As we get into the last few months of 2020, I have some new events to announce that I’m participating in. First up is C’monfluence, which is the writers track of the old Confluence convention. That is slated for October 2nd through the 4th and has gone virtual this year. I’m on the schedule in a few places, and that should be posted soon.
I’ll be on a few of the panels and will be prowling the Discord server as a monitor under my Lady Xiansa blogger handle, so be sure to check that out.
Next up will be the virtual World Fantasy Convention 2020, where I will be turning into a fan girl of Hickman and Weis for sure, though anything else I’ll be doing that weekend is TBA. That is scheduled for October 29th through November 1st.
The last two events are in limbo since they are still scheduled as in-person events and have been cancelled at least once this year. Living Dead Weekend Monroeville is supposed to go forth the weekend of November 6th, but we’ll see. Then Steel City Con is tentatively slated for the weekend of December 4th.
I also recently did an interview with Book Reader Magazine, which you can access here.
My next selection is the middle story arc from Jin Yong’s popular martial arts series, the Condor Trilogy, which has three main story arcs. The trilogy begins with The Legend of Condor Heroes, then comes The Return of Condor Heroes, and the trilogy ends with The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber. The series covers different generations of a group of martial arts families and is set in the Song and Yuan Dynasties of China.
This story arc has four volumes, and the title translates literally to Divine Eagle, Heroic Couple (金庸的<<神鵰俠侶>>). It was originally serialized in a Hong Kong newspaper between 1959 and 1961. I find it really fascinating how modern East Asian language classics tended to have been published like this rather than as complete volumes like regular novels. That also tends to make them very, very long.
This story arc in particular is a favorite in Chinese-speaking communities, and many film and TV adaptations have been done over the years, including an anime that I highly recommend. Here is the cover art for volume 1, which also contains some traditional paintings and chapter frontspieces, but this print version is too fragile to scan many of them.
The story opens in chapter 1 with five young girls singing and laughing as they ride in a boat on a misty lake. The song they are singing is the Northern Song Dynasty poem “A Butterfly Becomes a Flower.” The novel is set, however, in the Southern Song Dynasty under Emperor Lizong, the 14th emperor of the dynasty, which puts the story between the years 1224 and 1264 AD. During this time, the Mongol invasion began, at least around the edges of China if not an outright attack.
The text gets deeper into a description of the girl singing the song and the song lyrics before explaining that three of the five girls in the boat are about 15 or 16 years old, while the remaining two are only 9 years old. They sing and then discuss an “eccentric” person who is sitting under a weeping willow tree on the shore. The person has shiny, black disheveled hair and a beard, the deep lines in his face suggest he is seventy or eighty, and he’s dressed in indigo blue. One of the other girls rebukes her for calling the old man eccentric and suggests she call him “uncle” so she won’t anger him.
They land on the shore and get out, and the girl named Chengying asks the old man if the lotus seeds he is eating are tasty. He asks them to come with him somewhere, but they say they can’t go far from home. However, Chengying gets close enough that he grabs her and takes off with her, and she begs him to let her go home and starts to cry, but he gets a little irritated at her tears since he says he wants to take her to back to the river bank to eat lotus seeds. Eventually, he starts crying, too, and he tells her he doesn’t want to say goodbye to her. He seems to confuse her for another girl, and he wants them to live together always, though she tries to explain to him that she isn’t who he thinks she is. At the end of this passage, they enter the Lu household’s front gate.
The next section turns to the character Lu Wushuang, which means Unrivalled Lu. She is yelling for her parents to come because something bad has happened, and her father Lu Liding appears. Chengying enters the manor’s grand hall where they are looking at three rows of palm prints on the wall. The top row has two palm prints, the middle row has two, and the bottom row has five, totaling nine palm prints that are dark red like blood. Lu Wushuang says something about a lunatic digging the graves of her aunt and uncle, but Lu Liding asks what she means. Chengying agrees with her that something is really wrong, so Lu Liding grabs a short-sword off the wall and charges into his brother and sister-in-law’s tomb.
In the tomb, there are two wooden coffins, and he checks inside. Their corpses are gone without a trace, and he sees the lids have markings from some iron tool. When he comes back into the grand hall, he thinks to himself that his brother had mentioned having a clan enemy who was a Taoist nun named Li Mouchou, also known as the Red Fairy, who is famous for being highly skilled at the martial arts. He knows that this Li Mouchou has a habit of leaving bloody red palm prints on the gate of locales where she plans to take a life for each print, though he only counts seven people living in the house and wonders where the other two come into things.
