Cover Image: The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water

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Member Reviews

uxia bandit fantasy inspired by the histories of China and Malaya. Fun but a few too many characters to really connect with all of them. Guet Imm stands out, as do a few of the “found family” promised. ★★★½/5 stars.
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Bandits, magic, and found family? So glad I signed up for this delightful little book, because I really enjoyed it! It was just delightful. It was charming, even with its violence at times, had lovely relationships, and managed to even create a wonderful and expansive world in a mere 170 pages. Such a great one for fantasy lovers who want to enjoy a quick read.
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This is the first wuxia book I've read. I really liked the found family theme, and I'm always down for queer, Asian-inspired (although that doesn't quite feel like the right word) fantasy, so it was a pretty nice. I'm looking forward to what this author does in the future (and shoutout to the absolutely gorgeous cover art).
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The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho
When Zen Cho releases a new book, you get that book. The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water is a delightful, compact, fast-paced stunner, full of Chinese and Malaysian fantasy worldbuilding, queer characters, and a loosely wuxia-inspired plot. Set against the background of a revolution and resistance, the book explores the ways that you can never really escape your past, or hide your true nature. If you want to play out these wuxia fantasy tropes, complete with romance and found family, check out Hearts of Wulin, a playable version of which is currently available right now as a playtest—an unfinished preview of the game, which I hope entices you to preorder the full book!

Now, because a tropical mythical island vibe echoes throughout Pure Moon, which is full of jungles, shrines, spies, and references to Malaysian history, let’s dig into some Malaysian game to help fill in the shapes of many people’s cultural understanding. Keris & The Dream by Nana, a short single-person game about a symbol and sacred object is perfect for Pure Moon, which also trades in sacred things. When dealing with colonialism, one of the ways to both understand and dismantle it is to look at maps. Borders are invented things, and never is this more clear than in a country bound up in foreign-drawn boundary. Orichalcum is a map-making game by Justin Quirit where the Empire has been destroyed by their own folly in a land not their own. You play as Exiles, and work to remake the map in the image of you and your ancestors. Another map-making game, this one about queerness, safety, and travel, is Across This Wasteland With You, by Diwata ng Manila and Pamela Punzalan, both pillars of the #RPGSEA (Role Playing Games of South East Asia) community. This two-person game is about queer lovers striving to reach The Safe Place, and paired with the queer bandits, nuns, and surrounds of Pure Moon, this is the game you play after you finish the novel and want to know what happens next.
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Finished this in one sitting and I am pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed reading. Thought this book would be action-heavy but it was more of a character-driven fantasy and thought-provoking.
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Lau Fung Cheung and Tet Sang are bandits, but they are still men of honor and decency. When a customer becomes hostile with the waitress at a coffeehouse, they intervene on her behalf. But they didn't expect the waitress to follow them, hoping to tag along on their adventures. Guet Imm is a nun in the Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water, and certainly not a person the bandits expected to live and fight alongside.

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water was written with a true understanding of how novellas work. The reader knows that there is a wider world at play for these characters, but this particular story is about just a few people, their goals, and their relationships with each other. This is a wuxia-inspired (martial arts) story. While there is some fighting, it is mostly about slowly trusting the people around you and discovering where you belong. Zen Cho excels at subverting your expectations--where you expected a battle, you find an exploration of faith; where you expect a moment of great importance, you find yourself chuckling instead. It's heartwarming to witness Guet Imm and Tet Sang reveal their secrets to each other, but I wish I had felt more of a connection to the characters. 

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water
By Zen Cho Publishing June 2020
176 pages
Read via Netgalley
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I had no idea what wuxia is and honestly I still don’t know but what I do know is that this book was a gorgeous ride and one I definitely need to get on again..

It was lovely and interesting and it hurt when it ended and I hope to read so much more from the author.

Thanks so much for the opportunity and thank you for the chance to read this ARC.
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I found this to be delightfully different and very engaging. My rating 4.5.

Guet Imm is a young votary (like a nun) who has taken work at a tavern after her temple home was raided and burned. A group of thieves, who consider themselves more than bandits, stops in the tavern and one of their group, Tet Sang, can’t help but interfere when Guet is abused by a customer. After the ensuing brawl, Guet attaches herself to the band of misfits insisting that she has nowhere else to go. Tet tries to discourage Guet as the band is on a mission to deliver certain booty to a buyer in another town. They will have to dodge gangs of bandits as well as military troops along the way.

Guet manages to put off any sexual advances by an explicit threat of retribution. Even though she is a bit of a nuisance, and not particularly skilled, Guet begins to endear herself to the rough band. Eventually, she discovers secrets and interferes with the plans of thieves. Dangers are narrowly escaped and, while Guet is trying to make amends, more secrets are revealed.

I was not familiar with “wuxia fantasy” which apparently means ‘martial-arts chivalry or martial arts heroes’. I totally enjoyed the story, even with its few risqué elements. The characters, especially Guet and Tet, are well developed and the relationships and dialog are entertaining and humorous. There is an unexpected delightful mix of adventure, wit, charm, and magic. I recommend this to readers who enjoy a fun, Asian adventure.

