THE ORDER OF THE PURE MOON REFLECTED IN WATER
by Zen Cho
Expected publication: 23 June 2020 by Tor.com Publishing
adult | fantasy
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.
I received digital copy review from Tor.com Publishing via Edelweiss+. This does not affect my review in any way; all opinions are my own.
A nun joined a group of outlaws. A novella that revolves around identity and spirituality. A story that draws inspiration from Wuxia China and Malay culture. Found family with a lot of bickering and caring at the same time. The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water in conclusion is everything I need and I’m not surprised when I like this book very much.
Let’s start with something that kinda bothers me. There are a lot of misunderstandings from a few reviewers where they only include the Wuxia aspect of the book, despite it’s also influenced deeply by Malay culture—so here I am asking people to research about this further. Quoting from the blurb from Zen Cho’s website; The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water is a novella, a tale of nuns and bandits whose setting draws on both the semi-mythic China of wuxia and the Malaya of the Emergency. I call it tropical wuxia! My point is, I believe people have no intention of erasing one cultural aspect of a book but, in the future, leave the talk about culture and stuff to the ownvoices reviewers, please?
Okay, moving onto the review. At first, I thought this would be an action-packed novella since it’s inspired by Wuxia fantasy, but I was wrong! Of course there are few fight scenes in the book, but the main theme of the book is about identity and spirituality. The main characters; Guet Imm, Tet Sang, and Lau Fung Cheung embark on a journey where they have themselves and accept who they are.
Guet Imm is the nun to the Order of the Pure Moon while Tet Sang and Lau Fung Cheung are outlaws who sell illegal things to keep going. Not only do they have to accept themselves, but the group has to learn how to accept and understand one another. Guet Imm has to understand that the group is morally ambiguous and may not believe in heavenly power anymore, and the group needs to accept Guet Imm’s religious way on a day-to-day basis. They need to work on their differences and learn how to trust one another, thus creating such memorable dynamics.
Guet Imm’s and Tet Sang’s destiny seemed intertwined with each other and that made them come to terms with secrecy and one’s identity. They bicker with each other, often pushing the other to edge, but most of the time they have each other’s back. I really love Guet Imm’s and Tet Sang’s dynamics, they’re like siblings who were separated for a long time.
I also love the fact that Zen Cho managed to be queernormative effortlessly. We have gay main character and nonbinary character. The talk about gender fluidity, although was only mentioned briefly, was done in such a pleasing and comforting way. The way things were normalized in this book leaves me feeling peaceful and happy. There were so many subtleties here and there if you look closely, so it doesn’t really feel like ‘a plot twist’ when the conversation happened.
As for the cultural aspect and world building, it is deeply influenced by Chinese and Malay culture. I can see a few Wuxia aspects Zen Cho included in the book, as well as many Malay cultural references that make my heart burst into million butterflies. It’s always a pleasing experience to see a character wield a traditional weapon from your hometown or having the towns named in Bahasa Melayu. Little things like these make me happy and I’m looking to read more books from Zen Cho!
Overall, I’m recommending this book for people who are looking for high fantasy novella! This book is worth reading!