The next scene continues with the Lu household talking together, and they are interrupted by the appearance of a small, laughing woman dressed in a nun’s gray and apricot dress on the rooftop. Lu Liding asks if she is Sorceress Li, and she says he is correct. The novel’s description of Li Mouchou as fifteen or sixteen years old seems impossibly young by modern standards, but that’s probably fairly mature for the 13th century. She’s holding a long sword and threatens to kill the whole Lu household as she flies through the air down to the ground to meet them. In her right hand, she has some silver needles that she can shoot at them, too.
Li Mouchou laughs coldly as she comes down off the roof, and Lu Liding notices the needles and calls out for her to stop because he realizes they are poisoned. At this point, a number of new characters are introduced, and the drama continues with Wu Sanniang and Wu Santong, though this isn’t the storyline I’m going to highlight in these posts. It takes awhile for this volume to get to the actual main characters, so I’ll be mostly looking for their storylines. Even so, it’s a wonderfully dramatic start to a wild story.
The next few scenes continue with these peripheral characters, and we return briefly to the fight with Li Mouchou when the doors to the hall fly open after the wooden beam bracing them snaps. Li Mouchou arrives on the ground to fight with Lu Liding and Wu Sanniang. Their fight is interrupted with a brief interlude showing a flashback of two, more central characters to the plot, Guo Jing and Huang Rong.
That same year, Guo Jing and a pregnant Huang Rong, who are a married couple from the earlier story arc in the novel known as The Legend of Condor Heroes, return from some sword training on Mount Hua to Peach Blossom Island. I think it may be their wedding they hold on the island, but I’m not familiar with their backstory since I never read or watched the earlier story arc. Peach Blossom Island, however, is where Huang Rong’s father, Huang Yaoshi, a martial arts expert who taught her everything he knows, lives.
Nine months pass, and Huang Rong gives birth to a baby girl they name Guo Fu, and Huang Rong begins the girl’s martial arts training when she turns five. They stay on the island until Guo Fu is nine years old, and they leave together with Ke Zhen’e, one of the “Seven Freaks of Jiangnan,” a martial arts sect that was wiped out except for Ke.
The story returns to Li Mouchou fighting Wu Sanniang with Ke Zhen’e present for the battle, and this storyline continues into chapter 2, “The Child of Old Friends,” for two more scenes before we return to Guo Jing and Huang Rong. Everyone is hiding from Li Mouchou in a cave, and Wu Santong goes out to greet her, mentioning he hasn’t seen her in ten years. Eventually, she starts killing the household, then there is some mysterious encounter with eagles, and Li Mouchou notices a little girl involved with them. The girl happens to be Guo Fu, and Li Mouchou asks her name, trying to entice the girl to come play with her. Ke Zhen’e calls for Guo Fu to quickly come inside, and Li Mouchou laughs, asking if he thinks she’ll eat the girl. The scene is mostly Li Mouchou talking with the young girls and fighting with the adult household members using her poisoned silver needles.
Ke Zhen’e confronts Li Mouchou next, but she seems to disappear with the young girls. The bodies of those she poisoned with her needles are collapsed on the floor. I think they’re mostly different kinds of bugs and not human characters. Ke Zhen’e goes over to examine the needles. At this point, we have a number of characters who aren’t referenced by name, like 那少年 young man and 怪人 eccentric person, so I’m not sure who is talking to whom or if these are characters I should recognize, but someone asks how Li Mouchou could throw the needles without getting the poison on her hands.
As they continue their conversation, they hear a bird cry and see a pair of eagles or condors in the sky flying over them. The one man starts crying out that he doesn’t want to see them and runs into the mulberry forest nearby, the young man calling after him. Suddenly, a man and woman emerge from the trees, each with one of the eagles on their shoulders. The man is about thirty, and the woman looks twenty-six or twenty-seven.
We find out when the next scene starts that this couple isGuo Jing and Huang Rong. They have emerged from a tea house after hearing the news that the Lu Manor has caught fire. Lu Manor was very respected in the jiang hu martial arts community, and they want to know what happened. When they reach the burned mansion, they see the bloody palm prints and immediately recognize them as Li Mouchou’s warning, and they discuss her legendary martial arts abilities. They also see the poisoned needles and notice the young man’s hand has been turned black from the needles’ poison.
