Cover Image: The Water Outlaws

The Water Outlaws

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

This was good but didn't quite stick the landing. I liked the characters but the middle of the book was a slog to get through! But that cover is gorgeous and I liked the narrator.
Was this review helpful?
This book was right up my alley — a group of feminist antiheroes fighting injustice. It was much more brutal than I expected, but it was fine once I adjusted, and I really appreciated the well written action. The growth of the characters was so rewarding to watch, and I really appreciated the touches of humor that helped to provide some levity!
Was this review helpful?
More people should be reading this! I knew I would enjoy within the first few pages.  This book is a retelling and I enjoyed reading about Lin Chon and the other characters bringing about change. Pick this up!
Was this review helpful?
Excellent book - review on Horror Tree:
Was this review helpful?
This was fantastic story and I'm so glad I received this copy. I think this is my first time reading from this author but it won't be my last.
Was this review helpful?
Thank you to the publishers and Netgalley for an eARC of this novel, however all thoughts and opinions are my own. 

DNF- 30% (on the fourth go)

I have started and put down this book multiple times now and I can't figure out the reason why I'm not fully engaged with it. On paper it has all the representation I want to see in a book with Non-binary, Trans, Queer characters. It has themes of social justice, loyalty, acceptance, community, the consequences of unchecked power... All themes that I normally enjoy. So, why am I not loving this as I should? The pacing feels awfully slow to me. There is a lot of action, but as a character first reader, I don't necessarily find that to be a good thing. Also, I feel like we're being told rather than shown a lot of things. 

Now, as I have the original source material sitting on my shelf. I can appreciate what a tremendous undertaking this had to be for S.L. Huang. I can appreciate the time and energy spent to adapt this story. However, I can only assume that something about the pacing and the writing is just not for me. This book is for readers who don't mind a bit more action over characterization, who love expansive casts of characters, and who want the representation and themes mentioned above. I think I'm going to be in the minority here and I will probably try it again because I have a don't give up attitude when it comes to books, but I think that this is unfortunately not going to be a book for me and that makes me so sad. 

Also, the cover is beautiful.
Was this review helpful?
Reads like a cross between Joe Abercrombie's Best Served Cold and Nghi Vo's Singing Hill books. The fantasy I've enjoyed most lately are tales coming from non-European traditions, and I was hopeful that The Water Outlaws would take me on a journey to new places. It's an interesting tale and I read closely for the first quarter of the book or so until the overall trajectory became clear and I stalled.

I had a great deal of hope when I read the 'Author's Note on Potentially Disturbing Content,' where Huang finishes by stating, "I hope this is primarily a joyous, toothy escapist adventure, one in which a group made up almost entirely of women and queer folk--who are in equal parts devastating, powerful, righteous, and terrible." Apparently this is a retelling of a classic Chinese novel called Water Margin "in which antiheroic bandits rise up against a tyrannical government on behalf of the people." I wish to make it clear: this is not a nice tale, despite feminist-humanist leanings, not one told from the distance of history or the sanitized tales children hear before bed. On the one side we have loyalty, perseverance, acceptance, autonomy, community; on the other we have flagrant abuse of power, lies, torture, threat of rape, cannibalism. So your mileage is going to vary. For my own self, prone to gentleness and preferring my violence heavily stylized and absent of torture, I found it heavy. This, like Abercrombie, is one of the few books I've read with genuine anti-heroes. 

It's well written and movingly told. Characterization is decent for such a large cast, though the primary focus is on Lin Chong, a martial arts instructor originally in service to the Empire, and Lu Junyi, a sort of socialite who runs a coffeehouse where intellectuals debate freely. Lin Chong rejects the advances of one of the Emperor's favorite advisors and Lin Chong comes to the attention of an advisor with boundless ambition. Needless to say, things go badly.

"Violence is not the way." Lin Chong thought of Lu Da, and her mouth folded into a frown. Violence was never the way. Anyone skilled enough in the fighting arts to be a master arms instructor knew that to her bones."

