14 – Heavenly Sword, Dragon Sabre

And so we come to the final book in the Condor Trilogy, and this time there isn’t a giant bird in sight.

The three books actually share pretty much the same vein: a young boy from a disadvantageous background is bullied and beaten but gains astounding martial arts skills through luck, kindness (such as helping some old man who turns out to be a skilled warrior), and natural talent.

As the novels progress though, you find than Jin Yong starts playing with the usual themes and tropes. In the first novel, good versus evil is clearly delineated. In the second novel, he starts to question rules and regulations through Yang Guo and Xiao Long Nu’s relationship.

In this third novel, it is Zhang Wuji, orphan of an ill-fated couple. One is a student of the orthodox Wudang School, the other is the princess of the heretical Ming Cult. But Jin Yong has definitely gone beyond the usual and near the end of the novel it becomes clear that what is orthodox and what is heretical don’t necessarily conform to black and white.

It’s a much more entertaining novel in that it contains a lot of action and political machination, so it’s a serious nail-biter. However, Jin Yong overdoses on the romance again, and this time our hero falls for four different girls. Oh to be a martial artist who is young, handsome, and leader of a powerful cult. Maybe Wuji is the first Mary Sue.

As a teacher I obviously enjoyed the use of historical figures and characters to enrich the story. It’s quite a giveaway, though, when you know the history of China. Still it’s a fun touch that keeps the novel (and the entire trilogy actually) grounded despite its fantastic battles.

And so it must be said: though the Condor Trilogy is of the wuxia genre it goes beyond the action and the fighting to introduce characters who are almost as human as you and me. Jin Yong should be commended for creating writers who are pretty much flesh and blood in their portrayal, so much that every single detail that happens to the characters can be painful and heartbreaking or joyful and ecstatic. You just get drawn in.

For a genre that’s been ridiculed as cheap and low-brow, Jin Yong’s “Condor Trilogy” truly is a cut above even the most “recommended” of “intelligent” novels.

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