Guo Jing whistles, and it catches the attention of a number of characters, including Li Mouchou, who is still hanging around nearby with Chengying and Lu Wushuang. Li Mouchou of course recognizes the whistle as Guo Jing’s and comments on it before the next scene shifts back to Ke Zhen’e and Guo Fu. In this brief scene, Guo Fu recognizes the arrival of her parents and runs to embrace her mother Huang Rong. When Guo Fu sees the young man’s black hand and comments on it, Guo Jing discusses finding a way to cure it.
He asks the youth’s name, and all he will say is Ni Laozi, which Huang Rong mistakes as meaning something kind of odd that sounds similar, your father. For some reason, Huang Rong figures out the boy’s meaning and asks if his name is really Yang Guo (usually pronounced Guor in media depictions with the suffix -er added at the end). Guo Jing is flabbergasted to be face to face with the son of his old friend and sworn brother Yang Kang. The whole group departs to an inn together, but Yang Guo is feeling faint. They look for medicine.
Now that we’ve been introduced at last to the main character of the novels, I’m going to pause there and start fresh with his storyline next time.
I got notification recently that I got a few coveted speaking slots at some major anime cons across the US that have gone virtual this year. First up is Otakon Online 2020, where I will be doing abbreviated versions of my Ainu and Godzilla panels. Be sure to look for that at a computer near you August 1st.
This panel is one of a four-part series I do on occasion at anime cons discussing the religions of East Asia, and this is the first time in eight years that I’ve presented this particular installment, which features an examination of Buddhist sutras and sects emphasizing heaven and hell as well as some discussion of Buddhist-Christian syncretism in these anime.
I will also have a virtual booth in their artist alley at the Crunchyroll Expo, so be sure to check that out, too.
If you’re looking for something interesting to do from the comfort of your living room, be sure to check out both events.
Continuing with the last part of volume 2 from Eunkyeong Ryu’s series Queen Seondeok (류은경의 “선덕여왕”), I’m going to skip chapter 6, “A Blossoming Flower on the Battlefield,” since it mostly has to do with Deokman and Kim Yusin’s Hwarang unit fighting against the Baekje. There are other storylines that interest me more than that one, and we pick up those juicy subplots in the last two chapters of the novel.
In chapter 7, “Tangled Relations,” the chapter opens with a very poetic description of time passing. Around five years have passed, and Yeoraesa Temple is again the scene of something terrible. It has largely been abandoned since the massacre and is now full of cobwebs and weeds. The altar is empty with no Buddha or furnishings, and dung is all over the floor.
An old man arrives here with Bidam. It’s Munno, sickly and fragile, now with white hair and wrinkled like a chicken. Munno wonders what happened at the temple. Bidam says he will investigate while Munno rests after their journey. Bidam goes into the temple and enters the monks’ quarters, noticing what appear to be bloodstains from five years before. Bidam thinks about Deokman, who makes his heart flutter, but Munno calls out for him, and Bidam leaves the hall to return to him. They continue their journey.
The next scene starts with a description of Wolseong Palace before turning to Prince Yongchun who is drinking with Kim Seohyeon. The men discuss Kim Seohyeon’s family status being restored to a higher class and his change of residence resulting from Princess Cheonmyeong’s attention and concern for his son Yusin. The long segment segues into Yusin and his squad of Hwarang, a storyline I’m not highlighting in this post, so I’m skipping over the rest.
The story then continues with a meeting between Princes Cheonmyeong and Deokman. Some time has passed from the last scene, and Deokman is laying spread-eagle in a small pavilion in the palace garden. She is tired from drinking and dancing with Yusin, and Cheonmyeong is sitting next to her, yawning. They talk together. I don’t think Yusin is there though he is the subject of their conversation. When they start talking about Deokman’s feelings for Yusin, Cheonmyeong gets her flustered since she doesn’t seem to realize Deokman is a woman, which is a secret Deokman still wants to conceal though she struggles with her urge to show herself truly as a woman and be with Yusin. Apparently, Deokman even kissed Yusin at one point, and it comes up often in her thoughts in this section. She also thinks Cheonmyeong loves Yusin, too, which complicates things.
In the next scene, an unspecified amount of time has passed, but it’s now August at dusk. Light is coming from the window of Munno’s guest room at an inn, but Munno is sitting out by the gate talking with Bidam. Bidam has been out carousing with a character named Deokchung, and he’s only obedient to Munno because Munno is ill, but Bidam eventually starts to resist him. However, he has studied martial arts regularly under Munno’s direction.
