ARC provided by the publisher—St. Martin’s Press—in exchange for an honest review.
A Hero Born is the start to Jin Yong’s highly praised classic series but a lot of the promising quality of the book seems to get lost in translation.
I’m genuinely sad with my ratings for this one, but I have to be honest that I have mixed feelings towards this novel. When I was around 5 years old, I used to watch The Legends of the Condor Heroes a lot with my parents. When I missed an episode, my parents would tell me the story in detail; teaching me the meaning behind the actions of each character. This series, even though I’ve never read it until now, has a spot of nostalgia for me. That being said, it’s been more than 20 years and I honestly remember extremely little about it. What I do remember is that the story eventually grew significantly larger in scope and complexity than the coming-of-age tale we have in A Hero Born. I’ll divide this review strictly into what worked and what didn’t; let’s start with the parts that worked first.
A Hero Born has an engrossing story, even though the prose and the naming didn’t work (more on this in the next paragraph) for me, I found that my interest to continue reading was always there. The actions were great, the depiction of kung-fu was exciting and refreshing to read. I also enjoyed reading the theme of friendships, loyalty, and love within this book. Remember, this is just the first book of a sub-series that became a much bigger series, and for the beginning installment, I think the storyline in A Hero Born, although understandably quite full of cliché due to it being published more than 50 years ago, the book served its job as a setup for the next installments wonderfully.
As for what didn’t work, it lies mostly in the translations that seem to translate every word and names literally. Now, I haven’t read the original Chinese material and because of that, I can’t precisely compare the quality of the prose itself; I can’t blame every part that didn’t work on the translation. However, as for this edition, the prose feels so unnatural and clunky to read; some doesn’t even make sense. “An arrow hit the back of his head.” And the same character proceeded to sing as if nothing happened, what does that even mean? Which part of the arrow hit him that he was able to walk unscathed? And then there was a character who ran into a pole and literally died after. Think about it, hit in the back of the head by an arrow and ran into a pole, which one would kill a person realistically? As for why I think everything was translated literally, this can easily be analyzed from the character’s names. Instead of sticking with the original Chinese name, the translator translated the names literally. Here are a few examples:
-Duan Tiande became Justice Duan
-Huang Rong became Lotus Huang
-Guo Xiaotian became Skyfury Guo
-Yang Tiexin became Ironheart Yang
-Bao Xiruo became Charity Bao
-Li Ping became Lily Li (Just try saying this translated name repeatedly: Lilililililililililililililililili)
For me who’s used to the original names, this is all so awkward. Plus, it just seems inconsistent because some of the main characters like Guo Jing, Yang Kang, and other Mongolian characters do retain their original names. Add the fact that the narrative used head jumping (which I’m not a fan of) with a dose of omniscient style, there were simply a lot of times where I had severe difficulty in immersing myself to the story.
I’ve heard that the next installment of the series has a different translator so fingers crossed it will be a much better experience if I do move forward. For now, though, I must say that I prefer watching the TV series adaptation (any one of them) more than reading this translated work.
Official release date: September 17th, 2019
You can pre-order the book from: Book Depository (Free shipping)