You just know with a line like that that a character is going to have to learn some dramatic lessons. And all of that is okay, truly. It's just that passage getting there is grim. Grim and deeply realistic. There's no stylized manga-color to ease it. This is an amazingly competent woman who has had her belief in herself, her profession and her empire shattered, and then further humiliated as she's imprisoned and led to detention camp. Clearly, Lin Chong is undergoing metamorphosis, but it's a deeply ugly one. 

"Our true success will mean some of them lose power... and that will not come without anger and fear."

Here's the thing: I don't disagree. We need these stories. Some transformations come because of rock bottom, and Huang has written a tale of the consequences of that. It is also an appropriate tale of consequences of unchecked power.

"What was she hanging on to?
She took a deep breath. Almost laughed. A dizzying freedom rippled through her. Lu Da had been right, in her blunt, brash way. Perhaps these were the true haojie."

It's well written. The biggest weakness, besides mood for me, is pacing. I think to make this transformation believable, Huang spends more time on the women's internal journey. Once Chong reaches the bandits, events proceed rapidly. I pushed through despite the rising violence because I still had hope in the triumph of good over evil. Recommended if you are in the mood for a violent revenge fantasy.
Was this review helpful?
This novel is a retelling of *Water Margin*, a classical Chinese novel about the legendary outlaw Song Jiang and his band of outlaws in 11th-century Song Dynasty China. S. L. Huang has made it their own, giving it a gender bent and queer reimagining.

It’s a wuxia story, and my first foray into this genre. My white and American understanding of wuxia is that it is a genre that combines fantastical martial arts with Robin Hood-esque honorable thieves? I feel like there are cultural subtleties that I’m missing, but that’s how I understand it.

Regardless of the historical origins (of which I know practically nothing) and the genre (again, practically nothing) this is a kick-ass story.

The protagonist is a woman named Lin Chong, who (despite being a woman) is an expert martial artist and respected instructor for the Imperial guard in the Song Dynasty capital of Bianliang. This ends when an Imperial Marshall makes unwanted advances on her. She’s easily able to fend him off, but a man so powerful will not meekly accept that kind of denial. So he falsely accuses her of crimes, she’s found guilty and branded, and sent to a labor camp.

From there, she makes her way to the Liangshan Bandits, a mostly-female group of outlaws. But despite their habit of robbing nobles and landlords, the women of Liangshan are loyal to the Emperor and consider themselves as acting in service to the Empire. The Empire is corrupt, and they want to purge that corruption.

Meanwhile, a noted scholar and friend of Lin Chong’s is recruited - like it or not - to help the Imperial Chancellor harness a mighty and dangerous supernatural power.

It’s an exciting story, filled with dramatic fights, defiant last stands, and a plucky underdog fighting to hold back much more powerful forces through determination and clever use of the terrain. Highly recommended.

One last note: Huang opens with content warnings about the attempted sexual assault, graphic violence, and a little light cannibalism. These things are all present, but I want to speak a bit more about the attempted sexual assault. Minor spoilers ahead.

I had an exchange recently with a few people on /r/Fantasy who put the book down after the attempted sexual assault, because they weren’t in the mood or headspace to read a rape story. Between the book blurb and how quickly it takes place, that’s a fair assumption, but it isn’t really what the book is. Lin Chong is driven into exile *because* she had the audacity to not let herself be raped, but once that happens the story is really about the Liangshan Bandits and their fight for justice. Lin Chong is, justifiably, furious about the injustice she experienced, but the Imperial Marshall who assaulted her isn’t the villain or even really a major character in the story. This is not the tale of a woman damaged by an attempted rape, or of a woman on a quest for revenge.