Their discussion turns to Princess Cheonmyeong, who was nearly killed at Yeoraesa Temple. One of them mentions there was a witness to the massacre at Yeoraesa Temple who was warned to stay silent about the situation but who confessed the whole incident to someone at Poseoksa Temple. The speaker speculates that Mishil led the massacre at Yeoraesa or at least covered it up due to her power and that Ilwolseongdo Hwarang group was clearly involved. None of the dialogue is tagged, so I’m not sure who is speaking, but I’m assuming this conversation is still between Munno and Bidam.
The person the first speaker is talking to notes that his guess is correct and that the Ilwolseongdo Hwarang group is led by Bojong, Mishil’s son. Then the conversation turns to Deokman being one of the Yonghwahyangdo Hwarang. Bidam eventually asks why Munno thinks he should be named to be an envoy to Deokman, a woman. Munno responds it’s because she’s a princess of Silla, surprising Bidam. Bidam demands to know why a princess would be living in the desert posing as a man instead of living in the palace as a woman.
The text here goes into Bidam’s demeanor, his family history and his name with Munno concluding that Bidam is now grown up and can help his mother work out her karma. Munno begins to explain Deokman’s story. Bidam asks why Munno would suggest Bidam become Deokman’s envoy knowing Bidam is Mishil’s son. He also asks if that was why Munno raised him, then declares he wants to go to Mishil’s palace to meet his mother. Munno tells him no, he should not go to her.
The next scene switches to Mishil talking with Kim Seohyeon about Yusin. She asks if Yusin will pair up with Hajong’s daughter. She thinks it’s time for Yusin to think about marriage since his reputation has grown so much. I believe that the girl would be Mishil’s granddaughter since one of her sons is named Hajong. Kim Seohyeon just looks at her in confusion since Hajong’s daughter is only 7 years old, which is too young for marriage in the era even for girls. This story is set around the 8th c AD, which would put it a few centuries before Tale of Genji, and in that country at that time the age for marriage for girls was usually puberty through her early 20s, while it was 12 for boys. So suggesting a 7-year-old girl as a marriage partner was out of bounds even for these societies at this point history. However, Yusin is very close to Princess Cheonmyeong, and the division this has caused in the Hwarang is the reason Mishil came up with such a scheme. Remember that Mishil was at one time prominent in the Hwarang, and she’s losing some of her influence due to Cheonmyeong’s position.
The final scene in this chapter returns to Bidam and Munno. It’s just before sunrise, and Munno watches Bidam sleep in the low light, noting how delicate and anxious his face appears. Munno thinks about the secret Bidam forced him to reveal the night before. As daybreak approaches, the blue light of a naked blade appears near the sliding paper door, and Munno sees it’s Bidam, who is now overwhelmed by wrong appetites and a desire for revenge. Munno has a bad feeling that Bidam will betray everyone in the end and pulls out his sword.
Raising his arm, Munno slices Bidam in the neck, but Bidam seems to anticipate Munno’s actions and trembles as if dying. Munno sees a tear on Bidam’s cheek and sighs. He had raised Bidam as if he were his own, but he knew it was hard for Bidam growing up without a mother. It is understandable that Bidam wants to meet her now. Munno pulls back his sword, and Bidam opens the paper sliding screen and flees.
I’m going to just pick out a few scenes from the final chapter in this volume. Skipping the first scene, we see Bidam approaching the gates of Wolseong Palace and glaring at it angrily in the second scene. He already has injured some of the guards at the gates and is demanding to meet Lady Mishil. The difficulty of reaching her has made his anger flare even higher. He knows from her reputation that Lady Mishil is a swordswoman, but he wants to see her and understand why she abandoned him. He looks up at the sky filled with dark clouds which echo the evil in his own heart.
Yusin and Deokman are in a cave in the mountains, and they are practicing martial arts. There is some discomfort between them since they have to bathe apart due to Deokman’s secret. Deokman ponders whether she can break her oath yet and tell him her secret that she is really a woman and not a man.
Skipping past a few more military segments, we return to Deokman and Yusin, who are traveling together in the hot weather into the district of Dalgubeol. They hear crying and encounter a young woman, whom they question. Yusin asks the woman why she is crying. She replies that bandits attacked the village and kidnapped their children, so Deokman asks how they can help. The woman then complains that the government officials have turned a blind eye to the selling of children instead of coming up with a solution. She refers to Deokman and Yusin as aristocrats when she speaks to them. Yusin says they should then go to Hwangsanjin, a major trade waterway where many ships sail through, because they can find the children before they are sold at that location. They discuss whether it’s more likely that they can save the children if they report the situation to Princess Cheonmyeong.