Source: 2020 NetGalley.
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omg that ending!! I really liked this one, especially the characters and their relationships with one another. FOUND FAMILIES ARE THE BEST.

Rating: 3.5 stars
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A fun, if sometimes confusingly written, wuxia fantasy with lots of unexpected character twists.  This one is sure to delight many.
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I'm always a sucker for wuxia. Queer wuxia? Even better. Also the cover is pretty. The only thing that I wanted was more.
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Zen Cho's latest novella, The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water, has been getting a lot of ink, and with good reason. It's a wuxia fantasy with characters that feel larger than life.

What does a group of bandits and a nun have in common? The adventure they're about to have together, of course. And to think it all started with a simple incident in a teahouse. They should have known it'd turn into something bigger.

Before I dive into my review, I just want to say that the cover for The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water is quite possibly one of my favorites, ever. Definitely one of the top covers for the year!

"You hexed a customer?" he roared. He smacked her on the side of the head.
"I didn't say that, Mr. Aw," protested the waitress, rubbing her head. "I just said I didn't deny only."

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water is a quick and quirky read. That really is the best way I can describe it. It's fun and full of action, quips, and a broad range of characters. It was so much fun to read, and for plenty of good reasons.

Honestly, though, I'm struggling to write this review, despite highly enjoying the novella. It's hard to talk about without delving into the world of spoilers. I can say that it was a blast to read and that I adored many of the characters from these pages.

I can also say that it was a quick-paced read, bordering on lively. And that humor! Oh, I love Zen Cho's writing style and sense of humor. It's absolute perfection. Combined with the surprisingly sweet elements of this tale, and it makes for a delight to read.

I was surprised by the variety of personalities found within the bandit troupe, and everything else they had to offer. Likewise, the world itself is fascinating. It's set in a mythical Asian country, yet it is also clearly a war-torn country. As one might imagine, that adds a lot to the plot here, from complications to motivations.

My biggest regret about The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water is that it ended too soon. It's a novella, I know, so it was bound to happen. But still, I really do wish that it had gone on for just a bit more.
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I loved this! Novellas are so magical, Zen Cho writes an amazing modern-day fairy tale that is fully fleshed out in so much little time. This is perfect for people that want a quick and amazing read!
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I love Zen Cho and this book lived up to all of my expectations. The twist/reveal regarding one of the characters and the way it was handled in terms of language made me so happy. I would love a follow on novel.
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I really enjoyed the found family trope of this book, as well as the interesting, fantasy take on wuxia.   That said, I think it's important to get the recommendations right on this one.  It doesn't quite have the action-oriented take that a lot of people will be expecting.  Instead, it's a slower burn, with a more family-oriented story, rather than an action-packed romp that many readers will be expecting.   Best of all, it's diverse, welll-written, and has well-rounded characters with personalities and backstories.  It's definitely something I'll be recommending.
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I have not read Zen Cho before, but she is well know for her fantasy novel, The Sorcerer's Crown, so it was an easy request when I saw this novella available on Netgalley.

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water is a fantasy novel set in Imperial China during wartime, and focuses on a bawdy band of men just doing the best they can when they are joined by Guet Imm, a member of The Order who is also struggling to find her footing after her temple is destroyed. Guet Imm, however, soon realizes she might be getting more than she bargained for, as do the men in letting her join their adventures.

I really enjoyed the upbeat tone of the novella and the witty, playful dialogue is so much fun, however I do think these things separated the reader a bit too much from the high stakes of the times these characters live in. I also appreciated how Cho incorporated LGBTQ characters into her story in a natural way, without much fuss. Overall, an enjoyable quick read to spend an afternoon with.
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The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water is a novella that reflects the found family trope in a wuxia-inspired fantasy plot by bringing together a group of bandits and a nun while they journey through a war-torn world that isn't just about violence but also about it. Not only does it raise the tension and complexity of striking underground deals or saving themselves from the law and blunders but also the revelations packed in conversations around identity, spirituality, and purpose.

With a diverse set of POC and queer characters, and a Malaysian-Chinese inspired world, it's a story that holds mysteries stemming from morally grey personalities yet more clarity in terms of respect for gender-queer identities and religious notions. The witty banter and humorous dialogues enhance the reading experience even if the action promised is not fully delivered. For all those who love quick diverse reads that clubs together excellent topics of discussion with an interesting plot, this one is for you.
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The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water is a Malaysian-based fantasy with a semi-wuxia flavour that was an absolutely delightful slice of home.

When I first discovered that Zen Cho is a London-based Malaysian Chinese author, I was keen to read to her work. I’ve since read and enjoyed Sorceror to the Crown, a Regency-era fantasy of manners, and noticed that she has incorporated some elements of her home country. Not a lot but enough to make me appreciate an author that remains proud of her roots regardless of where she is.