This is a story about fighting for justice more generally, and eating the rich. Not *necessarily* literally.
Was this review helpful?
S.L. Huang’s writing in THE WATER OUTLAWS feels like an epic tale, and Huang did a great job balancing the huge casts by referencing their persona and preferred weapon; I didn’t feel overwhelmed by the amount of characters that I initially thought I would. The dichotomy between Lin Chong (our main protagonist) and Lu Junyi (her longtime friend we also follow) is fascinating; they take opposite routes than what I had expected upon first meeting them. I loved the commentary THE WATER OUTLAWS also poses about society and our role as citizens. The idea that rebelling and breaking unjust laws is being the ultimate citizen because you love your country/empire/society and its people so much that you’re willing to break the rules, incur harm, and bring upon danger to yourself to help your society become a better version of itself definitely made me pause and reflect.
Was this review helpful?
The Water Outlaws is a queer and woman focused retelling of a Chinese classic novel Water Margin which follows a group of outlaws finding justice against a tyrannical government as well as finding a home among each other. This book has a plethora of characters within the group of outlaws from a variety of places and experiences all who have faced injustice n some way. The main character, Lin Chong is an expert arms instructor whose life is ruined by a powerful man and has to find out how to create a home and gain justice outside of the system she’s tried to live in her entire life.
I felt as though our perspective characters had a good amount of development. The character who shifted the most was that of Lin Chong as she has to find how she will survive outside of the system of the empire now that she had become an outlaw. In connection we also follow the story of Lin Chong’s fan who is still within the empire. Some of the characters who were more on the side of the story had less development, however that worked within the story because of the large amount of the characters. The plot moves at a good pace and I enjoyed learning what would happen next within the story. I am generally more of a character reader than a plot reader, however I found myself intrigued concerning the plot of this story and enjoying learning what would happen next.  If a plot based queer and woman focused spin on a classic Chinese novel is something that sounds interesting to you, this is the book for you.
That said, there are a few different content warnings for this book which I want to share so people can avoid potential triggers. The Water Outlaws includes a scene of attempted sexual assault, violence, death, torture, a brief discussion of and a brief scene of cannibalism.
Was this review helpful?
Thank you very much for the opportunity to read this book early! I really enjoyed it. I thought the writing was very well done, and the story kept me interested. I believe my students/patrons would also love this book and will be acquiring it for the library!
Was this review helpful?
Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for a copy for review. I read another review that described this book as “cinematic” and I completely agree. This is a classic tale so there are no big surprises and the plot is predictable. The characters are engaging and well written. I will be looking into more from the author.
Was this review helpful?
Thank you NetGalley, Tor Books, and the author for an eARC of The Water Outlaws in exchange for my honest review!

After being falsely accused by a corrupt government official, an expert arms instructor joins a band of outlaws who serve a fierce belief in justice that their current empire is suppressing. The Water Outlaws is a political fantasy with dynamic martial arts, found family, and ruthless characters.

Overall, I really enjoyed this one. I've only read a handful of books that are inspired by the wuxia genre but I've had a good experience with it every time. 

I wish I had gotten to know the characters better. I think that was ultimately where this book was lacking for me. Other than Lin Chong, our primary character, everyone else felt a bit surface level as far as the degree of knowing and understanding them. Plus, there was one character that was so infuriating to me, it affected my enjoyment whenever they had the spotlight.

3.75/5 Stars
Was this review helpful?
Thank you to netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an arc of this title in exchance for an honest review.

The Water Outlaws was a refreshing blend of martial arts and intrigue, which centers women and queer people, whilst also commenting on things like the patriachy and corruption. The atmosphere was lush and vibrant and definitly one of my favorite aspects of this book, along with its cast of fascinating chracters. Though, i would have loved for these to have been explored just a bit deeper than they were. However, the book was still an incredibly satisfying read and i definitly reccomend it to any who find themselves tempted by that gorgeous cover.
Was this review helpful?
Loved this. A bit slow-paced to start, but it picked up around the 40% mark and raced nonstop till the end. 

So this is a gender-swapped retelling of Water Margin, one of four Classic Chinese Novels (c. 14th century). That novel, in turn, is based on the heroic real-life exploits of a band of 12th century bandits who rebelled against the Song Dynasty. In this retelling, the bandits are all women, with a good number of trans and gender-fluid folks among them.

The story is told through a handful of POVs but has a large cast of secondary characters I wouldn’t have minded getting to know better. This is clearly a plot- and not character-driven book, though, which is fine.

