Zen Cho is coming off of a Hugo win for her novelette “If at First You Don’t Succeed Try Try Again” with this new novella set for release June 23, 2020. The Order of Pure Moon Reflected in Water was immediately on my radar thanks to that award, but I was really stoked to win a copy from the author in a Twitter giveaway.
Cho describes The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water as a “wuxia,” a genre of Chinese literature that deals with martial arts heroes fighting for the sake of honor and chivalry. I got that from Wikipedia – I’ve taken a college course in Chinese history and read the classics of Chinese philosophy, but not fiction. I came into this book, expecting a fantasy, and got a refreshingly different story all together.
The magic in this story exists, but not like it does in Harry Potter. The magic lives in the actions of nuns and monks, fighting against heroic bandits and corrupt cops. Guet Imm, a nun devoted to the Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water, tells off a rude customer in the coffee shop where she works. When he gets physical, she’s rescued – via awesome fistfight – by handsome bandit Fung Cheung and his earthy associate Tet Sang. Guet Imm quickly becomes swept up in a caper run by Fung Cheung’s gang to save relics devoted to the Moon deity she worships.
Guet Imm butts heads against the rough bandits she starts hanging out with, and of course outsmarts them all except Tet Sang. Her and Tet Sang’s friendship (and only a friendship due to a love triangle with Fung Cheung) tear up the boundaries of gender and identity. Without revealing too much, it turns out they worship the same deity, but choose to show it in different ways. If they are going to get cash for the gang in order to keep up the fight against invaders in a “secret war,” they’ll have to learn to find a way that allows for both of their devotions.
Guet Imm and Tet Sang leave audiences with a sort of cliffhanger, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a sequel or even a series of wuxia novels. The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water offers a new direction for the speculative genre in the English language, drawing from a much older tradition in another culture. For a reader looking to expand horizons, it’s exactly what’s needed.
Three out of five stars
Page count: 158
Favorite quote: “It was not that she moved quickly. She winked out of existence.”