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Friday, June 19, 2020

The Order Of The Pure Moon Reflected In Water by Zen Cho (reviewed by Caitlin Grieve & Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Order the novella HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Zen Cho is the author of the Sorcerer Royal novels and a novella, The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water, as well as the short story collection Spirits Abroad. She is a Hugo, Crawford and British Fantasy Award winner, and a finalist for the Locus and Astounding Awards. She was born and raised in Malaysia, resides in the UK, and lives in a notional space between the two.

OFFICIAL BLURB: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.

FORMAT/INFO:  The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water will published on June 23rd, 2020. It is 160 pages split over 8 chapters and told in the third person. It is available in ebook, audiobook, and hardcover formats via Tordotcom publishing. 

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (CAITLIN): All Lau Fung Cheung and Tet Sang wanted was a cup of coffee.  But when they intervene on behalf of a waitress accused of witchcraft by an irate customer, they find themselves saddled with a new traveling companion. Guet Imm is a nun of the Order of the Pure Moon, forced into hiding after her temple was destroyed in the on-going war plaguing the countryside. She believes her encounter with the bandits is a sign from the deity that she should travel with them.  Which is unfortunate for Fung Cheung and Tet Sang since they're traveling with contraband the nun DEFINITELY won't approve of.

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water is a diverting story of people just trying to get by in a world falling apart.  In broad strokes, we are introduced to a world that is engaged in what one character refers to as a "silent war" between occupying Protectorate forces and "bandits" (rebels who are trying to retake the homeland).  There's violence between the two factions, but nobody in the towns openly discusses it, for fear of being accused of supporting the wrong side.  This is a novella that captures the tension of never knowing if armed forces are there to help you or to destroy your livelihood, where the answer to that question could change depending on the day. In the middle of all this mess is our family of bandits, misfits and outcasts, working as "contractors" to make money to survive.

By far the standout character here is Guet Imm, the witty, insightful nun who nonetheless is somewhat naive about the world, having spent the last decade in monastic seclusion.  The occasions when you get to watch her run mental circles around the bandits, causing them to agree to things while they're still realizing they're being asked, are the best parts of the book. The rest of the cast is unfortunately somewhat one dimensional, aside from Tet Sang, whose own past is revealed to have indirect ties to Guet Imm's.  Tet Sang usually is the one trying to corral Guet Imm, and it's through the conversations between the two that we get the most insight about the themes of war and identity. 

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water is a good light-fantasy novella to curl up on the couch with for an afternoon, a pleasant story, if not a particularly memorable one.  I enjoyed the time I spent reading it, but it never was deep enough, nor the stakes high enough, for there to be a "Wow" moment.  Still, if you love unlikely pairings, this is a good book to pick up.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (MIHIR): Zen Cho has written a wuxia story that enthralls and makes you want more. As far as novellas go, this was right up my alley with its mix of action, understated humour and Chinese culture/mythos.

The story blurb has been covered by Caitlin so I won’t repeat it but one thing to remember is that this book isn’t what you typically expect. It’s not full of action and magic without any character growth. On the one hand, it’s magical in its own sombre way. The magic is in how the author writes the story and the characters, she steeples in it the culture she knows but also adds a modern sensibility and hence the result is something that is very Zen Cho but at the same time, completely different from her longer work.

The characterization is very, very sincere and solid for the length of the story. I loved how each character was refreshingly written and made distinct. The author also makes gender identity a normal part of the story and it wasn’t used as a gimmick. Besides the three main characters, the other characters don’t get much space to shine. This I feel is more due to the space constraints due to the novella rather than the authorial decision.

The last thing I want to highlight is the humor that’s strewn throughout the novella. It’s isn’t the loud, boisterous kind but more of a cerebral nature. Dependent on each character’s nature, it feels proper. Lastly the cover is something spectacular and being a tordotcom production, this is very much in line & to be expected.

CONCLUSION: The story ends on a poignant note and it left me wanting more stories featuring these characters and world setting. Zen Cho has written a short and superb story that will leave you stunned with its simplicity and charm. The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water might have a long name but it doesn’t have any shortcomings in any of the other important areas. Give it a read and enjoy a very pleasantly nuanced story that will have you wanting more.

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