There is not much information available about this novel in English, so I am giving it a more thorough treatment than usual, and making this a two-parter.
First, I think it’s better to show instead of describe the feel of the novel. So, before continuing, please read this short excerpt – click here to read it in English, click here to read it in Chinese.
Now that you’ve read that, you should have some idea what the novel is like, so you are ready to read this review.
In China, this novel is titled Duōqíng Làngzǐ Chīqíng Xiá (多情浪子痴情侠), which roughly means Passionate Wastrel, Infatuated Hero. In Taiwan it is titled (天觀雙俠) Tiān Guān Shuāng Xiá. Even though I prefer the title Tiān Guān Shuāng Xiá, it’s difficult to translate into English, so I will stick with Passionate Wastrel, Infatuated Hero.
Wuxia has historically been dominated by male writers. To this day, if you ask somebody who is familiar with wuxia to name five writers, there is a good chance that that person will name five male writers. Fortunately, times are changing. Zheng Feng (the pen name of Chen Yu-hui) is, at least in Taiwan, the most popular contemporary wuxia novelist … and she’s not male. Passionate Wastrel, Infatuated Hero is the novel which put her on the map.
To learn more about Zheng Feng, read this interview (English translation available here).
Passionate Wastrel, Infatuated Hero is a sweeping wuxia novel set in China, Korea, and Mongolia. It includes naughty children and dying elders, Tibetan monks and Japanese pirates, princesses and prostitutes, Catholic missionaries and desert bandits, doctors and assassins, decadent cities and secluded mountains, desperate fugitives and frightened leaders. As the title implies, this tale revolves around two main characters.
The Passionate Wastrel
Zhao Guan loves drinking alcohol, and he loves having sex with pretty women even more … so he’s built up a reputation as a bad boy. Much of the plot of the novel follows this pattern: Zhao Guan meets a pretty woman, the pretty woman is in trouble, Zhao Guan gets her out of trouble, something happens between them (whether it’s sex, a kiss, or merely lustful fantasies on Zhao Guan’s part), and the plot moves on.
Even though he’s promiscuous, Zhao Guan does not come across as a creep because he cares a lot about what women think and how they feel. When he gets pretty women out of trouble, he does it because he does not like seeing people in trouble, not because he is trying to get sex—nor does he think they owe him sex if he does rescue them. Of course, if they do decide to have sex with him anyway, it certainly makes him happy. Furthermore, he really gets off making women happy. Of course, because he is such a good-looking young man, he makes many women happy (at least in the short term) by letting them into his bed. He often looks to the women in his life, whether or not he’s having sex with them, for advice when he has a problem of his own. And finally, he’s honest with all of his love interests—he tells them that he sleeps around, and that he is not going to stop.
However, while he seems carefree on the outside, he is haunted by the brutal murder of his mother. Years later he can still describe the scene in gruesome detail. He was lucky to survive himself. He wishes to find the killers and get revenge … but the killers left no clues, and he knows that even if he knew who the killers were, he is not match for them. Furthermore, he is almost certain that they are pursuing him in order to “finish the job”—in fact, he has numerous close calls. Thus, he often travels incognito and goes by false names lest he suffer his mother’s fate.
The Infatuated Hero
Ling Haotian is the son of Ling Xiao and Qin Yanlong (two of the most highly respected martial artists and doctors of the era) and is the younger brother of Ling Biyi and Ling Shuangfei (twin brothers who are the most promising and respected young martial artists of the generation). Ling Haotian feels it is impossible for him to live up to such high standards. He often withdraws himself, lest he disappoint somebody by not being as awesome as the rest of his family. He is very close emotionally to Zheng Baoan, his mother’s apprentice, and eventually gets a major crush on her. However he cannot bring himself to tell her how he feels.
Then the bombshell falls. Ling Haotian’s older brother Ling Biyi—who everybody claims is the most wonderful young man in the world—confesses his love for Zheng Baoan, and asks for her hand in marriage. Everybody says that Zheng Baoan is really lucky. For example, Zhao Guan says that if he were into men he would definitely fall in love with Ling Biyi. It is inconceivable to everybody—including Ling Haotian—that Zheng Baoan would not return Ling Biyi’s love. Ling Haotian cannot stand to see his brother and Zheng Baoan together … so he runs away from home.
This, of course, is the beginning of his adventures. He wanders Jianghu without any particular goal, other than trying to forget about Zheng Baoan and his brother (he fails, of course). During the course of his travels, he has to fight a lot, and also ends up learning a lot of martial arts. Gradually, he gets better and better. He is so preoccupied with his unrequited love that he does not notice it when his abilities surpass that of his celebrated brothers. A couple of women hand Ling Haotian their hearts, yet the only woman in his heart is Zheng Baoan.
