A Snake Lies Waiting–The best action and most fun arrives in the third novel of Jin Yong’s epic wuxia adventure

Review by C.J. Bunce

Anna Holmwood and Gigi Chang continue their landmark English translation of Jin Yong′s Legends of the Condor Heroes novels in A Snake Lies Waiting, now available in bookstores and here at Amazon, the first English translation of Volume 3.  Another expert translation of Jin’s breathtaking adventure, full of wit and wisdom, expect to find the most action in the saga, as well as the single best scene of the entire series.  In the spirit of Homer, Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, J.R.R. Tolkien, Akira Kurosawa, and George Lucas, A Snake Lies Waiting is among the world’s greatest fantasy novels.  It doesn’t fall into the trap of many major fantasy series: losing the steam built up in the first two installments.  If Book Two was The Empire Strikes Back or The Two Towers or The Godfather II, consider this volume another The Empire Strikes Back.  The 1950s series has sold more than 300 million copies internationally over the past 60 years, but the books are finally being made available to U.S. and UK readers as part of this series.

Two young men whose destinies were determined before they were born, Guo Jing and Yang Kang, were made sworn brothers by their fathers, and their lives came crashing together 18 years later in A Hero Born (awarded our Best Read of 2019, reviewed here at borg), as the truth of their shared past finally caught up with them.  By the end of the first book they had each developed relationships with powerful women, Lotus Huang with Jing, Mercy Mu with Kang, all four among the most promising martial artists of their time.  The conflicts of the second volume are given greater gravity here, more tones of a Shakespearean tragedy, as Jing and Lotus are driven apart at every turn.

Jong and Lotus’s teacher or shifu Count Seven Hong, Chief of the Beggar Clan, is back with a new sworn brother, Zhou Botong of the Quanzhen Sect, the best supporting character in the series thus far.  Zhou is a cocky, wise, powerhouse of a master of the martial arts.  And if you like “jump the shark” moments, one of the best ever was written in this story more than 60 years ago.  Zhou’s exploits are laugh-out-loud humorous.

Three themes take center stage: first, an incredible sea voyage that turns disastrous, resulting in heroes and villains stranded together on a desert island, and second, a near-death experience that paralyzes one of our heroes, forcing a unique perspective on the unfolding mysteries of Wanyan Honglie’s search for important, strategic war texts from the culture’s past: General Yue Fei’s last writings, culminating in a confrontation of key sects, including the return of Lotus’s father, the great Apothecary Huang.  And the title image of the snake sneaks through the story via both Viper Ouyang, the dangerous Venom of the West, snake master, and one of the Five Greats, and his nephew, the merciless, smarmy, and suave Gallant Ouyang, also a master of snakes as well as the martial artistry style of his uncle.

Expect the return of favorite characters, surprising heroics, and, since this is a story with increased stakes, the deaths of key people in Jing and Lotus’s lives.  Readers will encounter the same level of lyrical prose of the translations of the first two volumes, more of Jin’s complex storytelling, far more characters to juggle, intertwined with the social, literary, artistic, and political details of China, the Mongols, and Jin, the Taoist philosophy, and visual kung fu action.

Legends of the Condor Heroes Volume 4, available in paperback April 20, 2021.

Consider A Snake Lies Waiting a must-read for fantasy fans.  It’s available now from St. Martin’s Griffin in trade paperback here at Amazon.  Look for a review of the next volume, A Heart Divided, the fourth and final volume in the series, coming in Spring 2021.  And don’t forget to check out my review here at borg of the 2017 television adaptation of the Legends of the Condor Heroes story, a great companion to the novels.

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