sketches of fabled fighters

FANTASY

LEGENDS OF THE CONDOR HEROES #2: A BOND UNDONE

By Jin Yong

Translated by Gigi Chang

MacLehose Press/Paperback/512 pages/$29.95/Major bookstores

3.5 stars

In the wake of legendary Chinese writer Jin Yong's death last year comes the second volume of an ambitious English translation of his Condor Heroes series.

Anna Holmwood, the young Scottish translator who took on the first instalment of this wuxia (martial arts) epic in A Hero Born (2018), hands over the baton to Hong Kong translator Gigi Chang.

In A Bond Undone, innocent hero Guo Jing wanders the jianghu, the "lakes and rivers" that refer to the world of the martial arts pugilists, in the company of his sweetheart Huang Rong (translated controversially as Lotus Huang), who charms her way into power or cuts off the ears of people who annoy her, depending on what she feels like.

They are troubled by their run-ins with Wanyan Kang, the man intended at birth to be Guo Jing's sworn brother but who still thinks of himself as the son and heir of the Jin prince, who is leading the invasion on the Song empire.

Where A Hero Born was largely devoted to laying the groundwork for Jin's marvellous, sprawling universe, A Bond Undone tracks the meteoric rise of its hero as he encounters gongfu greats and accumulates a hotchpotch of some of their most powerful skills.

Where the story excels is in its colourful sketches of these fabled fighters - the Beggar of the North, the Venom of the West and the Heretic of the East.

The first of these, an irreverent nine-fingered beggar chief, is persuaded by Lotus's extraordinary cooking to teach Guo Jing his indomitable 18 Dragon-Subduing Palms.

This stands Guo Jing in good stead when he is eventually pitted against the Venom, who wants Lotus to marry his rapacious nephew, and the Heretic, Lotus' father, a ruthless polymath who lives on the secluded, trap-riddled Peach Blossom Island and considers Guo Jing unworthy of his daughter's hand.

The elevated style with which characters make lofty, heroic pronouncements can take getting used to in translation, even if it can also be endearingly funny at a remove.

"Gallop to Zhongdu for your revenge," Guo Jing's teacher Ke Zhen'e tells him matter-of-factly. "If you succeed, excellent; if you fail this time, remember that it may take years for a man of principle to be avenged."

Chang has inherited the unenviable task of parsing numerous arcane martial techniques and complicated fight sequences. An early one in the Jin palace involves 14 people, not all of whom are memorable enough to be distinctive.

She makes a valiant attempt, but it often comes across as more academic than action-packed and the narrative sags in these sections.

But these dips are worth it for scenes such as the showdown between Lotus' suitors on Peach Blossom Island, which deliver on that flavour of the epic that has enshrined the late Jin Yong in the hearts of so many.

If you like this, read: The Hoshimaruhon trilogy by Wena Poon, beginning with The Adventures Of Snow Fox And Sword Girl (2014, $26.20, Books Kinokuniya), a swashbuckling fantasy in which the wuxia kingdom of Jing and the samurai kingdom of Noh are at war.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 05, 2019, with the headline 'Colourful sketches of fabled fighters'. Print Edition | Subscribe