When the storyline returns to them again, Deokman and Yusin are traveling along a mountain road and sit on a bench there, where they meet with Munno. Deokman hopes to discover the secret of her birth by meeting the man she thought at least for some time was her father. They talk about her search for her father and the possibility of meeting her real father. At the end, Munno tells her there isn’t much time left, calls her princess when he addresses her, then leaves the bench to head back to the temple.
Then in a later scene, the wind buffets the windows of a guest room at the temple, and the eaves shake ominously. Munno opens the door and goes out, calling for Bidam. Seeing the boy, he asks what he’s doing. When Bidam thanks him, Munno asks what he is talking about. Bidam draws his sword, and Munno yells for him to stop, but Bidam stabs him near the heart. As Munno is dying, Bidam rips the military manual that Munno has been carrying out of his hand. Remembering his humiliation at the gates of Wolseong Palace in passing, Bidam also retrieves a letter Munno has and examines it. Bidam tells Munno how betrayed he feels before saying goodbye and going in search of Princess Deokman.
I’m going to end the volume on that note. There still is one more book in the series that we’ll get to later.
Part three of a three part series
Next time: We turn to Hong Kong’s most illustrious wuxia writer, Jin Yong, and his classic Return of Condor Heroes!
Next weekend, I’ll be participating in the virtual Dealers’ Room of online speculative fiction conference Flights of Foundry, which readers can get the scoop on and register for here: https://flights-of-foundry.org
Programming for the event is set for May 16th and 17th.
I also have prepared my book trailer for volume 4 of my Lucky Cat Series, Lucky Cat and the Kaiju Horde:
I also got some more Lucky Cat posters done.
I don’t know if I’ll be drawing more for this series, but I do want to get back to drawing the ghost manga I started a few years ago and got sidetracked from with requests for a sequel to Kumori and the Lucky Cat.
Continuing with more of volume 2 from Eunkyeong Ryu’s series Queen Seondeok (류은경의 “선덕여왕”), we pick up the action with chapter 3, “Yonghwa Hyangdo: Kim Yushin’s Hwarang Squad.” In the first scene, we see Kim Yusin with his Hwarang squad meeting Princess Cheonmyeong at a Buddhist temple. There’s a procession with the king and queen wearing their crowns, and everyone is in formal attire, including the Hwarang in their special uniforms. About ten of the Hwarang go to greet Cheonmyeong and comment on her return.
The scene continues into the next few sections where we see Bojong with Kim Yusin’s Hwarang, whom he salutes. We also see King Jinpyeong with his grandson Chunchu, who is with a wet nurse. It sounds like he has never met the child before since he verifies that the boy is Prince Yongsu’s son. They talk about his clothing then head over to Mishil’s palace where she is waiting with Seolwon and Sejong. They didn’t know about the princess’ son either, and they speculate that was why Princess Cheonmyeong went looking for Munno. They also talk about Deokman.
In the next section, we see Deokman waking on a path through juniper trees carrying a lantern. The description in this section is extensive and includes more details like peach trees and a hall called the Dead Flower Hall. It’s nighttime, and she is on the palace grounds not far from the military exercise hall. Two people are on the lawn practicing a sword dance. Princess Cheonmyeong promises to show her Munno’s manuscript, and the subject of Mishil’s operative, Chilsuk, comes up again. They also discuss who sent an assassin to Yeoraesa Temple. The scene ends with Deokman lamenting her “mother’s” death and feeling uncertain about her own identity.
It doesn’t come as a surprise that Deokman is reported missing in the next scene after her existential angst in the previous one. Kim Yusin gets angry while he’s asking about Deokman’s disappearance and tries to find out where her companions Jukbang and Kado are. The brothers are brought to him, but they are unaware that she is missing. There’s some concern that Deokman was kidnapped, and Princess Cheonmyeong sends Yonchun to Mishil’s home.
Yongchun finds Deokman and talks with her about Chilsuk and Mishil. It’s nighttime again, and Deokman is suspicious because so many of Mishil’s associates are accompanying Chilsuk. There’s also some controversy over a special Hwarang mortuary tablet, but by the end of the segment, Deokman actually ends up talking with Mishil about Chilsuk.
