Jin Yong is a Chinese literary phenomenon and A Hero Born, originally published in 1957, is the first volume of the series that made him famous. Legends of the Condor spans twelve volumes and, according to this edition’s introduction, many people have considered that its universe was too foreign for an English-speaking readership to properly understand. On the basis of this new translation, those doubters were completely wrong.
A Hero Born begins the story of Guo Jing, a young man whose father was killed during the Jin dynasty’s invasion of northern China and who now fights on the side of the great Genghis Khan. Guo Jing is humble and loyal and a magnificent archer but Yang Kang, who has been his sworn brother since birth, is the opposite of him in almost every way: he is treacherous and conniving and is working with the Jin invaders to conquer his native homeland. What neither boy realises is that, when they reach the age of eighteen, they are fated to confront each on the battlefield. Add a Taoist priest/martial arts expert called Qui Chuji and a ragtag band of mercenaries called the Seven Freaks of the South to the mix, and the epic truly begins…
The back cover of the review edition describes Jin Yong as ‘the Chinese Tolkien, with a pinch of Street Fighter II, a sprinkling of Jackie Chan, and the atmosphere of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. To be honest, we couldn’t have described this fabulous story better ourselves. In many ways, A Hero Born’s setting is a truly alien world but Jin Yong’s storytelling makes it accessible because he is working with themes that are absolutely timeless – good versus evil, love versus sacrifice, nature versus nurture, honour versus deceit. Yes, sometimes the scope is overwhelming and the barrage of unfamiliar Chinese names can make the reader’s head spin, but it’s worth persevering because this is magnificent writing that will more than reward your patience. It’s also nice to finally read a translation that isn’t stilted in any way and is as fresh on the page as if the source material were written yesterday.
A HERO BORN: LEGENDS OF THE CONDOR HEROES: VOLUME I / AUTHOR: JIN YONG / PUBLISHER: MACLEHOSE PRESS / RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 22ND 2018