When I saw the cover of The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water, I actually expected something more East Asian as it has a clear wuxia influence. Imagine my surprise when I realised even from the very first chapter how very Malaysian the setting was. Aside from the setting of a kopitiam – a Straits Chinese-styled coffeeshop – in the first scene, with all the beverage ads on the walls (umbra juice and soya bean drink existing side-by-side was a dead giveaway), the dialogue was Malaysian through and through. After a couple of chapters, the notion started to form that this story was set during the days of the guerilla warfare which started in pre-Independence Malaya. Sure enough, I checked Cho’s blog which stated that the novella is “a tale of nuns and bandits whose setting draws on both the semi-mythic China of wuxia and the Malaya of the Emergency.” A historical note here, Singapore was still part of Malaya at that time.

Throughout my entire time reading the novella, I couldn’t hold on to my glee at the Malaysian-ness seeping through some of the words used and the dialogue – some notable inflections include “Aiyah” and “Where got?” and terms like “Close one eye” and “I know you won’t do me like that, brother!” – as well as some recognisable locations like Sg Tombak (with a name change), Permatang Timbul and Kempas. I laughed so hard in one scene when a mata, i.e. policeman, groaned out a very vulgar curse while trying to apprehend the main characters. Even the manner of address for family or very close friends (Ah Sang for Tet Sang, Ah Lau for Lau Fung Cheong) is the Malaysian way. The names of the other bandits in Fung Cheong’s group – Ah Hin, Ah Boon, Ah Yee and Ah Wing – are forms of affectionate address comprising one part of their name which could either come from a surname or first name. In this same respect, only my family members ever called me Ah Sim.

The wuxia influence comes through the mythological and philosophical aspects of the Order of the Pure Moon and the worship of its deity. There was also a reference to Nezha, the boy god from Chinese mythology. Those coming into this novella expecting wuxia martial arts action will be disappointed as there was not much of it. There were a few cool scenes nonetheless which made this more fantasy than historical fiction.

This was a tale of found family and holding on to one’s identity in spite of change, told mainly through the perspective of Tet Sang – a bandit in Lau Fung Cheong’s group who appears to have something to hide about his past. I would even venture to say that that there wasn’t much of a plot except to relate how the addition of Guet Imm, a votary of the Order of Pure Moon, into Fung Cheong’s group caused an upheaval that no one expected – least of all, for both Guet Imm and Tet Sang. In short, this is a character-driven story but one that moves along at a good clip and peppered with really funny dialogue and banter between the bandits and a nun.

The ending felt a bit abrupt although fitting for the tale to be told for now. In any case, I found that given the format, very few novellas wrap things up as neatly as a full-length novel could. But for what’s it worth, I was entertained and enjoyed reading this delightfully Malaysian novella. I could be biased. No, scrap that, I am biased being such a deprived own-voices reader in the fantasy genre. So I would really recommend that readers looking for diversity and understanding other cultures give this novella a shot. Look, it’s less than 200 pages after all. And if you come across a word you don’t understand, just Google it – it exists in the context of this little country in the South East Asian region of the world.
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This was a fun, quick read that I only wish I'd have had more of - I started to really enjoy the plot and characters as the book was wrapping up. Some favorite parts were the depth of world-building the author went into for such a short novella, the queer representation, and how much it reminded me of some of my favorite wuxia films, even though there wasn't a huge amount of action. How the author explores the effects of war and the devotion to religion during conversations between characters are both fascinating points, and left me pondering how each tie together in war times - not to mention the themes of identity and how it affects how one lives but also how one views the world they live in. Fingers crossed Cho picks up where the novella ends some day - I'd love to hear more of Guet Imm and Tet Sang's journey.
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2.5/5 stars

When a bandit walks into a coffeehouse, a series of events unfold which sees Guet Imm, a votary of The Order of the Pure Moon, joining a group of bandits. What follows from there is a gruelling journey to survive in a war-torn nation. 

This story held a lot of promise, however, in the end, I ended up disappointed with the direction the story took. Firstly, the writing had an old-school, monastic tone that I was fully expecting. While I knew that religion would be featured in some way, I did not expect the writing to take that kind of tone. All I'm saying is that there were a fair to many "sister," "brother," and vague explanation of the religion for me to properly appreciate nor understand the overall world-building. It was a shame that the world-building was not as fleshed out as I would have preferred to truly suck me into the story. 

In terms of characters, there are some queer characters featured in the story and some discussions on gender identity, but overall the characters fell flat for me and I didn't really have much emotion or attachment to them. While I like the Guet Imm was not some damsel in distress and the author's attempt to make her this badass fighting nun, she still felt like an archetype of the manic pixie dream girl stereotype, and I would have greatly preferred more than one layer to her character. The most interesting character would have to be Tet Sang, but even he was not as fleshed out as I would have liked. His character arc was all over the place with the drastic shifts in his character and I felt that his background could have been given more thought as opposed to the scenes where the group is setting up camp for the night. The other characters didn't have very much definition to them and were overall forgettable.

Overall, the story was meh. I was hoping for that Asian martial arts fantasy with some magic that I gleaned from the synopsis, but alas, that was definitely not the case. Let's just say that the title promised way more than what I got from the story.
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