A Hero Born (Legends of the Condor Heroes #1) by Jin Yong
Fantasy | Martial Arts
Translated from Chinese
Published by St. Martin’s Press
Released September 17, 2019
Originally Published in China in 1957
Goodreads | Amazon
Here’s a thing you guys should know about me: I tend to plan out hardcore, impossible-to-do ideas and then quickly abandon them. Now that I’m receiving mental health treatment, I know that it’s one of my bipolar disorder symptoms. A perfect example of this random urge I get was the idea I had last year to dedicate each month to a different country and only read books from that country, calling the challenge “Read the World.”
Obviously, this didn’t work out for a few reasons. First, finding translated literature, especially from some small countries, can be an incredibly frustrating endeavor. Second, it was going to be damn near impossible to read only translated books, especially with so many amazing books coming out in the U.S. that I wanted to read. And third, it was just going to be too much.
However, for the one month when I somewhat tried to stick with the plan, I settled on reading Chinese books. What I did read that month was really fun, plus I had a guest post from the amazing Meonicorn.
Since fantasy is my favorite genre, I obviously started off my search for books to read by looking for original Chinese fantasy novels. I discovered the Legends of the Condor Heroes series, written by Jin Young in the late 50s/early 60s. It sounded amazing – a martial arts generational saga taking place during the Song Empire and featuring Genghis Khan? Yes, please.
Unfortunately, though, finding an English translation was so difficult that the search was one of the reasons I quickly abandoned the whole “Read the World” endeavor. I added the book to my Goodreads TBR and, sadly, gave up the search.
And then, a few months later, I saw a new English translation for the first of the novels, A Hero Born, on Edelweiss!! I reached out to the publisher and was ridiculously excited when I received an ARC of this book in the mail.
I’m so thrilled that this series is getting a new English translation and being released. The first book was incredible. I couldn’t put it down and gave it a solid five-star rating. I can’t believe I have to wait until 2020 for the second book. I can say with confidence that A Hero Born will be on my top ten books of 2019 list.
Whew, I guess that’s enough backstory. Let’s get to the book itself.
Legends of the Condor Heroes is an epic Chinese martial arts fantasy series. It was originally a serialized story published in the Hong Kong Commercial Daily, but eventually was published in novel form.
The story starts off by the reader meeting two sworn brothers, Yang Tiexin and Guo Xiaotian, who pledge to one another that their children will be bonded just as they are. If the children are both of the same gender, they will become sworn siblings; if they are not, they will be married.
After a tragic event occurs, the children are separated, and Guo Xiaotian’s son, Guo Jing, ends up being raised in Mongolia, the best friend and sworn brother of Genghis Khan’s son. He is taught martial arts from a group known as the “Seven Freaks of Jiangnan.” Unbeknownst to Guo Jing, however, he has been entered into a martial arts contest which he’ll fight at 18 years of age. By the end of the novels, he’s making his way into China and has to put both his courage and skill to the test.
This novel was extraordinary. The fight scenes were so well-written and intense. In many novels, fight scenes are difficult to describe, but author Jin Yong wrote it in such a way that you can easily visualize every step taken amongst the warriors.
The antagonists in the story were conniving, manipulating, and, in one particular case, downright terrifying. About halfway through A Hero Born, we encounter a monstrous pair of martial artists known as Copper Corpse and Iron Corpse. Together, they’re known as Twice Fowl Dark Wind and they’ve perfected what is called the Nine Yin Skeleton Claw, a horrible move that slaughters their victims and leaves holes in the skull, right through the bone.
If you’re familiar with martial arts and Kung Fu literature, then the paragraph above won’t be shocking. When Chinese names and martial arts techniques are translated into English, they often end up with descriptive names that seem unusual to Western readers. If you’re not used to these sorts of names, please don’t let it put you off from the story; stick with it, and it’ll quickly lose its strangeness.
I enjoyed watching our protagonist, Guo Jing, grow up throughout the novel. We follow him from being in his mother’s womb to when he’s grown and ventures into China, and it’s fascinating watching his character development. Many of the other characters are just as amazing, but you don’t get to know any of the others as deeply as you do Guo Jing. I’m hoping that in the rest of the novels we get to know even more characters as intimately.
There’s a little bit of everything in this book, from love, war, betrayal, and friendship to amazing scenery, fight scenes, and dialogue. The only thing that I disliked about the book is that I have to wait a little longer before reading the second book in this series.
Legends of the Condor Heroes is the most famous fantasy martial arts series in China, and author Jin Yong has been compared to J.R.R. Tolkien and George R.R. Martin. Reading A Hero Born, I understand these comparisons. There’s a good reason for it. If you’re looking for a new series to lose yourself in, or if you’re a fan of martial arts, this series is definitely one that you should check out.