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the complete review - fiction
A Bond Undone
Legends of the Condor Heroes - II
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- Legends of the Condor Heroes (Volume 2)
- Chinese title: 射鵰英雄傳
- Translated by Gigi Chang
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B : enjoyable and colorful entertainment -- but still only (another) part of the bigger story
See our review for fuller assessment.
From the Reviews:
- "What proves both exquisite and refreshing in Jin Yong's battles are not only these moments of humour, but their grace. Combat is developed not through the crunch of bone (as in Western thrillers by, say, Lee Child), but an elegant to and fro of motion and counter-motion. (...) This, in part, is why A Bond Undone is so seductive a read. Even the most action-packed passages appeal directly to the imagination." - James Kidd, South China Morning Post
- "Where the story excels is in its colourful sketches of these fabled fighters (.....) Chang has inherited the unenviable task of parsing numerous arcane martial techniques and complicated fight sequences. (...) She makes a valiant attempt, but it often comes across as more academic than action-packed and the narrative sags in these sections." - Olivia Ho, The Straits Times
Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers.
Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.
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The complete review's Review:
A Bond Undone picks up right where A Hero Born left off, with Guo Jing and Lotus Huang traveling together and getting involved in various (mis)adventures.
It opens with Lotus yet again emerging victorious -- "giggling and triumphant", a frequent combination for her -- only for her to be drawn into another contest, with Gallant Ouyang (already traveling with twenty-four concublnes, but eager to add Lotus to the bunch) -- a situation she can handle more easily than on-the-run Guo Jing, who runs right into Iron Corpse Cyclone Mei -- the other half of Twice Foul Dark Wind, who had long been searching for the killer of her better half, Hurricane Chen -- none other than Guo Jing, whose childhood slip amounts to his original sin.
She's eager to finally exact her long longed-for revenge, but first she tells her and Hurricane's story, including their fleeing Peach Blossom Island, stealing the second of the two volumes of their shifu's invaluable Nine Yin Manual with all its kung fu secrets.
Guo Jing -- and Lotus -- make good their escape from that confrontation, but continue to stumble onto and into challenging situations -- albeit often spending much of their times observing from the sidelines, at least for a while, before getting involved or finding themselves in the middle of things.
Gallant Ouyang's interest in Lotus continues, and he keeps popping up -- "Not him again ! Lotus recognized Gallant Ouyang's voice" ... -- culminating in his wooing her when she has returned to her father Apothecary Huang's Peach Blossom Island, her father promising her in marriage to him (without asking her opinion).
Even here, a variety of motives and interests come into play, as Gallant Ouyang would love to snare Lotus while his uncle, Venom Viper Ouyang, specifically supports the suit because he hopes to get his hands on the Nine Yin Manual.
Guo Jing is, when this volume starts out, also unhappily promised to another, Mercy Mu, but he and Lotus are both completely committed to each other; ensuring that they will be able to live as a happily wedded couple is their major ambition, and obviously their being promised to others is a problem here.
In Guo Jing's case it's more easily solved -- the one he is supposed to marry also has other ideas ("I would not marry him, even if you forced me at knifepoint", Mercy reassures Lotus) -- but Lotus' father is determined that she not marry the unworthy little whippersnapper, and the obstacles he puts in their way are considerable.
(Among the issues Apothecary Huang has with Guo Jing is that he killed Hurricane Chen: though he got what he deserved: "it was a matter for us to deal with. Not an outsider !"
Lotus' reminder -- "He was six years old, Papa !" -- doesn't carry much weight with him.)
Gallant Ouyang and Guo Jing have at it along the way, but, while there are some entertaining episodes and encounters en route, the story really builds to the final encounters on Peach Blossom Island.
Lotus and Guo Jing make their way there, but as soon as they arrive Lotus rushes ahead to greet her father and Guo Jing can't find his way in the labyrinth that is the island and instead of finding Lotus stumbles upon the cave-dwelling Zhou Botong the Hoary Urchin, who has been in a sort of stand-off as Apothecary Huang's prisoner here for the last fifteen years.
(Lotus' convenient disappearance -- and then her inability to rejoin Guo Jing -- feels a bit contrived, even in this novel full of the unlikely, Jin Yong briefly making things a bit too easy for himself here.)
Guo Jing does Zhou Botong a solid, and Zhou Botong -- a true martial arts master -- takes a liking to the youngster, insisting they become brothers.
He also decides to help Guo Jing out.
Guo Jing's kung fu has been improving on his travels -- by leaps and bounds, actually -- but he still has a way to go.
But, as someone also willing to pass on some of his expertise noted earlier on about the youngster: "You may not be the smartest, but your temperament is perfect for my kung fu", and he really does pick it up well and easily.
Zhou Botong, one of the true masters, has even more to offer: he has a copy of both volumes of the Nine Yin Manual.
