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Genre: Adventures

In the Book and Sword, Louis Cha revives the legend about the great eighteenth-century Manchu Emperor Qianlong which claims that he was in fact not a Manchu but a Han Chinese as a result of a "baby swap." The novel is panoramic in scope and includes the fantastical elements for which Cha is well-known: secret societies, kungfu masters, a lost desert city guarded by wolf packs, and the mysterious Fragrant Princess.

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Like the martial art heroes that he writes about, Louis Cha is a legend in his own time. Better known to his Chinese fans by his pen name of Jin Yong, Cha is the unrivaled giant of the modern martial arts (wuxia) genre. His novels were initially written for serialization in his own Ming Pao newspaper, which was published in Hong Kong. However, they became so popular that they were reprinted in Chinese newspapers around the world. His novels, which total fourteen, were subsequently published in book form. His accomplishment was magnified by the fact that during this time Mainland China was a literary desert because Communist rigidity only allowed publication of titles that conformed to socialist realism, i.e, it had to help build socialist ideals. Definitely, no room for escapist kung fu adventures there.

Alas, in spite of his stature, his works were only accessible to Chinese readers. Although the novels were initially written between 1955 and 1972, it was not until 1997 that the English translation of "The Deer and the Cauldron" was published by Oxford University Press (and that was only the first volume of three!). Although that translation of Cha's last and, many argue, his best novel was excellent, it still left something to be desired because "The Deer and the Cauldron" was not representative of the genre. Therefore, it is with great excitement that we awaited the publication of the "The Book and the Sword", Cha's first novel earlier this year. The novel was initially translated and published on the web by Graham Earnshaw in 2001 but it was picked up by Oxford University Press in 2003 and edited by Rachel May and John Minford. Mindford was the translator for "The Deer and the Cauldron". The book finally became available earlier this year.

"The Book and the Sword" takes place during the reign of Emperor Qian Long (1735-1795) of the Qing dynasty. The Qing dynasty had been founded by the Manchus almost 100 years earlier. By this time the Manchu rulers, whose homeland was in the north east of present day China, had been thoroughly sinicised. Qian Long himself was a great patron and practitioner of Chinese culture. Nevertheless, there were still resistance groups formed by the Han majority. The story follows one of these secret societies, the Red Flower Society, whose members are determined to overthrow the Qing. The members of the society are a colorful bunch of characters, most of whom are men but they also include several women in their ranks (the woman are all beautiful and deadly, of course). The members come from a cross section of the society but have been brought together by their wilingness to risk life and limb to protect the weak and fight for justice. The newly elected leader of the society, Helmsman Chen, is an unlikely hero whose manners and knowledge reveal a priviledged upbringing as the son of a former prime minister. We join the group as they repeatedly fail to free one of their own, Rolling Thunder Wen, who is being escorted to the capital under heavy guard. Rolling Thunder, you see, happens to know about a deadly secret: that the emperor was actually born to a Han family but swapped with a Manchu baby girl. Helmsman Chen discovers this secret himself soon enough and hopes to convince the emperor himself to evict the Manchus. What Chen doesn't know, however, is that the origin of the emperor is related to his own selection as the leader of the Red Flower Society. Much of the action actually takes place in the western border of China in present day Xinjiang, home of the Uighurs, whom Helmsman Chen befriends and helps on various occasions. Since Qian Long was in the process of bringing the Uighur land under his empire, the Uighurs and Chen had a common enemy in the emperor. It is through these relationships with the Uighurs that Chen encounters the book and sword of the title. Although these two items are not directly related to his quest for the Manchu overthrow, they do lead him to two beautiful Uighur sisters and later painful choices between love for a woman and love for country.

Those who have never read a wuxia novel are in for a surprise. Although frequent fight scenes featuring incredible acrobatics, swordmanship, and good old kung fu skills are present as expected, they are really not the most important part of the story. In fact, the book is very much like a typical Hong Kong movie where the movie director has never bothered to decide whether the movie is a comedy or drama, a kung fu spectacular or a tender love story, an uplifting message-filled narrative or horror movie. It is simply all of that and it switches between them at great speed. In this case, "The Book and the Sword" features several romantic pairings between leading characters. A theme central to all wuxia novels, that of loyalty, is tightly woven into the novel. Not just loyalty to the cause but also to the group and to one's kung fu master. The plot moves a mile a minute across various locales throughout China and spends quite a bit of time in the desert of Xinjiang, a area featured quite prominently in the "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Hero" movies. Louis Cha clearly is a student of Chinese history and has interwoven several real life personalities of the time, including the legendary Fragrant Princess, an Uighur girl so enchantingly beautiful that she naturally smelled like flowers. The core of plot itself, that Qian Long was a Han Chinese, is a well-known but unsubstantiated rumor. I only wish that Cha had spent more time describing Qian Long's own struggle with his new found identity. At it is, he seems to be too eager to sweep it under the rug, which seems incongruous with the historical fact that he became a great emperor admired by all Chinese. In contrast, Cha presents Emperor Kang Xi (Qian Long's grandfather) in a more positive light in "The Deer and the Cauldron".

