Ahead of the publishing of “Mia Shan, The Awakening” (15/1/19), I was given the opportunity for early access, in return for an honest review. The book is not easy to pigeonhole, bearing traits of various fantasy subgenres – historical, dark, paranormal and urban. However, I suspect the prominence of Chinese martial arts and the attendant violence is likely to have a greater bearing on the readership, than some notional category. I am not a fantasy buff by any means, but neither does the reader need to be, to engage with this interesting saga, which opens in Hong Kong at the end of the nineteenth century.
The narrative follows the development and exploits of Chow Lei, aged ten at the outset, who is orphaned and raised by her grandmother (PoPo), above the family’s thriving noodle shop. The family matriarch worships Guan Yin, the bodhisattva of compassion and mercy and is relying on the venerated idol to keep her granddaughter safe, but though Lei discovers an exceptional ability to master martial arts, compassion is not one of her strengths. Still, in spite of her PoPo’s reticence, Lei is sent to the Shaolin Temple at Seng Shan to be admitted as a novice nun, to continue her training.
For those of us brought up on David Carradine playing Kwai Chang Caine in the seventies TV series ‘Kung Fu’ and more recently the critically-acclaimed movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, there are familiar archetypes, which unless handled carefully run the risk of appearing a little tired. The superhuman qualities typically conferred on the protagonist are also expected, but need to be plausible. The author neatly avoids these traps by suggesting Lei might be the prophesied Bodhisattva of Justice. Certainly to master the eighteen fighting styles in two years is unique, but Lei’s ongoing absence of compassion for her adversaries, alongside a very definite view of right and wrong, continues to worry her Shaolin Master (Shi Suxi). Indeed, in a very Star Wars-esque moment, he exhorts Lei, “You must know the void and be one with the void. You must know how to avoid the dark ways and follow the path of enlightenment….”
Now re-named Miao Shan and equipped to address injustice head-on, Lei returns to her city, a mighty sword-carrying bulwark against powerful criminal evil-doers.
It’s a familiar formula, but on the whole, the author has created an entertaining novel, which has scope for sequels. What it lacks in characterization, it certainly makes up for in the action department and for fans of kung fu that doubtless helps the readers’ appreciation.