He's been sitting on it all these years -- something that so many are desperate to get their hands on that: "at least a hundred wulin masters have died trying to get hold of the Manual over the years".
The current long line of those eager to get their hands on it includes, of course, Venom Viper Ouyang, as well as a frustrated Apothecary Huang, who wishes to honor his dead wife, Lotus' mother -- who has her own history with the Manual ... -- by burning it as an offering to her.
Guo Jing is fearful -- from everything he's seen: "The Manual has only brought harm to the world" -- and would rather have nothing to do with it, but Zhou Botong, who, with his: "passion for all things martial" holds kung fu above all else, argues it is wonderful knowledge: "The Nine Yin Manual contains the most wonderful, mystical kung fu" -- and nothing, he thinks, can be greater than that.
Cyclone Mei only had the second volume, so she could never truly learn its riches: it really is a two-part work, and understanding of both is necessary in order to unfold all its power:
The first volume detailed key Taoist theories about cultivating internal strength, as well as principles of fist and sword kung fu.
The second volume contained all kinds of strange and wonderful martial skills.
Everything from methods of training for them to the ways to defeat them.
Guo Jing wants nothing to do with the manual, but he remains a gullible youngster and Zhou Botong tricks him into learning the whole thing, pretending he's merely passing along the kung fu he's invented during his long stay all alone in the cave.
The ruse works -- they have a lot of time on their hands, and it's one way of keeping busy -- and, without knowing it, Guo Jing learns all the Manual's secrets -- with his kung fu prowess then, practically without him even realizing it, suddenly off the charts.
The story here then culminates in Guo Jing and Gallant Ouyang battling for the hand of Lotus, with Apothecary Huang pitting them against each other in three tests; here, too, the time Zhou Botong spent drilling Guo Jing in the Nine Yin Manual proves helpful, in an unexpected way -- albeit also with yet further unintended consequences.
This installment of the novel then closes with a nice cliffhanger, with Guo Jing and Zhou Botong sailing off in the grand boat Zhou Botong insists on taking -- despite Apothecary Huang's warnings about it, that: "No journey in that boat will end well" --, with Lotus ultimately in desperate hot pursuit.
A Bond Undone moves along quite nicely, though it more or less putters along before reaching Peach Blossom Island; once there, the tighter, more focused action -- and high stakes -- make for a truly exciting couple of episodes.
Not that the stakes aren't high earlier too, but things are so busy and there's such a mix of characters moving in and out of focus that it feels a bit crowded.
The mix of backstories coming to the fore is often helpful, but Jin Yong juggles quite a bit here.
(It's nice to see the condors swoop back into the story, however.)
It's the dominant characters of naïve and well-meaning Guo Jing and the much more playful Lotus and their devotion to each other -- deep but not cloying -- that holds it all together.
Lotus can fall back on her kung fu talents when need be -- and her Hedgehog Chainmail, making her torso basically unhittable, has her well-protected from others' blows -- and Guo Jing continues to learn more, but their own fighting abilities are secondary; they come into play, but far more often it is others' kung fu that is the focus.
This, too, is for the best: while some of the fight scenes offer good drama, there's only so much one can wring out of these, and Guo Jing and Lotus' adventures beyond (or at least around) just these are certainly more interesting.
The relationship between Guo Jing and Lotus is one of deep love, but also remains a chaste one.
This makes for a useful contrast with the few lascivious characters, such as Gallant Ouyang, but gives a somewhat neutered feel to the story too.
The balancing act is further skewed by, for example, extremes such as Zhou Botong, who wants to save Guo Jing from being ensnared by a woman: he believes devotion to kung fu is all there should be in the world.
Guo Jing emphatically does not -- he knows his life belongs with and to Lotus -- but the innocence of his relationship with Lotus, even at the point when Guo Jing is battling for her hand in marriage and official approval from her father, feels increasingly forced.
A Bond Undone doesn't so much build up to its final dramatic show-downs but rather putters along up to them, but it's more than adequately entertaining until then -- and then gripping for its final third.
Usefully -- since it ends still only at the halfway-point of the larger novel, Legends of the Condor Heroes -- it concludes with a hell of a cliffhanger, with Guo Jing sailing off in a ship that is not so much cursed as intentionally damned .....
As with the previous volume, A Bond Undone is only part of the story, a quarter of the larger whole.
Things have moved along nicely, but the larger political-historical contest is definitely on the back burner here -- presumably to come to the fore in the next instalments.
It is good, fun entertainment, if a bit frustratingly incomplete if read without benefit of the next two parts already in hand .....
- M.A.Orthofer, 1 April 2020
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A Bond Undone:
Other books by Jin Yong (Louis Cha) under review:
Other books of interest under review:
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About the Author:
Chinese author Jin Yong (金庸; actually 查良鏞)), also known as Louis Cha, lived 1924 to 2018.
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© 2020 the complete review
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