In summary, we strongly recommend "The Book and the Sword" to all readers. The book is about 500 pages long which is much more accessible than the three-volume "The Deer and the Cauldron". The long wait has not been in vain. Now if they would just hurry up and finish translating the other twelve novels. In my lifetime.

Genre: Adventures

In a battery of events that will make a hero out of an illiterate private, a young Richard Sharpe poses as the enemy to bring down a ruthless Indian dictator backed by fearsome French troops.

The year is 1799, and Richard Sharpe is just beginning his military career. An inexperienced young private in His Majesty's service, Sharpe becomes part of an expedition to India to push the ruthless Tippoo of Mysore from his throne and drive out his French allies. To penetrate the Tippoo's city and make contact with a Scottish spy being held prisoner there, Sharpe has to pose as a deserter. Success will make him a sergeant, but failure will turn him over to the Tippoo's brutal executioners — or, worse — his man-eating tigers. Picking his way through an exotic and alien world. Sharpe realizes that one slip will mean disaster. And when the furious British assault on the city finally begins, Sharpe must take up arms against his true comrades to preserve his false identity, risking death at their hands in order to avoid detection and thus to foil the Tippoo's well-set trap.

Genre: Adventures

In a battery of events that will make a hero out of an illiterate private, a young Richard Sharpe poses as the enemy to bring down a ruthless Indian dictator backed by fearsome French troops.

The year is 1799, and Richard Sharpe is just beginning his military career. An inexperienced young private in His Majesty's service, Sharpe becomes part of an expedition to India to push the ruthless Tippoo of Mysore from his throne and drive out his French allies. To penetrate the Tippoo's city and make contact with a Scottish spy being held prisoner there, Sharpe has to pose as a deserter. Success will make him a sergeant, but failure will turn him over to the Tippoo's brutal executioners — or, worse — his man-eating tigers. Picking his way through an exotic and alien world. Sharpe realizes that one slip will mean disaster. And when the furious British assault on the city finally begins, Sharpe must take up arms against his true comrades to preserve his false identity, risking death at their hands in order to avoid detection and thus to foil the Tippoo's well-set trap.

Genre: Adventures

The extraordinary new novel in the #1 New York Times — bestselling series from the grand master of adventure.

In October 1943, a U.S. destroyer sailed out of Philadelphia and supposedly vanished, the result of a Navy experiment with electromagnetic radiation. The story was considered a hoax — but now Juan Cabrillo and his Oregon colleagues aren’t so sure.

There is talk of a new weapon soon to be auctioned, something very dangerous to America’s interests, and the rumors link it to the great inventor Nikola Tesla, who was

working with the Navy when he died in 1943. Was he responsible for the experiment? Are his notes in the hands of enemies? As Cabrillo races to find the truth, he discovers there is even more at stake than he could have imagined — but by the time he realizes it, he may already be too late.

Genre: Adventures

In All the Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy begins his Border Trilogy with a coming of age tale that is a departure from the bizarre richness and mysterious violence of his early novels, yet in many ways preserves the mystery and the richness in a more understated form. Like Blood Meridian, this novel follows a young man's journey to the regions of the unknown. John Grady Cole, more heroic than the protagonists of McCarthy's earlier novels, confronts the evil that is an inescapable part of the universe as well as the evil that grows out of his own ignorance and pride. His story is told in a style often restrained and simple, embedded with lyrical passages that echo his dreams and memory.

In the spring of 1948 on a small Texas ranch, sixteen year old John Grady Cole attends the funeral of his grandfather, with whom he has lived since his parents' separation. The grandfather's ranch has been left to John Grady's mother, a small-time actress who has no interest in it and will sell it. John Grady's father, psychologically damaged by World War II and now physically ill as well, tells his son goodbye. With no apparent future in Texas, and sensing the threat of the new era to the traditional life he values, John Grady urges his old friend Rawlins to accompany him to Mexico. There, John Grady will find that his innocence, or ignorance, will ultimately lead him close to destruction.

Before reaching the border they meet Jimmy Blevins, a dangerous young boy on a magnificent horse. Even though Cole and Rawlins do not trust Blevins and are sure his horse is stolen, they allow him to join them despite their doubts. As they ride into Mexico, they realize that they are no longer in a world that they can understand. When Blevins' clothes and horse disappear during a thunderstorm, they search a nearby Mexican town, where they find the clothes and finally the horse. In spite of Rawlins' voiced forebodings, Blevins steals the horse back, and as John Grady and Rawlins flee the town Blevins gallops past them, pursued by armed men.

