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A Heart Divided
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B : enjoyable continuation of the story, with some very good episodes
See our review for fuller assessment.
From the Reviews:
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The complete review's Review:
The fourth instalment of the Legends of the Condor Heroes-series picks up where the previous one left off, with Guo Jing and a seriously injured Lotus being flown to (relative) safety by the trusty condors.
The Iron Palm Gang is still hot in pursuit, but Guo Jing and Lotus manage to make their way to an almost unreachable retreat where a Madame Ying has settled.
She's not very welcoming, but she can point them to a healer who has the powers to help Lotus -- who is in desperate need of treatment.
Madame Ying does make her assistance conditional: if Lotus can be healed, then she must return and live with her for a year; Lotus promises to do so, though as it turns out this is not nearly the most problematic aspect of accepting Madame Ying's help: Madame Ying has some scores to settle and has her own agenda -- which she uses Guo Jing and Lotus to further (though everyone only figures that out way too late).
The more adventures we share, the more memories we'll have of our time together. So, when we part, we'll have plenty to remember each other by -- that's good, isn't it ?Guo Jing is always much more in the moment than Lotus, who can look farther ahead; he doesn't want to imagine them separated -- but Lotus knows their current happiness may be disrupted. Hanging over them is Guo Jing's vow to marry Genghis Khan's daughter, Khojin: he is a man (or, still, man-child) who stands by his word, and there seems no way around this.
Before that becomes an issue again, however, the scene they find at Peach Blossom Island tears them apart. The island is no idyll, but rather the scene of carnage, with no apparent survivors, and gross desecrations that are terribly upsetting to them. Guo Jing jumps to the obvious conclusion, that this could only be the handiwork of Apothecary Huang -- Lotus' father -- while Lotus stands by her beloved father. The rift is sudden and deep -- (too) typical of both Guo Jing and Lotus acting in the heat of a very hot moment instead of trying to work things through, which would allow them to see more clearly what actually happened. Apothecary Huang does not, however, help matters by choosing not to deny involvement when first confronted about it .....
Guo Jing tries to find Lotus, after he learns the truth behind events at Peach Blossom Island, but, for months on end, finds no trace of her. He does hook up with Genghis Khan and the still advancing Mongols again, with Genghis Khan promoting him to Noyan and giving him command over ten thousand soldiers. Guo Jing is in way over his head -- "he was a novice when it came to warfare" -- but careful study of the military treatise that he has, The Secret to Defeating the Jin, helps provide him with most of the answers. He also has someone to turn to to help him with the passages he doesn't understand, as:
Whenever he reached a section he could not comprehend, he would invite Surefoot Lu to his ger and seek his opinion. Each time, the Beggar Clan Elder would say, "I don't have an answer right now. Let me think on it," and take his leave. Yet, moments later, he would return with a lucid, thorough explanation.It takes a while for Guo Jing to catch on, but obviously someone is feeding Surefoot Lu the answers and advice -- and, as he eventually realizes, it has to be Lotus. She remains in the shadows, however, frustrating Guo Jing's efforts to find her. And he is not the only person seeking her: Viper Ouyang, desperate to learn the secrets of the Nine Yin Manual, has been trying to force her to reveal its secrets to him, and has now also found his way here, certain that she is hiding among the many soldiers.
Guo Jing worries that Viper Ouyang, in his desperation to learn the secrets of the Manual, will hurt Lotus, and they come to a gentlemen's agreement: in exchange for Viper Ouyang's promise not to harm Lotus, Guo Jing promises to spare his life the next three times they meet. Viper Ouyang is, of course, no gentleman, but it's Guo Jing who is tested first, as Viper Ouyang repeatedly falls into his hands here; the scenes of Viper Ouyang being trapped by him are among the novel's most creative and funny -- as then is the Mongol advance on Samarkand, which finally brings Lotus and Guo Jing together again, and also lets them string Viper Ouyang along some more.
Once again, Lotus' ideas and strategy help Guo Jing to great triumphs -- and knowing how grateful Genghis Khan is for what Guo Jing accomplished, the two finally see a possible out for Guo Jing from his promise to marry Khojin, certain that Genghis Khan would do whatever Guo Jing asked for after this great triumph, even to break his engagement with the ruler's daughter. Of course, when it comes time to make the request, Guo Jing flubs it -- yet again, by doing what amounts to the right thing. But before he can explain, a disappointed Lotus has yet again fled.
Jin Yong dips in this well -- of characters taking decisive action when they completely misread a situation and before even asking or looking for a full explanation -- rather too often. Meanwhile, when Lotus and Guo Jing are reünited -- as, of course, they are destined to be -- all is pretty much instantly forgiven and entirely forgotten. This extreme-hot-and-cold back and forth makes for some dramatic effect, but a bit more nuance would be welcome here .....
Guo Jing remains with Genghis Khan for some time, but a final break comes when he learns of what the ruler's plans are, as his ultimate allegiance remains to the Song: "I cannot betray my country", he makes clear. Conveniently, this ends his obligation towards Khojin, and he can finally dedicate himself solely to Lotus -- if she's still alive, and if he can find her .....
