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A Hero Born

Narrated by: Daniel York Loh
Length: 13 hrs and 42 mins
4.7 out of 5 stars (13 ratings)

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Summary

The Chinese Lord of The Rings - now in English for the first time.  

The series every Chinese reader has been enjoying for decades - 300 million copies sold.  

China: AD 1200   

The Song Empire has been invaded by its warlike Jurchen neighbours from the north. Half its territory and its historic capital lie in enemy hands; the peasants toil under the burden of the annual tribute demanded by the victors. 

Meanwhile, on the Mongolian steppe, a disparate nation of great warriors is about to be united by a warlord whose name will endure for eternity: Genghis Khan.  

Guo Jing, son of a murdered Song patriot, grew up with Genghis Khan's army. He is humble, loyal, perhaps not altogether wise, and is fated from birth to one day confront an opponent who is the opposite of him in every way: privileged, cunning and flawlessly trained in the martial arts.  

Guided by his faithful shifus, The Seven Heroes of the South, Guo Jing must return to China - to the Garden of the Drunken Immortals in Jiaxing - to fulfil his destiny. But in a divided land riven by war and betrayal, his courage and his loyalties will be tested at every turn.  

Translated from the Chinese by Anna Holmwood. 

©2018 Jin Yong (P)2019 Quercus Editions Limited

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Magnificent

No wonder it's one of the most widely read novels in the Chinese speaking world. Yes, it reads like a Wuxia movie, so expect people flying through the air, a lot of melodrama and kungfu masters numbing people with death touches, but the story is truly grand, even got me in tears at times. Check out the numerous TV adaptations, especially the one from 2003.

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Comparisons to Lord Of The Rings an insult

Narration is very good but the plot of this story is all over the place, characters and plot points are introduced and moved away from with such randomness that it's tough to become invested in or care about any of it. Maybe a cultural mismatch?

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Why hadn't I heard about this book before?

This book, this trilogy, was totally unknown to me a year ago, and it was only by chance that a student mentioned the book to me as a possible book recommendation "if I were interested in martial arts". Being only halfway interested in those aforementioned martial arts, I opened this audiobook with some scepticism. And I must say my student was in the wrong: no interest in martial arts is needed to appreciate this very fine story! It is intricately woven, with great characters and plot. It drives you forward, and I who listen to audiobooks when I go for my pre-breakfast strolls found that breakfast had to wait for a long time indeed when these books were on my ear! I have listened to audiobooks for three years now, and am up to a few thousand hours. And I have listened to some very fine books, read by some very fine narrators. But out of all those thousands of hours, this book series was when I listened to it, and remains in retrospect (half a year after listening) my definite favourites. I feel I should also tip a hat to the narrator, Daniel York Loh. He shares the top spot of narrators with Dark Towers narrator Frank Muller, ahead of some other pretty impressive narrators. Even had this book not been as good, Loh's narration would have lifted it up, much the same way Morgan Freeman can lift a mediocre TV show to a good one and a good one to greatness. He both narrates the story as such well and in a pleasant voice, and captures the individuality of the characters and their voices. So I am watching for more titles read by him in the future. The combination of great story and great telling makes for a great experience that I will heartily recommend.

