Zen Cho returns with a found family wuxia fantasy that combines the vibrancy of old school martial arts movies with characters drawn from the margins of history.
A bandit walks into a coffeehouse, and it all goes downhill from there. Guet Imm, a young votary of the Order of the Pure Moon, joins up with an eclectic group of thieves (whether they like it or not) in order to protect a sacred object, and finds herself in a far more complicated situation than she could have ever imagined.
The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water starts with a beautiful man, bandits, and a nun. Zen Cho takes Chinese traditions and culture and seamlessly threads suspicions of magic in what the nuns see as mindful practices. In a land surrounded by war, a group of men are forced into a life of banditry in order to help their families. A hilarious and irreverent nun joins them on a journey to a seller. The journey unfolds from there.
As much as I loved the comedic tone, the beautiful prose, and the dynamic relationships, this book failed to keep my interest. My main issue is the lack of drive going on in this short story. It sort of just feels like you’re tagging along with characters without really understanding the bigger picture. The endgoal of the group was not enough to make me satisfied that I got an interesting story. I don’t alway need a plot. I love character driven stories but I have to ask what is the actual drive here? Other than a nun tagging along with a group and maybe some characters showing sides to themselves we hadn’t seen before? If that’s the case then call me disappointed.
There is complexity in the one character I’m most interested in: Tet Sang. He has layers upon layers that the author subtly shows in small comments and ways of behaving. What I am uncomfortable with is the idea that normalizing trans identities seems to be in confusion with revealing his transmasculine identity. If this was about normalizing his identity why is it intentionally hidden? To protect his identity? Trans people in our own world face a lot of violence from our own transphobic society but I never get the sense that Zen Cho wanted to create a anti-trans or even anti-queer world. Feung Cheung’s own bisexual identity is explicit but Tet Sang’s identity isn’t. Even as we get from him that he hasn’t really ever seen himself as a woman in a long time, if ever. He even asks characters that discover that he isn’t cis to use he/him pronouns. As far as this aspect of the book, I just question how his identity is revealed. I’m skeptical of the fact that this isn’t queerness as a reveal.
The writing is exquisite, the characters are multi-faceted but the book handles normalizing queerness questionably and lacks a drive and complex story to keep my interest all the way through.
Thank You to Tor for an advanced reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review.