Cover Image: The Water Outlaws

The Water Outlaws

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Member Reviews

I loved Burning Roses so was really excited about a longer Chinese folklore reimagining from Huang, but this was a little de see than I liked. Lu Da is my favorite character because she’s so earnest and trying so hard even as she over does things because she’s not always the best at measuring her strength and ability. I loved how she grew with Lin Chong as well as Lin Chong’s own growth and changes in her perspective from being martial arms instructor to being a bandit and finding a family with Liangshan. There was a lot of interesting elements and I did like the execution of the story, but sometimes it felt slow and hard to keep track of all the threads at play, even as so much was happening across various locations. This was a good book and I’d recommend it and I did like the resolution overall, but it was also dense and hard to keep going through parts of the middle just because it felt so long.

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Really interesting concept, focusing on women and action packed, but remembering the characters name was such a struggle😅

This also the kind of book that requires total attention & right headspace. It’s okay i guess

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This book has some great themes that sold me on wanting to read it. Lin Chong is an arms instructor who gets targeted when a powerful man decides she'd be better off dead. Her options are to die, or to run from the law and its corruption. As an outcast herself, she reluctantly begins to understand what drives the bandits who live at the margins of the Empire. She is recruited by them, and a story of stubbornly trying to right injustice and claw their way to a more equal society unfolds. It's a tale of anti-heroes becoming legends.

Some elements that I particularly enjoyed were the alchemy and the scholar's skills that explored super-human capabilities in fighting and channeling power. I also found the camaraderie and intense loyalty between the bandits to be compelling, as well as all the detail in their governance and operation. The characters surrounding Lin Chong were vibrant and complicated, and there was a good amount of growth and change through the tale for many of the central characters.

I also found the author's note at the beginning to be really helpful, both to understand the origin of what I was reading (especially as someone who has seen a few wuxia films, but isn't terribly familiar with the genre beyond that). And I would also say to take the content warnings about potentially disturbing content to heart. This is a violent read, and it took me a while to make my way through it. Part of this was because the beginning of the book is a lot of character development and set up, and the action picks up in the final third. And the other part was because I am pretty sensitive to violence. I knew this wasn't going to be my usual fare going in, and I expected to take my time with it. That said, I am very glad I finished it. You can feel the care and detail that went into writing it, and the result is a really well written, moving, and adventurous read.

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The premise of this was fantastic and I really enjoyed the first and last halves. However, this was far too long, the middle dragged considerably. My other issue was that I never really connected to the characters, and that is so important to me.

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Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the e-ARC! I am very grateful and happy to explore everything this author will write in the future as well!

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A rather solid retelling. Full of thrilling action, great characters and good writing. S L Huang is one to watch and this shows it.

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Stopped reading at 62%. Absolutely beautiful retelling, the pacing was just too slow and the overall book too long. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the free advance copy.

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Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for granting me free access to the advanced digital copy of this book.

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Lin Chong never wanted to be anything more than she was: an imperial arms instructor. But when everything she'd fought and scrambled for is shattered by the arrogance of a corrupt marshal, she finds herself in the arms of a group of (mostly) female bandits. Bandits who are going to change the way or another. Against the Empire. For the Empire.

I can't believe I put off reading this ARC for so long. I blame my tepid enjoyment of the first (and before this, only) work of Huang's I had read, Burning Roses for my procrastination.

Right from the first sentence, I was snatched up in this book. It's a gender-bent, queer retelling of The Water Margin about a group of 108 righteous bandits who face off against ten thousand Imperial troops and, against all odds, win. Of course, there is so much more than that.

It is so good.

The perfect mix of politics and wuxia and bravery, and so, so queer and so good. Did I mention it was good?

It's good.

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THE WATER OUTLAWS by S.L. Huang - a sweeping epic and feminist triumph full of magical objects, a band of witchy outlaws, and beautifully lyrical writing. I really loved so many of these characters and highly recommend the audio!

Really enjoyed this one and will forever consider it one of my favorite feminist epics!

Thank you to the author, @netgalley and the publisher for the e-ARC.

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This one, unfortunately, became a DNF around the 25% mark. The book just seemed far too large for the content and pacing.

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Thank you Tor Books/Macmillan Audio for providing me with an eARC and complementary audiobook in exchange for my honest thoughts.

As soon as I hear that a book has epic battles AND has a heist element, I automatically want to read it. I don’t make the rules! THE WATER OUTLAWS is an immersive tale set in a realm of violence and corruption. The book is action packed and Huang's narrative skillfully depicts the challenges and victories of individuals engaged in a relentless battle for justice against overwhelming obstacles. I loved how THE WATER OUTLAWS explored themes of defiance, camaraderie, and the struggle against a deeply rooted patriarchy.

