Zen Cho has described The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water as fanfic for an imaginary 50-episode wuxia TV series. I know pretty much nothing about wuxia, but if this is what it is like then I’m in.
The novella tells the story of a group of outlaws who, much like Robin Hood’s band, are doing their best to survive and do some good in a time of general lawlessness. Instead of King John they have The Protector. Instead of the Sheriff’s men there are the mata, who are a sort of (very corrupt) police force. Instead of Saxons and Normans there are Tang people and, well, at this point my understanding of East Asian history fails dismally. But you get the point.
Things begin to go wrong for our heroes when their leader, the handsome and charismatic Lau Fung Cheng, intervenes in a dispute in a coffeehouse to save a waitress from abuse at the hands of an arrogant customer. Matters quickly deteriorate, and Fung Cheng ends up having to accept the girl into his band because she has lost her job.
The girl, Guet Imm, also known as Sister Nirodha, is a former anchorite in the aforementioned Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water. Having not been fed for several days, she emerged from her seclusion to discover that her fellow devotees had all been slaughtered by bandits, or the mata, who knows these days? Hence her ending up as a waitress.
That’s about as much as I can tell you, except that that this is no Robin and Marian tale. Guet Imm is (more or less) a sworn virgin, and anyway she gets on much better with Tet Sang, the story’s version of Little John.
(I have elided over an entire comedy scene about men having to sacrifice their dicks to the goddess should they defile one of her sacred vessels, because it is a bit gruesome and I don’t want to put the boys off reading this… oh, sorry…)
Unlike Robin Hood stories, however, this is not a matter of robbing from the rich to give to the poor. The band does have a shipment of rice to take to poor people in a nearby town, but they also have a much more valuable cargo. It is not just people’s stomachs that are at stake, it is their entire culture. Imagine if the Saxons still worshipped the Æsir, that the Normans were busy trashing temples, and that Marian was a priestess of Frigg.
That should give Western readers some idea of what to expect. Of course the parallels are not exact. This is very much an Asian story (I think set in Malaysia, but again my understanding is poor). It is also fun, beautifully written, and with a fascinating twist that made me very happy. Recommended.
Title: The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water
By: Zen Cho