I mostly know Wuxia like I know a sport I’ve watched for a week. A few articles and a few books have given me a fair understanding of the general thing; a belief that I understand the core precepts quite well, and a knowledge that I undoubtedly have several blind spots remaining to say the least. Possibly on the core precepts.
At the risk of exoticising, that level of uncertain knowledge makes delving further into the genre exciting in its own right. I like to study fantasy for the sake of studying fantasy, I like to find books where I can forget my genre expectations. Those were part of the reasons that had me searching for good wuxia novels to read online, and therefore led me to Heroes Shed No Tears.
Which is fortunately quite exciting in its own right.
Everything I have to tell you about Gu Long, I know from wikipedia. He is one of the three legs of the tripod of wuxia, along with Jin Yong (probably the most famous in the Anglosphere) and Liang Yusheng. His style (or so I read) is partly influenced by western writers and stories such as Hemingway and James Bond, which I suppose I can see. Heroes Shed No Tears is full of laconic dialogue and mystery. I, of course, have next to zero idea how much of a departure from the wuxia that preceded him this is.
Whatever the inspirations are, it works. Heroes Shed No Tears is best described as one man’s mission to squeeze as many plot twists as possible into 18 chapters, using a mix of dramatic conversation and the occasional fight to propel us from one twist to another.
The story is focused around Gao Jianfei, a naive young swordsman with a mysterious weapon who wanders into the middle of a feud between the Great Protection Agency and the Lion Clan, both led by men with their own secrets. The greater secrets lie in the Great Protection Agency, where Sima Chaochun is the great heroic leader and Zhuo Donglai the schemer behind him; we mostly see Zhu Meng of the Lion Clan in the shape of his friendship with Gao Jianfei.
I can’t decide whether the character dynamics here are cunning in their spareness, evoking whole lifetimes of betrayals and problems in a few short lines, or just underdone. It must be noted this isn’t a long story, so that’s part of it for sure. I suspect Chinese standards for the amount of character interiority shown are also different to Anglosphere standards.
Either way, the way it’s executed is entirely in line with Heroes Shed No Tears’ strengths. It’s fast paced – this is some Cryptopsy White Worms level shit – and straight to the point with a bunch of moody, terse style. Sometimes I wish it slowed down a little (I wouldn’t mind a few more epic fight scenes) but as a whole it worked. And if that sounds like it would work for you, go find the translation on WuxiaWorld and enjoy.