The chapter closes with the Hwarang dressed in their formal uniforms training with Kim Yusin. Deokman is among them, sweating and eating. Her impressions of Mishil the evening before has left her filled with dread since she is now sure Mishil genuinely wants to kill her.
The next chapter, “A Lack of Character,” describes the changing seasons, a heavy atmosphere, and a languid crowd returning from the market. Deokman is at the eastern market and talks with a plump shopkeeper, Kim Muhwa, who happens to be Kin Yusin’s younger sister.
In the second scene, it’s spring with the Hwarang and Princess Cheonmyeong sitting in a pavilion near the royal palace. I guess a fair amount of time has passed, and her son Chunchu will be twelve in three year. Cheonmyeong is uneasy since he won’t be able to stay hidden anymore, and she wonders how she can protect him from the cunning and treacherous Mishil as well as rival kingdoms Koguryeo and Baekje.
The following few sections alternate between the Hwarang and Mishil’s cohort, and the first scene shows Kim Yusin in a garden with the Hwarang, calling for Deokman. Someone flogs Deokman with a club when she comes out and kneels before Yusin, and as she is beaten, it feels like her bones are being pulled out. I think she’s still pretending to be a man, and her ordeal in the Hwarang, which is a male-only military order at this point despite Mishil’s power over them, is pretty drawn out. There’s a scuffle over taking someone’s pants off, which is problematic for Deokman since she’s actually a woman, so Deokman hits the man.
We then switch back to Mishil and her usual conspirators of her two beaus, her sons, and her brother who are having a laugh together about Deokman’s situation during Hwarang training since they mention the pants incident. Mishil already knows who she is apparently and that Deokman is only pretending to be a man. The next section swings back to Yusin, Deokman, and Jukbang at night, catching the scent of liquor on the wind.
A more significant scene comes next with Mishil and Princess Cheonmyeong. Cheonmyeong goes with Mishil to her chambers where she and the rest of Mishil’s retinue discuss the Hwarang. Kim Yusin’s regiment is going on a march, and there was some quarrel between them and another regiment that set this march off. Bojong is particularly bitter as he questions Cheonmyeong because Yusin has somehow humiliated him before Mishil, but he knows his mother was a woman whose scheming could drive anyone out of power. Mishil’s brother Misaeng tells Cheonmyeong that she shouldn’t mediate the dispute.
When someone else at the meeting says everyone is gathering at Namdang to discuss countermeasures, Cheonmyeong and Mishil rush there. The scene then shifts to Seolwon and King Jinpyeong talking about the Baekje enemy gathering their forces and the state of Daeya Castle. Jinpyeong tells Seolwon to take the troops to the front line. Meanwhile, Princess Cheonmyeong feels suffocated by the constant tribulation between the Three Kingdoms.
The final chapter I’m covering in this post is chapter 5, “Conspiracy,” and it begins with a description of nighttime falling over Seolwon’s fortress. Seolwon prepares to deploy the Hwarang from camp, and Deokman, Jukbang, Kim Yusin and Kim Seohyeon are among them. They’re fighting the Baekje, and this section gets into some of the logistics of that fight. The scene continues through the remaining four segments of the chapter as the Hwarang arrive and attack Amak Fortress in Baekje’s territory.
Just for fun, here is a post (Korean only) showing what remains of this historical fortress:
Amak Fortress is quite high up and has a wonderful view of the valley below in some of these shots. The tourist sign has an English translation that refers to the battle mentioned in this chapter between the Silla and Baekje kingdoms.
The fourth segment of the chapter starts two days later as a messenger from the battlefield returns in the rain to Wolseong Palace (literal name Half Moon Castle). The text notes here that the king and Princess Cheonmyeong, who I believe are at Amak Castle, care a lot about Kim Seohyeon and Kim Yusin and that Princess Cheonmyeong considers Deokman her defender. This scene otherwise features the Silla royal family mostly together as King Jinpyeong and Prince Yongchun discuss negotiations with the Baekje. Yongchun reports that the king of Baekje surrendered tearfully because there was no advantage to a long war, and Silla had attacked Bakeje’s Amak Fortress, so negotiations went well, and Silla’s troops will be returning in seven days.
Mishil then goes to King Jinpyeong to discuss holding a celebration for the returning Hwarang, then she walks with Princess Cheonmyeong as the princess heads toward the back garden. Mishil asks Cheonmyeon if it’s true that Kim Seohyeon and Kim Yusin are the Princess’ close allies, and the chapter ends with Cheonmyeong looking out beyond the walls of Amak Fortress with tears in her eyes and a worried expression on her face.
