‘The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water’ by Zen Cho

Overall Rating: Recommended (How I Rate Books)

Personal Rating: A pleasant story of friendships, adventure and intrigue

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Genres:

Fantasy, Asian Fantasy, Novella, LGBTQ

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Previous books by the author/in the series I’ve reviewed:

Spoilers below. You’ve been warned!

I got this book early for free for the purpose of an honest review. The book comes out in late June, if you are so interested.

This is the third story by Zen Cho I’ve read, so it’s safe to say I’m something of a fan. I read parts of this story while donating blood platelets during this whole coronavirus nonsense, so this novella helped keep me relaxed while I was about it.

Now let’s get this review started!

‘The Order of the Pure Moon’ is a wuxia fantasy story set either in China during the Tang era, or in an alternate earth which happens to use some naming conventions similar to our own. What is wuxia? To quote wikipedia, “Wuxia (武俠 [ù.ɕjǎ]), which literally means “martial heroes”, is a genre of Chinese fiction concerning the adventures of martial artists in ancient China.” I don’t have much a background in this sort of storytelling, asides from a few old movies and one or two books I’ve read like ‘The Poppy War’ which I think qualify. Basically, the main tenant I see of wuxia in ‘the Order’ is the use of some martial artistry and mysticism to advance the plot and storytelling.

Sound interesting so far? But wait, there’s more!

The plot of this story revolves around the nun Guet Imm who has recently fled the destruction of her ‘tokong,’ aka her nunnery, where she was in seclusion. She is secretly strong with the mystical arts, but due to the persecution of her religious sect she’s forced to get a job working as a waitress. The story starts when she has a run in with a local group of smugglers, gets fired from her job, and decides to tag along with the smugglers as they go about their smuggling. Run ins with the law naturally follow, as they seek to crack down not only on Guet Imm for being an illegal nun but also the smugglers for, you know, smuggling.

Reviewing the plot on an analytical level, the story is heavy on the talking and light on the action. I found this to be surprising, given that this was advertised as a wuxia story. While to be sure there was fighting, it was used with restraint. And honestly, I don’t think the story needed the missing combat. The story didn’t need it.

Instead the plot was moved along by the main characters interacting with one another. As more and more personal secrets are revealed, the plot moves faster and faster, until the climax when those secrets directly lead to the conclusion of the story. It’s hard to describe without spoiling, but suffice it to say I enjoyed it.

The characters, Guet Imm and Tet Sang in particular, were well fleshed out. Of the two, I think Tet Sang was the star of the show: he had multiple points of conflict in and out of himself. Internal and external conflict is compelling to read about. I really don’t want to spoil his character arc, so I’ll just say go read this book.

Now for a bit of constructive criticisms.

The book’s pacing was a bit slow. I never felt that there was a massive amount of tension driving the book forward. Tension and suspense is the feeling in a reader which is best described as ‘I don’t know what’s about to happen and I’m afraid about what could happen.’ In this book there were a good amount of deus ex machinas flying around, which reduced the tension because after a certain point I felt that Guet Imm’s magic would solve their problems.

When writing a book it’s important to make the bad guys seem UBER powerful for the sake of making the good guys seem like underdogs. In this story the bad guys never got fleshed out enough for me to tell whether or not they were an actual threat to the protagonists. The more dangerous the villains, the higher the tension because the reader can’t tell how the good guys are going to get out of this situation. Because they were never completely fleshed out, I didn’t think they were too dangerous.

Taken in summation, this is a pleasant story about friendship, hardship and loyalty to higher ideals. I can recommend this story broadly to just about anyone interested in the fantasy genre. Above all, I found this to be a relaxing story. Check out the free pages on amazon to see if you like the way it reads, and if so give it a buy. The book comes out on June 23rd.

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