Right. I've finished another Wang Dulu novel. Caifeng Yinshe Zhuan 彩凤银蛇传.
It is perhaps amongst the most interesting of the four I've read, probably the best written, though the plot isn't the most nail-biting.
On the whole, it's up there with Xianxian Jian, although the former's plot is perhaps more intriguing, the descriptions in Caifeng Yinshe Zhuan are something to die for. The vivid portrayal of nature and women, the psychology of the main protagonist, very sympathetically drawn, and the rather sad last two chapters will draw tears from female fans. Also the very realistic martial arts and the almost cinematic scene-painting are up there amongst the best literature I've read, never mind wuxia.
The plot isn't like I've said the most nail-biting, but it's still enough to make you turn pages.
PLOT: A man arrives at a fishing village running away from his foes. He woes the most beautiful woman in the village. The villagers realize he knows kung-fu; he is asked to fight a brigade on another island. To his surprise he finds a female fighter even more beautiful than his fiancee there...
Like Yun Zhongyue, whom I learned in this forum, Wang Dulu's protagonists all have jobs... you won't be scratching your head wondering where they earn their money...
Next up: rereading one Louis Cha novel, plus one new Gu Long and one Ni Kuang wuxia novel (very short)
Well, I'm a crazy reader, but I think that you beat me here !!
I return after reading two rather short Wang Dulus, both a little longer than Jin Yong's White Horse Neighing in the West Wind. They are contained in the same volume. There are spoilers in both my reviews.
Purple Lightning, Green Frost (《紫電青霜》)
The title refers to the names of two swords.
I've almost forgotten how enjoyable a Wang Dulu is. This short novel is very enjoyable, despite dealing mainly with more "ordinary" heroes. Wang Dulu is a stickler for realism: you won't find supernatural kungfu in it. The blurb quotes from Gu Long: "At a certain juncture in my life, I suddenly discovered that my favorite wuxia novelist happened to be Wang Dulu." Yes, Wang Dulu is that neglected.
The novel begins very intriguingly as an old blind blacksmith tries to stop a companion from seeking vendetta... but fails. He then vows to avenge him and forge a supreme sword, called White Light (白光), to achieve this aim. The story is narrated from the perspective of his apprentice, a simple, honest man who also wants to learn the art of forging great weapons... he memorizes how his master does the forging and the blind blacksmith later decides to try to kill him. When he fails to, he finally tells his apprentice the story behind the vendetta... it is a story dating back to Nian Gengyao (年羹堯) and that Qing official's execution after being framed by a wicked official.
This, in short, is the premise of Purple Lightning, Green Frost. Later in the novel his apprentice, Li Rujiang (李如江)，forges another pair of blades (the title swords) to counter the White Lighting, after the latter is stolen by wicked people.
Wang Dulu is a realistic novelist and he is at his best here. He is also a master storyteller. His plot is not very complicated but it is enthrallingly told. I also don't think his language use is inferior to Jin Yong's or even Liang Yusheng's--in the early Republican period, writers really had outstanding Chinese education. Yet he does not flaunt his talent--the linguistic component is down-to-earth but when he needs to describe something, rich language flows out of his pen easily, something most writers cannot achieve nowadays.
However, don't go to Wang Dulu for fantastic fighting or kungfu--in a Wang Dulu, even blocking an enemy's acupoint or executing qinggong to climb up a wall or surmount the roofs is a difficult art to master. He is a very realistic wuxia writer--to his benefit.
Precious Saber Flying (《寶刀飛》)
After Purple Lightning, Green Frost, I thought Wang Dulu could not top it. I was wrong. The story that follows it, Precious Saber Flying, is every bit as intriguing.
The story starts with an impoverished young Empress Cixi (then still unmarried) and her younger sister mourning their dead father on a boat. They are heading for the capital and a minor Han official gives them a bounty to bury their father--mistakenly. He makes a mistake, thinking their dead father his friend, but makes the best of his blunder. At the end of the novel, he becomes a high-ranking official after Cixi comes into power.
But Cixi is only a minor player. The story revolves around Qiu Wenhuan (裘文煥), who helps Cixi fights some pirates on the boat and later heads for Beijing to search for a legendary saber for his master. The story also enmeshes a romance and how he finally manages to trace the whereabouts of the saber.
It's a short novel, but intriguingly told. I suppose people will always denigrate Wang Dulu because his heroes are ordinary (but still very chivalric) and most of the kungfu are down-to-earth and not fantastical. They don't offer the visceral enjoyment of a Jin Yong novel. But it's also his strength--he is a realistic writer who, here, successfully reproduces life and scenes during the Qing Dynasty, The fact he was from a Bannerman family meant that all (I believe) his wuxia novels are set during the Qing Dynasty. Wang Dulu actually makes a virtue of it--at no time do you doubt the authenticity of the depicted background.
The novel ends somewhat hastily. The later events are not narrated but can easily be imagined. The saber is in his hands and he will come back for the girl. Wang Dulu leaves that much to the imagination.
In short, I like both novels very much. Wang Dulu is really excellent in the shorter genre.
