Title: A Hero Born.
Series: Legends of the Condor Heroes #1.
Writer(s): Jin Yong.
Translator: Anna Holmwood.
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press.
Format: Advance Readers’ Copy.
Release Date: September 2019 (first published January 1st, 1957).
My Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆.
Who wouldn’t love to live a life brimming with perseverance, dedication, and motivation towards self-fulfillment in the realm of martial arts? To become one with yourself, to understand the basic guidelines to a life of respect and honour? To learn insane moves allowing you defy the laws of nature and physics as you glide into your enemy and extinguish the little hope they had in bringing evil into this world? There once was an era where people lived and breathed martial arts. But war was also on the horizon. Translated for the first time by Anna Holmwood for the English-reading community to indulge a classic Chinese epic fantasy series, A Hero Born sends the reader to the Song Empire (China 1200 AD) as the great Genghis Khan rises his army.
What is A Hero Born about? Set in a generation where loyalty, courage, and kindness distinguished the good from the bad, two Song patriots suffer a terrible tragedy that brings in a young Guo Jing and his mother into a fate intertwined with that of Ghengis Khan. Driven by revenge since birth, Guo Jing learns from his shifus, The Seven Freaks of the South, the quintessential knowledge for life in martial arts as his destiny spirals in the ebb and flow of historical events that lead him to a battle with a soul-matched rival with a connection to him too rooted to his past to ignore. The first book of four sets the table to an epic saga filled with heart, war, and tragedy.
There’s no denying that the writing style suffers from the translation but the tale’s core essence remains relatively intact as Jin Yong’s novel captures the oriental folklore qualities of martial arts stories in A Hero Born. Unlike traditional epics, the first installment takes a different approach to introduce the world to the reader by encapsulating multiple generations within the narrative. The story doesn’t necessarily focus on Guo Jing growth amidst the rise and fall of empires but utilizes different point of views to paint a picture that allows the reader to situate themselves in a timeline filled with brotherhood, love, and war.
The unpolished writing style thus strikes you in the stomach and almost overwhelms you as you try to pick out the underlying vertu of various heroes. The story ends up being read like a legend depicted with raw heroism, passion, and comedy. In fact, it is difficult to not sense the latter’s omnipresence throughout the narrative with various subarcs tinged in slapstick-like sequences. It doesn’t help when fighting scenes are also filled with lethal moves with funny names à la “Monkey’s Fist of Heavenly Wrath”. While often difficult to visually grasp these sequences, one can only imagine the epicness of it all had it been executed through a different medium.
While the execution is flawed and might not necessarily be due to the author but the translation, it is possible to enjoy the story once that limitation is overlooked. By embracing the book’s historical and cultural context, the various themes of friendship, love, determination, and whatnot make for an endearing read. Despite characters that aren’t prone to be relatable or meticulously developed, there is a certain engrossing element to their journey through adversity and tragedy that makes their story somewhat gratifying.
A Hero Born is a coming of age story centered around a child’s self-discovery as a martial arts hero destined for greatness.
Thank you to Raincoast Books for sending me a copy for review!
Various movies and TV series adaptations in the Chinese entertainment business have been made since 1958.