I got the review from Kirkus on the final volume of The Lucky Cat Series, and this obviously was written by someone different from the reviewer of the first three books, which is what happens at that organization. They even note on their FAQ page that they can’t guarantee their reviewers will understand your work and may not have all of the same background knowledge as you as the author has, and this is just the nature of the industry anyway. You win some, you lose some. People have different tastes, which is why I don’t really get into whether I love the books I’m reading for this blog or not.
That said, let me make a few points about it anyway. The occasion of a high-profile mixed review gives me an opportunity to talk about my work and my approach to it, and that’s never a bad thing. The topic I selected to write about in The Lucky Cat Series is an uncomfortable one that most people don’t learn about in school, and there’s a lot of revisionist history and denialism involved with it. However, this was the whole point of the project: the series was my answer to a college age friend who wanted to compare our different language degree programs separated by many years in time and geography because she felt there were key omissions to the information presented in her program. I didn’t have those same omissions given the place and time and with the people I was studying under for my Russian language/lit degree, which also included a special certificate program in the historical and political side of the region, and I studied under a very good historian who was not revisionist on Stalinist history. Just because of the topic, though, there will be a negative reaction from some quarters.
My first point of commentary is the reviewer’s summary of the opening chapter. At no point in book four is it a plot point that anyone hears that the white roses are now still growing in the Alps, and the secret police never went to the Alps because they heard that they were. From the beginning of chapter 1 to the end of chapter 1, the roses were dead and weren’t expected to be anything but dead, though after they arrived someone had a vision of them blooming briefly during a haunting sequence. If a reader misses this plot point, it’s probably true the rest of the novel wouldn’t make sense.
So what actually is the plot at that point in the story? The secret police go to the Alps to investigate a theory one of them had about the true identity of the Empress after deliberating between two possible points of attack on her: they could either go after the phantom castle where it usually appears in Fujimi City in Old Japan or go to the Alps where the Empress has a human connection.
My second point is that there should have been no real mystery as to the characters’ motivations since it’s all laid out right in front of the reader. For example, in one scene, elderly superstate leader Gleb Shulga is lured late at night into New Bangkok’s Grand Theater where the seats are full of sinister figures (the Empress’ legion of fox servants) and a woman is murdered on stage by superstate thugs. When the dying woman turns to the audience, points to Gleb, and calls him a murderer, he thinks back over his work for the superstate, which is not a benign entity; he realizes he probably did murder women like her in his service to the state, and even now he doesn’t care. The dead want justice. That seems to me to be pretty straightforward, and this scene I think really illustrates the heart of what the series is all about. But these ethical questions can lead to discomfort. This article was in the headlines just this week about the quest to find the graves of dissidents murdered by the Soviets many years ago:
At some point, the sheer brutality of what was done to victims like these and the incredible number of the dead across the globe under many different totalitarian societies in the 20th century make them faceless and forgettable, and what I intended to do here is make them less passive, give them agency, and personalize them. I thought it would be fun and appropriate to have them pound the superstate’s a##, and the kaiju are good instruments of terror to do just that. Here are just a few of the mind-numbing historical statistics involved just as a sample:
Stalin (1930s) 20 million
Hitler (1930s-40s) 5 to 6 million Jews plus 6 million victims of other categories
Mao (1950s-60s) 20 to 46 million
Pol Pot’s Cambodia (1970s) 1.2 to 2.8 million, or between 13% and 30% of the population
Argentina’s Dirty War (1970s-80s) 30,000 “disappeared”
Some of the other psychological aspects of totalitarianism I illustrate with the series also are straight out of the history books, even if that doesn’t make people happy because that’s not how they thought things actually worked. Rationality was supposed to bring enlightenment, but it didn’t. It brought mass murder instead.
I have a few new pictures of the kaiju from the story to share here, too, today:
Of course, these reviews are short and can’t get into everything, but let me also note that The Lucky Cat and the Kaiju Horde continues my rather different take on the crone archetype with the Empress’ character that I began in volume 3 and haven’t talked much about yet, and it features a new backstory of the dolls in Danli Xian’s collection. In earlier volumes, I’ve mostly focused on the Hinamatsuri doll collection, so there’s plenty more to explore in that universe among the doll resistance movement beyond the hints the review gives.
