Book Review: A Hero Born By Jin Yong
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A Hero Born: The Definitive Edition
Hardcover | Kindle | Audiobook
Legends of the Condor Heroes: Book 1
Written by Jin Yong
Translated by Anna Holmwood
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release date: September 17, 2019

Set during China’s Song Dynasty, approximately 1200 AD, A Hero Born, the first in the celebrated Chinese Legends of the Condor Heroes book series, starts when two sworn brothers are confronted with a terrible choice after being charged with treason by the local government: argue their innocence before a corrupt magistrate that will likely condemn them to death or try to make a run for it with their wives and sons in tow, fighting their way through soldiers who have come to arrest them.

They run and fight. In the melee, one of the men is killed while the other is lost and presumed dead. The wives and children survive, but are split up and taken away. One son subsequently grows up as part of Genghis Khan’s extended family, training as a Mongol warrior. The other son becomes a prince and an inheritor of riches. One is honest and loyal and unwilling to give up on his heritage and ideals. The other is deceptive and conniving and, well, everything his biological father would likely hate.

As you’d expect, these sons of two sworn brothers will meet. The how and when is what you’ll discover as you read the first book in author Jin Yong‘s series.

This is a completely engrossing and richly detailed book for those people who love (no, LOVE) world-building sorts of tales. Jin’s storytelling is second to almost none and the jacket comparisons of it to tales by writers such as J.R.R. Tolkien and George R.R. Martin are apt. Once all that detail is set in place, you have a full view into exactly what the author envisioned. No stone is left unturned. Sometimes literally.

It’s not just the setting, either. It’s the characters. Even the most seemingly minor of characters receives a relatively thorough overview in the context of the plot. There are no red-shirted ensigns here. At least not obvious ones.

But therein lies the rub for someone like me. It’s not always easy for me to sit there and read all this detail and remain interested in the narrative. The same goes for characters. There are so many characters in this book that you lose track of them. I had the same issue with Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. I re-read the first 100 pages of A Game of Thrones three times because I couldn’t keep everyone straight. It wasn’t until I actually watched season one of the HBO series and had faces to put with names that I finally made it past those 100 pages, then the full book, then the next four books in the series. I have no faces with A Hero Born and that was very problematic for me.

This becomes even tougher because of the author’s differing ways of naming people. Some have traditional first name/surname structures like the protagonist, Guo Jing. Then there are generic names doled out like Brother 5 and Sister 2. And then there are the more flowery, descriptive names used, such as Withered Wood or Elder Eternal Spring. It can be almost a bit maddening if you’re not accustomed to it.

Occasionally, my eyes glossed over or I skipped a sentence or two (or three) when I would suddenly realize that I missed something important and I’d have to backtrack. This gets a little tedious when you like to read in bed. I strongly recommend against reading this book in bed. Sit upright in a chair that’s very comfortable yet not sleep conducive. Have a pot of coffee or caffeinated tea nearby. Be alert. You will need it.

I’m not trying to scare you off. Honestly. You will get used to it. You just need a little faith… and a lot of caffeine. Then again, though, if this is already your thing, you are set. This is an engaging story and one that you will most likely love and long for the next books as their definitive versions become available over the next couple of years.

From the publisher:

After his father, a Song patriot, was murdered, Guo Jing and his mother fled to the plains and joined Genghis Khan and his people. Loyal, humble and driven, he learned all he could from the warlord and his army in hopes of one day joining them in their cause. But what Guo Jing doesn’t know is that he’s destined to battle an opponent that will challenge him in every way imaginable and with a connection to his past that no one envisioned.

With the help and guidance of his shifus, The Seven Heroes of the South, Guo Jing returns to China to face his foe and carry out his destiny. But in a land divided by treachery and war, betrayal and ambition, he’ll have to put his courage and knowledge to the test to survive.

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