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The Water Outlaws

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thank you to netgalley for the advanced reading copy. this was fantastic, just what i have come to expect from this author and look forward to carrying in my book store.

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Empire of Song - Li Chong is an expert arms instructor, a Master of Arms for the Imperial Army.
When she is condemned for a crime she didn't commit, she joins the bandits of Liangshan, the outlaws.

Drawing inspirations from a Chinese classic novel 'Water Margin', this is a story which antiheroic bandits rise up against a tyrannical government. In a civilization rotten to its core, the sworn sisters push the boundaries of society. Strict moralities don't fold well into the narrative as the characters are on the edge of discovery, which trust, loyalty and friendship are tested. They are likable and gray, whose interactions ranged from hilarious to infuriating.

Huang crafts a well-defined plot line that gets seasoned towards the end, infused with a refreshing exploration of the intersections of misogyny, politics, corruption and power. One recognizes the exhilarating moments of Wuxia, which the essence of martial marts and alchemy looms over the entirety of the novel. This is the kind of details that pleases lovers of Chinese culture - what I love most about this book and it feels utterly satisfying.

I appreciate the author's ability to dive into the haojie's (hero) mind and the conflict between law and justice is cinematic. With passionate writing, the cacophony of violence, sabotage, revenge and sacrifice feels like watching a Chinese drama. Typical of Wuxia, with frenetic pacing and slow in the middle to build the tension, the action-packed storyline rushes for a neat ending. If I had any issue with this book is that I had expected more depth to the characters, allowing one to be better emotionally invested in them.

Crossing between epic fantasy and Wuxia, THE WATER OUTLAWS is a queer and feminist retelling of a classic of martial arts literature. Equally devastating and powerful, this book is very enjoyable.

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Everything about this book drew me in. The cover is incredible and the synopsis made me want to read this book immediately. This book delivers in every aspect. Lin Chong is such a fascinating character and I was immediately drawn into this story. I love political intrigue, outlaws, and tough women, This had it all. You need to read this! STAT!

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I've been on a wuxia-inspired reading journey lately, between Parker-Chan's Radiant Emperor duology and now The Water Outlaws by S.L. Huang and I'm really enjoying going in a slightly different direction with my Fantasy and Historical Fiction reading. Even though I lived in China for four years, I'm still a novice when it comes to the country's history and legends, so I can't wait to learn even more. Thanks to Tordotcom and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

As some of you may know, I'm a Medievalist and work with medieval texts in Old Norse and Old English, mostly. But I'm also fascinated with texts written outside of Europe during the time we "traditionally" call the Middle Ages. The period 500 - 1500 (roughly) is a kind of demarcated period for Europe, but this time span is nothing special in Chinese history. Chinese culture goes back 4000 years and it has a completely different way of deciding where one period starts and ends. Usually this is linked to the various imperial dynasties, I think. I bring all of this up, because The Water Outlaws is a genderbent retelling of a Chinese vernacular text, Water Margin, which is dated either to the late 13th century or the early 16th. Water Margin tells the tale of a group of 108 outlaws, led by Song Jiang, who resist the empire from their hideout in Liangshan (the Liang Mountain) in the early 11th century. It's a fascinating tale and is considered one of the foremost early vernacular Chinese texts and I'm now very curious to read it. Not just because I'm interested in roughly medieval texts, but also because I'm curious to see the extent to which S.L. Huang adapted and changed the story, aside from the gender of the bandits.

Lin Chong is the Arms Instructor of the Imperial Guard, a position she achieved by working hard, obeying the rules, and accepting some of the limitations placed upon her as a woman. She doesn't complain, she is good at her job, and she is loyal to the Emperor. But despite her hard work, her male superior rips it all away in an instant over his own idiocy. Now Lin is marked as a criminal and injured, cast adrift. But she has friends, one of whom brings her to the mountain hideout of the Liangshan Bandits. The Bandits are a ragtag group of thieves and criminals who have managed to strike an odd balance between pillaging the countryside and considering themselves loyal to the Emperor. Lin has no real choice but to join them, yet she remains torn in her loyalties and her own morals. These are criminals; some of them are even cannibals! But they're also the first real home she's found and Lin will have to decide how far she's willing to go to defend them once the Empire's attention focuses in on them. While Lin is the technical protagonist of The Water Outlaws in my eyes, we also get the perspective of various other characters, such as her friend Lu Junyi, who is both socialite and seditionist but finds herself drawn into Imperial business; Lu Da, the Flower Monk who brings Lin to Liangshan; and more. I loved the differences between these characters and how it also came forward in some of the writing. Lu Da is very much a "punch first, think of some questions later" type and I adored her. Lu Junyi is a very conflicted character and I was fascinated by her. Her high birth and wealth has given her a certain kind of safety which she uses to dabble in seditionist literature, but once she's put to the test it proves harder to truly rebel.