The novel culminates in the 'Contest of Mount Hua' to determine the greatest martial master. Count Seven and Apothecary Huang are the big contenders, but Viper Ouyang comes on the scene as well, determined to use what Lotus has revealed to him from the Nine Yin Manual. It may be the key to becoming 'the Greatest Martial Master Under the Heavens', but, as others have learned:
Immortal Wang said that the Manual was the greatest source of evil in the wulin. It is incontestably true -- the slaughter it has caused, the lives it has destroyed.Lotus could not let such knowledge fall into the hands of someone like Viper Ouyang but she pretends to, messing with him in outlandish fashion -- and with outlandish results. Viper Ouyang's last stand on Mount Hua is another very clever and funny set of scenes, as Lotus' nonsense-lessons prove all too effective.
Given how things play out on Mount Hua, Lotus makes the case for the final contest also to take on a different form, with Count Seven and Apothecary Huang each in turn taking on Guo Jing, rather than each other -- showing also how far Guo Jing has advanced with his abilities, and what a natural he is at martial arts.
Along the way, Guo Jing did have a crisis of faith:
I've spent my life working on my kung fu, but what was the point of all the training ? he asked himself. I couldn't protect my mother. I couldn't protect Lotus. What purpose has my martial knowledge served ? I tried so hard to be a good person, but did that make anyone happy ? [... ] So many people suffered -- all because of me.He even takes some tentative steps to back completely away from all martial arts -- but of course can't extricate himself from what he was basically born for. Jin Yong presents this nicely, an interesting little detour -- even if Guo Jing is very soon back in the martial fold.
The first volume in the series, describing Guo Jing's birth and early life, seemed to suggest that the story would be defined by not only his life but that of his sworn brother, Yang Kang, with the two on parallel paths. It is Guo Jing, however, that dominates the series, with Yang Kang playing a much smaller role -- with Guo Jing noting near the conclusion here his regret about: "his failure to live up to the pledge of brotherhood he had made" with Yang Kang. An opportunity to right the situation is introduced near the novel's close, Guo Jing and Lotus stumbling across Yang Kang's newborn son; they are even the ones to suggest the name he is then given: Penance Amend, with Guo Jing offering to be his shifu and to teach him kung fu when he is old enough. The novel closes soon after this -- but this quartet of books is followed by two more (not yet translated) quartets, the next, 'The Return of the Condor Heroes', featuring a teenage Penance Yang .....
A Heart Divided does not bring Guo Jing's story to a real close, but at its conclusion he and Lotus appear finally to be able to devote themselves to each other, and it is also marked by the death of Genghis Khan (with whom Guo Jing more or less makes up); with his mother now also dead, and nothing standing in the way of him marrying Lotus, he has certainly reached the end of his youth and seems possibly ready to step into adulthood. He is still the same somewhat hapless and clueless character, but is no longer the boy who still had so much to learn.
Here, as in the previous volumes, much of the drama comes from the tension between the characters, as, as Lotus observes: "The line between friend and foe is never clear cut". Guo Jing and Lotus both find themselves working together with enemies as well as allies becoming enemies -- indeed, they find themselves in opposition at times as well (if ultimately also obviously destined to be together). A code of honor explains much of the conduct, especially when characters hold back despite having a nominal enemy on the ropes; Guo Jing, for example, benefits from this when he defies Genghis Khan and flees the Mongols. The code of honor most of the characters abide by is also used to good effect when characters appear who play by different rules. Viper Ouyang, in particular, is a very fine villain here -- and is entertainingly put through the ringer along the way.
Guo Jing and Lotus are buffeted by fortune, too; as Lotus notes: "You think you've got it all planned out, but the heavens will always trip you up". The sly Lotus is a well-drawn complement to the often much slower on the uptake Guo Jing, and they are a very appealing couple, well-used by Jin Yong -- with many of the best bits reserved for Lotus (beginning with a scene early on where she decides: "To murder the man would not set the right tone").
There are, of course, many fight scenes. Some are perhaps a bit drawn-out, and some perhaps gratuitous, but mostly they fit comfortably enough into the story, not dragging it down to much -- and there are certainly some scenes which are genuinely very exciting. Yes, some of the details are just a blur -- "Guo Jing tapped twice on the monk's right flank, at the Essence Spur point under his armpit and the Phoenix Tail toward the base of his spine" -- but this volume, and the entire series, are certainly more than simply 'martial arts fiction'.
All in all, A Heart Divided is good entertainment and an enjoyable read. With his enormous cast of characters, Jon Yong plays with rather many story-threads, and a few are left dangling rather loosely, but the novel is still satisfyingly complete. Obviously, beginning mid-story (and mid-air) as this instalment does, this is not the volume to start with -- but it's well worth making your way through the previous three to get here.
(Note: while this, like the previous volumes, rates a 'B' that also reflects its being only a part of a larger whole; taken all together, the Legends of the Condor Heroes probably rates a 'B+'.)
- M.A.Orthofer, 30 August 2021
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Chinese author Jin Yong (金庸; actually 查良鏞)), also known as Louis Cha, lived 1924 to 2018.
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