John Grady and Rawlins ride south, coming at last to a ranch, the Hacienda de Nuestra Senora de la Purisima Conception. As they talk with the vaqueros about the possibility of employment, John Grady sees a beautiful girl on a black horse, Alejandra, the daughter of hacendado Don Hector Rocha y Villareal. The heir of an aristocratic family, Don Hector is avidly interested in breeding wild mountain horses with his own stock, so John Grady and Rawlins join the vaqueros; John Grady amazes everyone with his ability to break the wild horses quickly and gently.

When Don Hector questions Cole about his past, he omits the episode with Blevins and the fact that he and Rawlins may now be wanted as accomplices in Blevins's horse theft. Concerned about his blossoming relationship with Alejandra, Duena Alfonsa, Don Hector's aunt and Alejandra's godmother, warns John Grady away from the rebellious girl, and informs him that Don Hector will never allow her to marry an American, especially a poor one. But Alejandra comes to him one night and they become lovers.

A few days later John Grady and Rawlins are arrested and taken to a jail in Encantada, where Blevins is already imprisoned for the murder of three men. While the three Americans are transported to the state prison at Saltillo, Blevins is taken from the group and shot. At the prison, they are questioned and beaten, and Rawlins is injured seriously. John Grady, attacked by another prisoner, whom he must kill, learns that evil exists not only in the world but in himself. When he and Rawlins are suddenly released as mysteriously as they were arrested, Rawlins returns to Texas.

But John Grady goes back to La Purisima to search for Alejandra, who is not there. Once again Duena Alfonsa makes clear to him the impossibility of the match. She tells her own story of the power of ignorance and evil (her love for a man who was killed by a mob after helping depose the dictator Diaz) and of her determination to protect Alejandra. Although John Grady does meet Alejandra one last time at a hotel in Zacatecas, it is only as a farewell: she chooses her family's approval (and perhaps their money). In pain, Cole returns to Encantada where he finds Blevins's horse, innocent like all animals and yet the cause of much death and loss. John Grady captures both the horse and the brutal police captain who shot Blevins, and heads homeward. En route, the captain is seized by brigands with a score to settle with him, and John Grady finally returns to Texas.

He finds even less there than before: his father and his childhood nurse are both dead. He rides on with the stolen horse, seeking to restore it to its rightful owner. John Grady has learned, but not yet enough; he has left home and returned a changed man, but there is no home to receive him. All the Pretty Horses is a hero's quest without a neat resolution, a book in which the strange light of mythic struggles shines through the quick-paced adventure.

The Border Trilogy continues with Volume Two, The Crossing, and concludes with the third volume, Cities of the Plain.

Genre: Adventures

Sharpe's Trafalgar is a nautical adventure that finds ensign Richard Sharpe in the middle of one of history's most historically significant naval engagements: the battle at Cape Trafalgar off the coast of Spain, in 1805.

Genre: Adventures

This book tells the story of Ensign Richard Sharpe, who is sent to Copenhagen in 1807 with the job of protecting a nobleman on an important, but secret, mission. Sharpe soon discovers that his task is not as simple as it seemed and that he must overcome traitors, spies and the bombardment of Copenhagen.

Genre: Adventures

This book tells the story of Lieutenant Richard Sharpe, during a portion of his time with the 2nd Battalion of the 95th Rifles during the Peninsular War in 1809.

Genre: Adventures

This is Bernard Cornwell's first novel, written as a means of providing him with an income while living with his American fiancée in her home country where he could not get a work visa.

Cornwell’s plan and he had wanted to start with the Siege of Badajoz but on reflection, he felt that this was too ambitious for his first novel and so decided to start with a couple of easier books as a warm-up. Cornwell also wanted to find a task just as impossible as the taking of Badajoz for his first adventure, and so the capture of a Regimental Eagle from a French Regiment provided the challenge the author felt necessary to establish the reputation of both Sharpe and his close friend, Sergeant Patrick Harper.

Genre: Adventures

Sharpe is sent on a secret mission behind French lines to locate gold that is badly needed to ensure the British can continue the fight against the French into the new year. At this time they hold a minor foothold in Portugal and are facing a major invasion in the new year.

Genre: Adventures

It is the late summer of 1810 and the French mount their third and most threatening invasion of Portugal. Captain Richard Sharpe, with his company of redcoats and riflemen, meets the invaders on the gaunt ridge of Bussaco where, despite a stunning victory, the French are not stopped.

Genre: Adventures

Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro, May 1811.

Genre: Adventures

It is the summer of 1812 and Richard Sharpe, newly recovered from the wound he received in the fighting at Salamanca, is given an easy duty; to guard a Commissary Officer posted to an obscure Spanish fort where there are some captured French muskets to repair. But unknown to the British, the French are planning a lightning raid across the River Tormes, and they reckon the obscure Spanish fort, which guards an ancient bridge across the river, will be lightly guarded. Sharpe is in for a fight.