My ratings: Purple Lightning, Green Frost (《紫電青霜》), 4.5/5; Precious Saber Flying (《寶刀飛》), 4.5/5.
I'm back with another review of a Wang Dulu one-volume novel, The Purple Phoenix Dart (《紫鳳鏢》).
Another Wang Dulu novel... another good to great novel. Wang Dulu is such a consistent novelist. But now you should know what to expect: a backdrop in the Qing Dynasty, ultra-realistic characters, psychology over convoluted plot.
The title is somewhat... drab, and the first two chapters are nothing very astonishing. Wang Dulu builds up the tension and suspense then after the two protagonists meet. There are some funny scenes, and some satirical descriptions of the male ego. The male and female leads are in love with each other but neither will really say so, the man more out of pride. There is some dark secret withholding the girl. Hence the premise is set for an intriguing build-up after this chapter.
Over at other forums (some Chinese) I hear people complain about Wang Dulu: so boring, his novels! None of his protagonists know supernatural kungfu! Even their qinggong is a highly cultivated art! Not a bit like Jin Yong, with his extravagant imagination! Not plot based!
True, but all these Wang Dulu make into a virtue. You don't follow a Wang Dulu novel to learn about extraordinary kungfu and out-of-this-world love stories. You read them for descriptions of real people and real tragedies, about common people who sometimes make uncommon, heroic decisions in their lives. This is what set a Wang Dulu book apart. Ordinary people. Extraordinary characters.
What intrigues me is how he develops his characters. Liu Menglong (柳夢龍) here is both similar and a little different from other male Wang Dulu protagonists I have read so far. He has an excess of male pride. The thing is, we still feel for him and his dilemmas. Some parts of The Purple Phoenix Dart are even superior to other Wang Dulu novels I've read: Tao Feng'er (陶鳳兒) isn't the most ethereal, beautiful heroine you will meet but you will definitely feel for her predicament. When Wang Dulu write about their wedding day and night it is so realistic that I wondered if Wang Dulu felt that during his own wedding.
Also, this novel makes me feel for a minor character who dies late in the novel. Actually, this character and his brothers are "villains" but later redeem themselves. A minor coup in wuxia fiction. In comparison, I don't feel at all for Jin Yong's minor characters, because they are so in service to the protagonist.
So this novel can be recommended if you are after romance in a book. Is it perfect? Perhaps not. The ending is a little disappointing; not bad but because so much of what had come before is so good, a little slapdash. Yet it is highly realistic. Again, it is no "happily ever after" ending.
Conclusion: The Purple Phoenix Dart (《紫鳳鏢》), rating: 4.5/5.
Edit: Too many Wang Dulus and Gu Longs. I promise, my next review will be on a Liang Yusheng novel!
kyc : so envy you. you read Chinese novels so fast (y)
That Wang Dulu was from a bannerman family, is very interesting. Then his depiction of Qing army should be much accurate.
I read fast because I'm not a very careful reader. If I need to learn more words, I would read much slower.
Also I have lots of free time in the late afternoons nowadays.
Some people say Wang Dulu was an ethnic Manchu. I wonder if that's true, because he was born before the Xinhai Revolution. No reason why he would use a Han surname before 1911. He was likely to be a Bannerman of ethnic Han descent.
I took one month before reading another Wang Dulu novel. Why does Wang Dulu make me feel so sad?
The novel is Xiudai Yinbiao (《繡帶銀鏢》) ("Embroidered Belt and Silver Darts"). After this book, I have 3 more Wang Dulus to complete (sad ). Plus the Crane-Iron Pentalogy.
There are a few things to distinguish this novel. It doesn't read like a wuxia novel, more like a novel with a love triangle featuring martial arts. At times I'm reminded of Lao She's Rickshaw Boy. The protagonist--a young, simple and courageous armed escort--doesn't deserve the final tragedy, but is assailed throughout by conspiracies and fate. The ending is perhaps the most tragic of all the Wang Dulus I've read.
Wang Dulu is a very consistent novelist. Almost every book of his has something to offer. At times here I feel he is on auto pilot. The writing is more down-to-earth and simpler than in his other novels. But it fits the theme of a simple, uncomplicated protagonist who isn't very smart. He's not stupid either, a lot like Xiangzi in Rickshaw Boy.
Most of Wang Dulu's protagonists come from the lowest rung of society. So it is with this one. He starts as a coal laborer and later learns martial arts to become an armed escort. But he lacks the guile and know-how to establish guanxi. His only wish is to find his teacher and to rescue his benefactor Xiaofen, a concubine ill-treated by a local Beijing tyrant. When the daughter of a fellow armed escort falls for him, a love triangle is established.
Wang Dulu, a Bannerman whose knowledge of late Qing Beijing is unrivaled amongst wuxia writers, then gives a tragic ending that will sadden the most stony-hearted reader.
It's difficult to rate this novel. It may not be a very good wuxia novel but it's an outstanding love story. Of course, in the end, your sympathy will be with the downtrodden lovers. The writer makes you keep guessing their fate.
Conclusion: As a wuxia novel (3.5/5); as a love novel (4.5/5).