The review Kirkus did of my third volume in the series did touch a little on the crone aspect I was working with, but here’s some background. I should probably write about my take on that more in the future:
On that note, my next project will be The Inn at the Edge of the World, which will be a Silk Road style, pseudo-historical horror-mystery centered around a retired court dancer and her inn full of colorful, frightening guests.
My next post will definitely be the return to Queen Seondeok that I’ve been promising, and I think I have a taste for the Tomb Sect, Dragon Girl, and Li Mochou to follow up on that blog reading series, so I’m going to dig out Jin Yong’s Return of the Condor Heroes novels for the next featured books on this blog. It’s difficult Chinese to read, though, but maybe now is the time to give it a shot.
In honor of the postponed Steel City Con that was supposed to be this past weekend, I got more videos reading excerpts from my Lucky Cat Series finished. I did a more limited cosplay in this one, too, to keep things interesting.
Only one more volume to go with book trailers and reading videos to finish out the Lucky Cat Series promotional art, though I hope to get back to my Queen Seondeok series this weekend.
“In this follow-up to Lucky Cat and the Snow Maiden’s Vengeance (2018), Gray continues to add meticulous layers to her saga of spirit-animated figurines battling for humanity’s freedom….the author’s portrayal of magic is subtle and rewarding….This engaging and complex series installment offers fans more supernatural maneuvering.” – Kirkus Review
Also, many thanks to Story Monsters for featuring the Lucky Cat Series in their at home program for students displaced by the school closings for the rest of the academic year:
I’m waiting to hear about a second virtual con that may also feature it, and I’ll be sure to post that as I get word. I’ve extended my free book offer at Voracious Readers through May. More reading videos and another book trailer will be coming soon, too.
It’s done! My final volume of the Lucky Cat Series, Lucky Cat and the Kaiju Horde, is now available in print and e-book formats at Amazon.com:
(Did that link show up properly? If not, you can head on up to the menu at the top of this page where it says books and hit the “Lucky Cat Series” from the drop down menu or just go to Amazon to find it directly.)
For the month of March only, I’m partnering with Voracious Readers Only to do a special edition e-book omnibus giveaway of The Lucky Cat Series. That is, all four volumes compiled into one e-book for a limited release only. Sign up to get your copy here, which will also get you on my newsletter mailing list:
I haven’t gotten around to preparing the book trailer for the third installment yet, but here’s Kirkus Review’s take on Lucky Cat and the Gods of War, which I’m pleased to say they clearly liked. It’s great to see people getting into the series:
As I close out the series with this volume, let me say a few words about my inspiration for some parts of it. Of course, my research and presentation of the Godzilla franchise certainly has been influential, especially on volume 4 where things really get crazy with the kaiju, but I also just finished binge-watching all of the currently available seasons of “Attack on Titan” for more inspiration. My haunted, chic ball-joint doll set I feature as the antagonist/protagonists certainly have some direct influence, though I would say the beautiful puppets in “Thunderbolt Fantasy” are a bigger inspiration. The doll design was particularly inspired, too, by a really impressive South Korean doll maker, Iple House, in Seoul, which has an incredibly beautiful type of ball-joint doll they make, especially their doll Miho, which you can still get a look at here:
The photos of the doll version in her black lace and red number were very much what I had in mind as a starting point for the Empress’ design. Their male dolls are equally amazing, and I just wanted to give a shout out to them for their great work. I don’t think I’ve seen dolls more beautiful and realistic anywhere. Of course, the Empress’ haunting form was strongly influenced by the Umbrella Goddess of Japanese anime series “Yamishibai,” so if you want to explore some possible elaboration on that character, you could check out The Lucky Cat Series, though the head tilt and intimidating style of the character is probably the only resemblance.
I also kept the Just War Theory in mind when writing this series, too:
I finally got a look at director John Hsu’s historical horror film “Detention,” which is currently showing at the online Nightstream Film Festival this weekend and is making the rounds along the film festival circuit this year. When I first saw the trailer, I was riveted, and the film did not disappoint. Since I completed […]
Although it has been a few months since Annecy’s virtual edition of their animation festival this summer, I wanted to cover a film that they showcased there that perhaps hasn’t gotten much airplay beyond that festival. One of the spectacular entries was Korean feature-length animated film, “The Shaman Sorceress,” which is based on a Korean […]
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I had some time this weekend to prepare a few videos for everyone to enjoy. The first video is my character roll-call, which I made for my readers who have been struggling to pronounce my characters’ names in a couple of my novels. Character Roll-Call: Then I prepared a three-part series of me reading selections […]