This reminded me a lot both of Shelley Parker-Chan’s She Who Became the Sun and Martha Wells’ Witch King. The former both for the obvious reason (they’re both gender-swapped retellings of ancient Chinese history) but also because of the level of violence; this one even has a brief but very much on-page bout of cannibalism. The latter for the fantasy elements, with an evil ruling person/group fashioning a weapon of supernaturally destructive strength.
Was this review helpful?
okay, it’s really 4.5 stars, but it deserved the round up! this was a compelling, extremely readable, gorgeously written story of found family, magic, epic battles, and the difference between law and justice. 

we follow the intertwining stories Imperial Arms Instructor Lin Chong as her careful life is abruptly, violently overturned, and her friend Lu Junyi, an academic who finds herself caught up in a new and dangerous plot by a high-ranking imperial official. I won’t say much more about the story, but you can expect thoughtful themes, seriously epic action scenes, a vibrant and deeply queer cast of characters, and no romantic subplots! 

so much about this really just shone: the multiple POVs, the wonderfully-written action scenes, the bonds between the characters, the way even the minor characters were so vivid and human. the plot was engrossing and the suspense just beautifully done. my one critique is that the wrap-up of one plot arc (the internal conflict among the Liangshan bandits) felt a little rushed, but it was a minor thing ultimately, and didn’t affect my overall enjoyment of the reading experience. while this is, I believe, a standalone (and the ending wraps up satisfyingly), there is also serious sequel potential — let us read more about the haojie of Liangshan, please!!!

altogether: an excellent read which i would enthusiastically recommend, and I am already excited to see what S.L. Huang does next. thanks so much to Tor and Netgalley for the ARC!
Was this review helpful?
The Water Outlaws by S.L. Huang

Brutal, tortured, oppressed society with women in this book enduring much. From the beginning the men were misogynistic, entitled, and evil with no redeeming qualities. The writing was well done, the imagery drew me in, the characters were easy to relate to, and yet…I found myself skimming from time to time. I had trouble with the Chinese names and keeping the characters sorted though the main characters were easier to follow. 

This seemed to be a story of good versus evil with those in power wanting more and more while stepping on those they felt less than themselves. They had no qualms about killing, raping, torturing, and taking what they wanted. 

Lin Chong had strength and power and a will to survive. Accused of something she didn’t do and by standing up for herself…she nearly died. Finding herself with a group of predominately female bandits with an agenda of her own, Lin Chong began to come into her own, realize greater power, and see that the black and white world she believed in was not quite what she thought it was. 

There were elements of fantasy, magic, and myth with changes wrought by the few that might have a trickle down impact on many. 

Did I enjoy this book? For the most part
Would I read more by this author? Maybe

Thank you to NetGalley and Tor Publishing Group for the ARC – This is my honest review. 

3-4 Stars
Was this review helpful?
I'm not a huge fan of miliary dramas but I couldn't pass up the chance to read The Water Outlaws. I wasn't expecting the book to be so funny considering the heavy subject matter but I did find myself laughing out loud a few times. I did find that it was a bit of a drag towards the end and I don't know that I totally understood some of the character arcs or the "magic" but I enjoyed the story overall. I would suggest it to fans of "She Who Became the Sun".
Was this review helpful?
An innovative retelling of a Chinese mythology, this novel felt overwhelming from the beginning with its immense cast of characters and various POVs. Likening this novel to She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan might make sense thematically, but I found the writing style of this novel to be rather basic, and sometimes anachronistic (using modern expressions or emotions almost threw me for a loop and took me out of the time) and not as lyrical as its comp.
Was this review helpful?
I’m a big fan of SL Huang and I love her stance on retelling classic Chinese stories and myths with women and queer characters. However, in this case it differs from having too many characters to follow, letting us barely scratch the surface. Part of that, of course, is the style, with this emulating the wuxia style and therefore coming off as over-the-top, brutally violent, and full of rapid flurries of action.

Huang definitely knows her way around a fight scene, and the pacing and physical movement of the story worked well. But the characters apart from Lin Chong don’t really see much growth or challenging of their ideals - even Lu Junyi who is arguably the other emotional pillar on which the story stands.
Was this review helpful?