A review of the one-volume Wang Dulu novel Yongzheng and Nian Gengyao (《雍正与年羹堯》)。
At long last... a Wang Dulu novel that isn't very good. This kind of political intrigue fiction probably demands a Jin Yong. He's off his element here.
For fans who have watched enough Qing dynasty wuxia TV series, they should know all about flying guillotines (血滴子) and Lü Siniang (呂四娘) who allegedly killed the Yongzheng Emperor. This novel tells the story of how Yongzheng, when he was just Prince Yinzhen (胤禎，here written as 允貞), once slipped out of his palace to locate chivalrous warriors to help him fight fellow princes and win the throne. In fact, an alternative title of this novel is New Flying Guillotines (《新血滴子》）。
Alas, although the premise is good, the execution is shoddy. The "chivalrous warriors" who Yongzheng locates are a graceless, petty lot, bickering among themselves, mostly without true chivalric spirit. The characterizations of Yinzhen and Nian Gengyao (the Han Chinese general who helps him to the throne and later treacherously killed by Yongzheng) are pretty thin and lame.
The novel also suffers from plot-holes. How on earth is someone going to impersonate an allegedly mad Yinzhen for months, when the Kangxi Emperor might visit him anytime? How come Prince Yinzhen can fight better than some of these "top 10" Jiangnan fighters? Like Chen Jialuo, Nian Gengyao seems genuinely stupid: he proposes a truce and support for the future Manchu emperor on mere trust alone.
The ending is decent but expected (Lü Siniang) but I suffered from spells of ennui while reading this book. Wang Dulu simply isn't at his best here.
If you have to skip one Wang Dulu novel, make it this one.
Conclusion: A middling wuxia novel with too many corners cut. It is genuinely lacking in the wuxia chivalric spirit. I can only give it a 2.5/5.
A review of Wang Dulu's final completed wuxia novel, The Vajra Jade Sword (《金剛玉寶劍》). The name actually is a misnomer; the actual Buddhist term should be Vajra King. Wang Dulu misquotes the reference.
First, I confirm that Wang Dulu is an ethnic Han Chinese adopted by the Bannermen, not ethnic Manchu. (王氏當屬編入滿洲鑲黃旗的“漢姓人”...滿人把他們視為同族。) In other words, his ancestors were like Cao Xueqin's.
Reading this novel, one gets a feeling of deja vu. Similar characters like Wu Qinglian (吳卿憐）and Gu Hua'er (顧畫兒) have already been delineated in past Wang Dulu novels—one, the pitiful concubine of a corrupt official; the other, a powerful female xia character who falls for the protagonist. My feeling is that Vajra Jade Sword isn't the best Wang Dulu.
The plot concerns the assassination attempts on a historical figure, the corrupt Qing official Heshen (和紳). This favorite of the Qianlong Emperor was so corrupt that his amassed wealth at his death was more than 40 times that of Louis XIV's, France's wealthiest king. But the chief problem with the novel is that it is too slow. Two assassination attempts and their aftermaths took 16 chapters to recount. Also, the protagonist, Wu Hongchao (伍宏超), is somewhat wishy-washy about love.
I think Wang Dulu did not plan the novel carefully before he wrote it. The writing is more verbose than it needs to be. The entire story is, though not boring, quite generic. Almost like WDL on auto-pilot. Maybe the end of the Civil War was playing on his mind. (The novel was finished in February 1949).
It's not a long novel but seems one-third longer than it needs to be. Wang Dulu would not complete another wuxia novel. He became a schoolteacher after the Communist takeover.
On the other hand, Vajra Jade Sword has probably the happiest ending of WDL novels.
My rating: 3.5/5
One more novel to go before I tackle the Crane-Iron Pentalogy!
Finally, my last Wang Dulu before tackling the Crane-Iron Pentalogy. The Gallant Heroes of Luoyang (《洛陽豪客》). Its alternative title is Dancing Swords and Flying Blossoms (《舞劍飛花錄》).
Three times unlucky? I feel so. I didn't enjoy this novel much.
It's WDL's longest novel after the Crane-Iron Pentalogy. It's also severely lacking in wuxia spirit.
What I mean is, there are no sympathetic protagonists. What gallant heroes? They are more like a bunch of losers. This novel reminds me of Jianghu San Nvxia. Minor characters populate. Now and then, someone of insignificance will get killed and they regroup to take revenge.
The book has three protagonists: one woman and two men. The girl is supposedly a xianv, but Su Xiaoqin (蘇小琴) is quite wimpy. I don't get why she is so highly skilled; her master must be quite mediocre in swordfighting. The other two guys... one, Li Jianhao (李劍豪), is bad-tempered and keeps on kicking women. I don't understand why two women fall for him. He's only good-looking and highly skilled, that's all. The other, Chu Jiangya (楚江涯), is henpecked.
On the other hand, I was so bored midway that I started reading this like a social/romance novel. It got better but I don't think wuxia fans will like it. As a study of dejected men, it is more readable. I can understand Chu Jiangya's feelings but he will not survive in a LYS or JY novel.
Conclusion: Not a good wuxia novel to recommend (Rating: 2.5/5), but better as a social/romance novel (3.5/5).