Trouble, of course, has a way of finding him. In fact, really, really, really big trouble finds him. If you can read Chinese, I do not want to spoil it, but if you cannot read Chinese, then I might as well say that …
[BIG SPOILER WARNING]
Ling Haotian watches his brother, Ling Biyi, die in his arms, murdered. This makes it seem even more impossible to Ling Haotian that he could ever be with Zheng Baoan. He feels he cannot love her without wronging his deceased brother (in traditional Chinese culture, marrying your brother’s widow is considered a major taboo). When Ling Haotian brings his brother’s body back home, his parents treat him as a monster. It turns out that his other brother, Ling Shuangfei, had accused Ling Haotian of committing the murder out of jealousy over Zheng Baoan. Furthermore, Ling Haotian is framed for many other murders, meaning there are many, many martial artists seeking to get their revenge. Ling Haotian wants to avenge his brother’s death and clear his name—until he finds out that the man who murdered Ling Biyi is none other than his other brother, Ling Shuangfei!
Does he murder Ling Shuangfei (his own brother), or leave the death of Ling Biyi (who is also his brother) unavenged? Should he tell everybody the truth about the murder? Would anybody believe him?
Of course, with almost everybody in Jianghu trying to kill him, Ling Haotian will not live long without help. It just so happens that one of the only people who believes in Ling Haotian’s innocence is Zhao Guan … and Zhao Guan knows a thing or two about hiding from people trying to kill him.
It turns out that not only is Ling Xiao not Ling Biyi and Ling Shuangfei’s biological father, but that he killed their biological father. Ling Shuangfei murdered Ling Biyi because Ling Biyi refused to work with him to get revenge for their biological father. It turns out that Ling Shuangfei and Ling Biyi’s half-sister, trying to avenge their father’s death, is the one framing Ling Haotian for so many murders … and is also responsible for the murder of Zhao Guan’s mother!
[END SPOILER WARNING]
Yep, in Ling Haotian’s life, when it rains, it pours.
So that is a basic overview of the novel. In Part II, which will appear on Friday, I will express my opinion. Until then…
What is your impression of this novel based on this overview?
UPDATE: Part II is up!
There is no question about it now … Sara K. is now officially a wuxia fan. The more she learns about wuxia, the more novels she wants to read, and her reading list is growing faster than she can actually read them. And she still wants to read other things. Maybe she will one day grow tired of wuxia novels, but she thinks that will take a while.
Melinda Beasi saysJuly 3, 2012 at 7:21 am
I’ll admit that wuxia has been a tough sell with me (I don’t love martial arts-focused fiction all that much, even though I enjoyed the pretty pictures from your Condor Trilogy series), but this one sounds really enticing, mainly because Ling Haotian sounds like a character I’d really enjoy. And actually, by the end I felt the same way about Zhao Guan. I think I’d really appreciate them as a team.
Sara K. saysJuly 3, 2012 at 8:44 pm
I am sure that the fact that the writer is female does not hurt ;)
And yes, they make a nice team. I would have probably Ling Haotian’s extreme monoamory and Zhao Guan’s extreme polyamory either irritating or hilarious if they were in separate stories, but they balance each other rather nicely.
That said, if you are interested in these characters, you really should try the Condor Trilogy (to the extent it is available in English), since the main characters (especially Yang Guo and Zhang Wuji) are a lot like Ling Haotian and Zhao Guan.
Estara saysJuly 7, 2012 at 11:49 am
So this is turns into a bromance road movie without m/m overtones? That might be fun ^^, especially with their respect towards women. I bet a movie or tv series would be great.
Sara K. saysJuly 7, 2012 at 7:19 pm
I suppose that’s one way to put it, particularly when Zhao Guan and Ling Haotian are travelling around Mongolia together. And yes, pretty much every conservation where Zhao Guan and Ling Haotian talk about romance is made of win.
Estara saysJuly 8, 2012 at 3:28 am
I really enjoy you broadening my knowledge of these parts of Asian pop-culture. I’ve been mostly Japan-centred in my interests so far, with occasional dips into manhua or manhwa and Kdorama and TWdorama – although I remember that German TV licensed one long-running wuxia series in the 80s (at the time when Kung Fu with David Carradine was very popular over here, too). I can’t for the life of my remember the German name (something about a river, I think) and I never saw any comparable series on our TV again.
Estara saysJuly 8, 2012 at 3:33 am
Hah, I actually found it!!!
You can even buy a German dubbed DVD collection
And while it is a Chinese story, it seems the production was Japanese. Not that I knew, because of the dubbing.
HAH, it’s actually Suikoden! I loved the games series and I’ve played them all on the PlayStation – well, all the ones that were translated.
Sara K. saysJuly 8, 2012 at 6:02 am
Glad to be of service :)
Ah, Water Margin (aka Outlaws of the Marsh). It’s one of the classic Chinese novels, right up there with Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Journey to the West. To my chagrin, I have not read it yet (I keep having this idea that I’ll learn Classical Chinese some day, and that I might as well put off reading the classics until I can read them untranslated. Fun fact: one of the characters in Water Margin is supposedly the ancestor of Guo Jing, the main character in The Eagle-Shooting Heroes. And while no Condor Trilogy characters show up in Passionate Wastrel, Infatuated Hero, the Beggars’ Sect does show up, and they are clearly based on the Condor Trilogy Beggars’ Sect. Wuxia is a giant shared universe.
Estara saysJuly 8, 2012 at 8:04 am
That is so nifty ^^. Shared world fiction. Like all those fantasy authors who build their fantasy world on Tolkien’s concept of elves and dwarves.