Emily Woo Zeller is always and forever will be one of my favorite audiobook narrators. She always brings so many amazing Asian-inspired fantasy stories to life. And I don’t know what it is, but the way Emily narrates bloody/gory scenes always has me enraptured. Definitely listen to this book if you can!

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Lin Chong is an arms instructor working for the empire and she is loyal, despite her friend speaking of revolutionary ideas. When Chong's boss puts her in a position that results in her arrest, Chong is thrust into the Liangshan, a group of revolutionaries working to defend and uplift the downtrodden.

I really liked the ideas in this one. The characters and story and all the gender queer inclusivity were good. I also really liked the mix of military, politics, Robin Hood-esque banditry, and the magic. Unfortunately for me the middle half of the book tended to drag. The pacing was a bit off or maybe the writing style just wasn't for me or maybe there were a lot of pieces that needed time to breathe to develop. This story is a retelling of a Chinese story that I do not know, but I think that adds an interesting element. Overall, I would still definitely recommend, especially if you like military and banditry fantasy.

Thank you so much to Tordotcom Pub for the gifted copy.

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The Water Outlaws has a really interesting premise, and I love they way S.L. Huang blends magic and martial arts. Unfortunately, I felt like character development was sacrificed for plot. Other than Lin Chong -- and perhaps Lu Junyi -- I didn't really get a deep sense of who anyone else was, and the book was filled with such an interesting ensemble of characters. And while I don't need a book to wrap things up neatly, the ending left so many questions unanswered that it felt unfinished.

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I had such a fun time reading S.L. Huang’s action-packed and cinematic novel THE WATER OUTLAWS, a queer and genderspun retelling of the Chinese classic WATER MARGIN. Although I haven’t read WATER MARGIN, Huang’s writing deftly captures the feeling of wuxia Chinese dramas that I’ve seen! There’s a liveliness to the book not limited to the action sequences, the shorter sentences propelling forward momentum.

This Song Dynasty-set tale centers around Lin Chong, a disciplined arms instructor for the Empire who suddenly finds herself on the run and saved by the bandits of Liangshan. Lin Chong has prided herself on being loyal to the Empire and working hard to achieve her rank, and she believes in killing only in war. It’s no surprise then that she’s initially reluctant to join the ruthless, morally grey bandits—even repulsed by the idea—but gradually gains a new perspective on what justice and community can be.

Contrasting with Lin Chong is the wealthy and privileged Lu Junyi, known for her progressive ideas and organizing intellectual salons. But taking action is easier said than done. Trapped by a corrupt minister intent on recreating the immense power of god’s teeth, Lu Junyi also finds her ideals being tested.

There's plenty of plot in this book, but the characters are also so memorable. I loved the humor that the impulsive and bold Lu Da brought to the story. Many of the bandits are introduced but don’t get a lot of page-time; the ones that we see more of are so intriguing that I’d totally read novels centered around them, too. This book was such a gem and it made me want to read more wuxia novels!

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First, a thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for allowing me to read an eARC of this book.

Once I saw Shelley Parker-Chan’s review of this book, I knew I was going to like it.

The Water Outlaws is a refreshingly feminist retelling of the Classical Chinese tale, Water Margin. I have to admit, I have never read the original - and to be quite frank, I am completely ok just going with Huang’s version and letting that be my only exposure. More and more I am tired of reading male-heavy fantasy/adventure books, so I would much rather enjoy a retelling like this one.

I will admit, it took me a little while to get into this book. At the start, our protagonist, Lin Chong, is a bit of a naïve, goody two shoes idealist and it given my understanding of the basics of the plot, I knew that wasn’t going to last long.

But once I really got into the book (which was around the time Liangshan Bandits appeared) I had a hard time putting it down. I would have finished this book a lot sooner had my work not taken over my life for a week or so.

While I loved the action sequences in this book and loved to see good triumph over evil, and the David and Goliath victory, I wish we had had a little more character development and a bit more of a deeper look into these characters as people. I fully understand that wasn’t the point, so to speak, of this novel, but that is just a personal preference. I think, for the most part, I will forever be comparing fantasy novels now to Parker-Chan’s duology She Who Became the Sun and He Who Drowned the World as, for me, this duology is one of the best pieces of literature I have ever read.

Overall, a splendid retelling with action, intrigue, powerful women, and at the end of the day, a tyrant getting his just deserts.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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Excellent book - review on Horror Tree:

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