Paul reviews The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water, a standalone fantasy novella by Zen Cho.
|Date of Publishing: June 23, 2020
|Trigger Warnings: N/A
|Page count: 176
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.
While The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water (Pure Moon) may look, and perhaps seem, a light read given its diminutive size and wry, breezy writing style—it’s anything but.
Sure, the plot is relatively simple— a planned deal goes south and must be salvaged— and yes, there are only three characters who are expanded upon. But, there is a deceptive amount of depth to Pure Moon and an endless ocean of charm.
My knowledge of East Asian culture and Wuxia is sadly lacking, but this was in no way an impediment to my enjoyment.
Pure Moon opens with an exhilarating introduction where the three main characters of Guet Imm, Lau Fung Cheung, and Tet Sang meet inside of a tearoom brawl. It’s a fantastic scene, with all the energetic bravado you’d expect.
Now I went into Pure Moon with zero expectations, so I wasn’t disappointed when the tempo of the novella slowed after this point. While there are a couple of other action scenes, the narrative’s trajectory is slower and far more character-driven than you’d expect given the opening.
For me, that wasn’t at all a negative as I felt that I was able to savour everything thanks to the slower pacing.
The three main characters are afforded an awful lot of breathing room to just exist and vibe with one another. The relationship between them has a beautiful, lip-biting discordance, with no small amount of bickering and veiled comments. It’s really engaging and super fun to see these relationships develop, and that there is such growth in but 150 pages alongside a fully developed plot—tremendous.
Even the side characters, despite their brevity, feel as though they have fully formed albeit more abstract personalities. The ‘gang’ has that rough-edged but found-family feeling, which I love seeing in these eclectic groups of people.
Zen Cho’s writing style, despite being quite direct, as is perhaps necessary to drive a smaller story, carries with it a great deal of humour and, even with the reduced word count, builds such a vibrant and interesting world.
Finally, interlaced between the great characters and plot, you have themes of change, identity, religion, and philosophy, to list but a few.
Pure Moon is a definite recommendation from me, it’s an enjoyable, quick read, and I think you’ll take a lot away from it.