A Bandit Walks into a Coffeehouse… Revealing Zen Cho’s The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water

Last month, Zen Cho (Sorcerer to the Crown, The True Queen) brought home a Hugo Award for her novelette “If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again,” which was first published right here on the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog (though you’ll also now find it in the final volume of editor Jonathan Strahan’s anthology series The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year).

Naturally, when Tor.com Publishing offered us the chance to reveal the cover for her new novella, we jumped at the chance.

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water, which arrives on June 23, 2020, is an homage to the tradition of the wuxia story, a staple of Chinese genre fiction that is currently having a bit of a moment in the English-speaking world thanks to the long-in-coming release of a translated edition of wuxia master Jin Yong’s Legends of the Condor Heroes (the first volume, A Hero Born, arrives later this month), having previously made waves with the release of the Oscar-nominated (and wuxia-inspired) blockbuster Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, itself based on a popular series of novels by Wang Dulu.

Zen Cho has written a whole collection’s worth of short stories that play off of the myths, legends, and genre tropes of East Asian cultures, but this will be her first dive into wuxia.

“I’m a wuxia novice,” Zen said. “I never actually read any Jin Yong until A Hero Born was published last year [in the U.K.]. That said, I grew up with Legend of Condor Heroes adaptations on TV and bookshelves, so wuxia was sort of in the water—in the rivers and lakes, as it were. It’s appealing for much the same reasons as Western epic fantasy—I like the aesthetic, the drama, the adventure and the capital-R romance of it all.”

Check out the gorgeous cover of the novella below, featuring artwork by Sija Hong and lettering by Sarah J. Coleman. Then read on for a brief Q&A with the author…

“Fantastic, defiant, utterly brilliant.” —Ken Liu

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.

Here’s Zen to answer a few of our burning questions…

Your earlier short stories (many of them collected in the wonderful Spirits Abroad) tend to play off of elements Malaysian and East Asian mythology. What inspired this new novella?
The germ of inspiration came from the Star Wars: Rogue One characters, Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus (i.e. the ones played by Donnie Yen and the other Chinese guy). I enjoyed seeing actual Chinese people in Star Wars, and I liked how the characters riffed on classic Chinese tropes—the kung fu-fighting monk and his sworn brother. I found myself wanting to write about nuns and bandits and punch-ups where everyone flies through the air in flowing robes.

What’s different about wuxia filtered through your sensibilities?
I wanted the novella to feel wuxia-ish, but it didn’t gel until I set it in a tropical peninsula not unlike West Malaysia. That’s the big difference. I’m also not good at writing in the purely heroic mode, so the novella’s got a lot of dumb jokes, and a sense of the mundane—like if people talked about their dirty underwear and periods in wuxia. Also, women and queer characters.

You’ve been pretty transparent on your blog about how you struggle with novel-writing. Is writing shorter easier for you? What do you like about it?
I am quite capable of being as agonised over a short story as a novel; it’s just that short stories generally torture one for a shorter period of time since they are made of fewer words. But Order of the Pure Moon was one of the rare blessed stories that come quickly and easily. I hadn’t written a novella in a while and I really enjoyed it—it’s a compact form but has enough space for a satisfying amount of character work.

And to the cover: what can you say about how this artwork matches the spirit of your story?
All the extravagant green foliage is perfect for a tropical take on wuxia, and the two main characters—the nun and the bandit—are absolutely spot-on. The riotous detail packed into a small space also feels very right for a novella!

Finally, please offer us a taste of the book via one completely out-of-context sentence.
“Contractors, huh? I thought you were bandits. What kind of contract work do you do? Building houses, stuff like that?”

“More ‘stuff like that’,” said Fung Cheung.

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water will be published June 23, 2020—but you can preorder it now.

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