S.L. Huang starts The Water Outlaws with a content warning, which is fair. The Bandits are a riotous bunch, some of whom were falsely sentenced, but many of whom are also hardened criminals. The violence of their exploits are at once explicit and yet, as Huang also states in their warning, it is not what the novel is about. The Water Outlaws strikes a rather nuanced balance, in my eyes, between dramatic actions scenes in which everything goes and countless die horribly and scenes of family, connection, and character development. Much like Lin, the reader has to decide for themselves whether these Bandits are righteous or criminal, but I found myself becoming very fond of them very quickly. I loved the chapters taking place in Liangshan but was a little less fond of Lu Junyi's storyline in the Imperial city of Bianliang (now Kaifeng), although it is a very interesting and crucial part of the story. I just adored the Bandits, what can I say. The push and pull between these two storylines, however, worked really well and I think the pacing throughout was really well done. There is also a mythical element to the story, of potential gods and divine powers which worked very well and brought an extra layer of urgency to the whole endeavour. I personally can't wait to read more by S.L. Huang in the future!

The Water Outlaws is a majorly entertaining and satisfying romp in history which hits the balance between action, character development, and myth just right.

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Everyone needs to stop what they're doing and go read The Water Outlaws right now! I don't understand how just one book managed to tick all the boxes for me. Nothing makes me happier than reading stories about people who are forced outside of their day-to-day lives to be crafted into bad asses who stand up for what they believe in and fight like hell to make life better for themselves and others. It doesn't hurt that it was non-stop action, cover-to-cover either!

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I really enjoyed this fiercely and unapologetic feminist book! I didn't realize initially was a retelling, but that makes me like it even more because I love a retelling and especially a feminist take.

This really is a powerhouse of a book! I love the vivid writing and it feels super cinematic, especially the fight scenes. It's action packed! I absolutely loved the friendships and found family. Also, give me any story fighting for justice against a fiercely patriarchal system and I'm in! The story really does suck you in.

There were a few things that weren't necessarily cons for me, but were distracting. First, some of the pacing didn't always hit for me. I would have preferred more consistent pacing. I did get a bit confused at times with the names and nicknames. Thankfully there's a character list at the beginning, but it was a little bothersome to go back and forth. Lastly, I wasn't expecting cannibalism. That's completely on me, I skipped the content warnings. So don't be like me and read the authors note and content warnings before diving in!

All in all I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would highly recommend!

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The Water Outlaws is a wuxia fantasy novel inspired by the classic Chinese novel Water Margin. The story follows Lin Chong, a skilled arms instructor who is framed for a crime she did not commit and forced to flee into the wilderness. She eventually joins the Water Outlaws, a band of bandits who are fighting against the corrupt and oppressive Imperial government.

The Water Outlaws is a powerful and timely story about the fight for justice and equality. Huang's characters are complex and well-developed, and the plot is full of twists and turns. The novel also explores themes of gender, sexuality, and violence in a thoughtful and nuanced way.

One of the things that I enjoyed most about The Water Outlaws is the way that Huang subverts traditional wuxia tropes. In many wuxia stories, the protagonist is a male warrior who is skilled in martial arts and fights for justice. In The Water Outlaws, the protagonist is a female warrior who is also a skilled strategist and leader. Huang also challenges traditional gender roles by creating a world where women are just as capable as men in fighting, leading, and making decisions.

Another thing that I appreciated about The Water Outlaws is the way that Huang explores the themes of gender and sexuality. The novel features a diverse cast of characters, including queer and transgender characters. Huang does not shy away from difficult topics, such as sexual assault and violence against women. However, she does so in a way that is respectful and thought-provoking.

Overall, I highly recommend The Water Outlaws to anyone who enjoys wuxia fantasy, strong female characters, and thought-provoking stories. It is a powerful and timely novel that will stay with you long after you finish reading it.

Here are some additional thoughts on the book:

The writing is strong and evocative. Huang does a great job of bringing the world of The Water Outlaws to life.
The characters are well-developed and relatable. I found myself rooting for Lin Chong and the other Water Outlaws.
The plot is exciting and suspenseful. I couldn't put the book down!
The themes of the book are important and timely. The Water Outlaws is a story about fighting for justice, equality, and freedom.
If you're looking for a great wuxia fantasy novel with a strong female protagonist, then I highly recommend The Water Outlaws. It's a book that you won't soon forget.

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The Water Outlaws is a revolutionary feminist wuxia tale inspired by Water Margin, a novel written in Mandarin (the publication date of which is unknown, but which is certainly pre-1524). It follows Lin Chong, an instructor who works training soldiers for the Emperor, whose carefully constructed life of respectability is torn apart by a violently misogynist commanding officer. Fleeing, she finds herself amongst the Bandits of Liangshan, a crew of mostly women who consider themselves fighters for justice for the oppressed.