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  • Jefferson
  • 06-03-20

Better than a Chinese Lord of the Rings

Jin Yong’s Legends of the Condor Heroes (1957-59) has been called "the Chinese Lord of the Rings," but it features no Elves or Hobbits or Orcs or Dark Lords--just human beings. It’s a Historical Epic Fantasy Romance Adventure Kung Fu Bildungsroman featuring male and female martial arts experts (wuxia) of different traditions, abilities, and personalities in the early 13th-century historical context of the rising Jin Empire trying to complete its takeover of the declining Song Empire while both empires are trying to enlist the aid of the Mongols being unified by Genghis Kahn. One of the most popular books in the world, with 100s of millions of Chinese-speaking readers, Yong’s four-volume magnum opus is finally being translated into English. A Hero Born (2018), translated by Anna Holmwood, is the first of the four volumes to be translated. Not being able to read Chinese, I have no idea how accurate the translation is. All I can say is that listening to the audiobook was one of the most unstoppably entertaining reading experiences in my life. The sprawling story centers on Guo Jing, a good-natured, naïve, slow, and persistent peasant youth, and his relationship with the love of his life, Lotus Huang, a clever, quick, bold, and independent rich girl. Though Guo Jing grows up among the Mongols as martial brother to Temujin’s youngest son, he and Lotus Huang are patriotic children of the Song who hate the Jin. The story relates the fate of Guo Jing’s parents and their friends, the Mongolian childhood of Guo Jing, his training in kung fu by the Seven Freaks of the South, his encounter with formidable foes like the renegade kung fu husband and wife duo Copper Corpse and Iron Corpse (aka Twice Foul Dark Wind), his departure on a mission to try to kill the scheming Jin prince Wanyan Honglie, his falling in love with Lotus, and his further educational adventures in kung fu and life. If you like heroic fantasy and are interested in Chinese history and culture or liked the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), you would like A Hero Born. It’s a cinematic page turner by turns humorous, scary, thrilling, or moving because Jin Yong is so good at creating colorful characters and then putting them in unexpected situations in a rich world with a history that matters. His heroes and villains are flawed, distinctive, vivid, and human. The novel is full of humor (e.g., “He wasn’t known as the Butcher of a Thousand Hands for nothing”), pathos (e.g., “For eighteen years she had thought he was dead, and here he was, her husband, standing before her, like a spirit reincarnated”), and terror (e.g., “Some time passed and then a cracking sound started echoing all around them, first slow, then faster, like beans popping in hot oil. The noise was coming from her joints, but she was sitting perfectly still”). There are moments of devastating psychological truth, as when a needy princeling orders his servants to catch a rabbit so he can break its legs and then bring it to his tender-hearted mother and say, "I found a wounded rabbit for you to tend," so she can say, "Oh, you are a good boy," never realizing his cruelty or duplicity. Indeed, Jin Yong has a rich sense of irony: an act of mercy sets in motion a chain of tragic events; the reader knows someone’s identity the characters are clueless about; the best laid plans involving painstaking years of preparation often go awry. The irony leads to pithy and wise remarks on life like, “But it as they say: the swimmer is the one to drown, the cart always breaks on flat ground.” Jin Yong writes imaginative, exciting, and unpredictable action scenes ranging from personal duels to big battles. In addition to different kung fu disciplines and techniques (e.g., Nine Yin Skeleton Claw, Neigong Inner Strength, Water Kung Fu, etc.), he assigns countless fanciful or descriptive names for the kung fu moves “performed” by his characters: Mandarin Duck Kick, Enter the Tiger’s Lair, Branch Beats the White Chimpanzee, Black Dragon Gathers Water, Cat Chases Mouse, Pick the Fruit, Open the Window to Gaze at the Moon, Embracing the Gentleman’s Cape, Jumping Carp, Eight Steps to Catch the Toad, Falling Star, Laugh the Jaw Out of Joint, and many more. (I loved reading action like, “He reached for the spear and traced a Rising Phoenix Soaring Dragon through the air, the red tassel dancing behind him, until the point thrust forward straight at the cupboard.”) At times the kung fu verges on the superhuman, but it obeys a set of rules that are gradually revealed, confirmed, and played with: all kung fu masters have a single weak spot on their bodies, are limited by their ability to control their chi (inner life force), are supposed to be honorable (poison is permissible if you keep the antidote handy), and are never always the best: “Every peak sits under the shadow of another.” There are more appealing things in the work. It contains many savory Chinese cultural references, from quoted poems, Taoist monks, and exotic dishes, to the ubiquitous kowtow, elaborate names like The Garden of the Eight Drunken Immortals, and similes comparing things like black hair to the clouds in an ink painting, rain drops to soy beans, and a waist-sash to “the color of spring onions.” And its treatment of gender is impressive, as characters like Lotus Huang and Iron Corpse are believable, sympathetic, strong, and at least as formidable martially and intellectually as the men. Daniel York Loh reads the audiobook with great empathy, understanding, and restraint. He does a splendid malevolent and damaged Iron Corpse voice, a perfect civilized spoiled princeling voice, and nice Guo Jing and Lily Huang voices. I had a wonderful time with A Hero Born, often on the edge of my seat or chuckling with pleasure, often surprised, never bored. As it ends with simultaneous cliffhangers, the moment I finished it, I had to start the second volume, and I’m sure you will, too.

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