What a delight. That could be the whole review. The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water (OotPM) is the sort of fantasy adventure that simply bounces along like a great pop melody, with a line worth smiling at every few pages. It’s engaging, fun and, well, delightful. But lets backpedal for a moment.
OotPM is a wuxia novella about a nun named Guet Imm who finds herself running with a group of bandits, led by the dashing and impossibly handsome Fung Cheung and his irascibly competent 2iC Tet Sang, after those two tear up the tea shop she was taking refuge in. Together they try to pick their way through a tangled web of mixed loyalties, misunderstandings, and mild disasters, all while trying to survive a war.
Since I’ve made it clear I’m a fan, let me talk about the things I wish had been done different. I wish the book had more of the big fight-scenes I associate with my limited exposure to wuxia; that was an unfulfilled expectation, which may or may not have been fair. I found the ending abrupt and a little disruptive to the found family vibes.
Those issues – while frustrating – do not change how much I enjoyed OotPM. The prose and Zen Cho’s sense of comedy are the undoubted stars here. She has the gift of picking inherently funny scenarios and the gift of writing funny lines in equal measure. This might be the fantasy book I laughed at most since Pratchett. The prose is wonderful. It just has a naturally inviting rhythm, and many small poetic observations.
The characters and worldbuilding are also artfully done. There is a casual, no explanations needed method to her depiction of a wide range of sexualities and genders which marries up nicely with my preferences; ditto on the subtle use of the Malay Emergency as a backdrop. For a novella that’s not using the real world as a 1 for 1 replacement (Zen Cho says it draws on both the semi-mythic China of wuxia and the Malaya of the Emergency and I am not arguing), the world feels very real and full of detail. The characters likewise are full of verisimilitude. It’s easy to imagine real people saying these lines, having these arguments, to the point where if I worked in the screen industry, I’d immediately be going to see if this could be adapted.
Alas, I don’t, and in any case I think they’d want more stories set in this world to work with. Or maybe I’m just saying that because I want more stories in this world. Which I do. I want all of them. Please give us all the tropical wuxia stories Zen Cho. For they really are the most delightful things.