*I loved this novel.* Huang has so skillfully blended the conventions of wuxia, political intrigue, epic fight scenes, and complex & well developed magical systems that I wish I could go back a little bit in time so that I wasn’t finished reading yet. The plot drew me in and kept me interested, and the characters - in all their moral ambiguity - stole my heart. I so hope that Huang returns to Liangshan for a future novel.

*Content warnings:* sexual assault (on page), violence, murder, death, gore, injury detail, grief, misogyny, sexism, cannibalism (on page), torture (on page)

*Thank you to NetGalley and Tor Publishing Group for providing an ARC in exchange for this review*.

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3.75 ⭐️

Okayyyy, I was in my political fantasy phase and this book was pretty good! This book is more action focused and there TW associated with this book so please do research before proceeding! I will say the pacing of this book is on the slower side and it does take some time to get into the book, but once the pacing becomes faster, the book hooks you in FAST! When reading this, the writing style was great and it's so well written that I was just immersed into it!

Thank you Netgalley and Tordotcom, for this e-book ARC in exchange for an honest review!

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The Water Outlaws by S.L. Huang was utterly mind-blowing and I cannot stop recommending this book now I've completed it. I do understand it may not be a story for everyone, but it had all the elements of what makes a powerful novel that will linger long after the final pages. The characters are strong and fierce in their friendships and their convictions. They are flawed but they are determined to survive and for those around them to survive as well.
This story is inspired by Water Margin which according to the author is a Chinese tale which has been around generations longer than Robin Hood. However, since the English speaking world has had little exposure to Water Margin, the best comparison I can offer is Robin Hood and his Merry Men meets King Leonidas and his Spartans at the Hot Gates. There is blood and there is carnage because these women fight for what they love. They do not pull their punches and there are some fairly graphic scenes. I applaud the author for not toning it down as one might expect with a book led wholly by a cast of females, gender-fluid individuals, and gender-bending bandits. I cannot wait for our podcast episode to be released for this book on August 22nd on the podcast Books are Magical so more people can hear all about what we think about this phenomenal novel.

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"The Water Outlaws" by S.L. Huang draws inspiration from magic martial arts (wuxia), bringing to life the fierce and ruthless band known as the Water Outlaws as they challenge the norms of Imperial society and the oppressive patriarchy that governs it.

A civilian expert arms instructor who teaches the military, Lin Chong's carefully constructed life is torn apart by a vengeful and petty man. When she is unwilling to allow him to assault her, he frames her for a crime she did not commit and ruins her life. Branded as a criminal, she joins the Bandits of Liangshan—a group of misfits and criminals committed to justice for the oppressed and marginalized. Huang crafts a tale of empowerment, as these women and queer characters seize control of their destiny and fight against a corrupt society. Lin Chong's journey from a rule-following arms instructor to a revolutionary is a testament to the power of women reclaiming their agency.

The novel is action-packed and immersed in a world of violence and corruption. Huang's storytelling captures the struggles and triumphs of those fighting for justice against insurmountable odds. It delivers a powerful exploration of defiance, camaraderie, and the fight against a deeply ingrained patriarchy. While the violence against women within the story may be difficult for some readers, the book's unflinching portrayal of its themes adds poignancy to its narrative.

Thank you to Tor Books and Netgalley for the eARC. This is an honest review.

TW: Cannibalism, violence, torture, murder, beating, mention of sexual assault without details

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S.L. Huang’s latest novel, The Water Outlaws, garnered excitement from its announcement: it’s a retelling of the famous Chinese novel, The Water Margin (also translated into English as Outlaws of the Marsh or All Men are Brothers), with more women and genderqueer characters taking leading roles in the narrative. The Water Margin was originally written in the mid-14th century, attributed to Shi Nai’an, and tells the stories of a group of outlaws, fighting against a corrupt dynasty, who are originally pardoned to fight on behalf of the Emperor against an external threat. Huang takes that framework and focuses it into a tight narrative that really requires no knowledge of the aforementioned classic. It stands wonderfully, magically, on its own, with strong, complex characters and villains readers will love to hate.

[full review on Paste]

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A feminist book that will excite you with non-stop action. I loved how all of the different characters are brought together to form this band of legends that come from all different walks of life. This story made me feel that, as a woman, anything is possible if I am brave enough to make it reality. This book is an absolute masterpiece built on the foundations of a traditional story. I felt like I was getting revenge on everyone who has wronged me vicariously through the characters in this tale. I absolutely loved every second. I highly recommend The Water Outlaws..

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This book was amazing! The world building and magic along with fighting and weapons. This kept you on the edge of your seat. The pacing was so good. I loved the ending!! Chefs kiss. One of the best fantasy I've read this year, it's right under Fourth Wing.
I just reviewed The Water Outlaws by S. L. Huang. #TheWaterOutlaws #NetGalley
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Gritty and thought-provoking, The Water Outlaws is a fantasy full of epic fights, magical artifacts, and heart-pounding heists carried out by strong, strategizing, gender-bending bandits.

Lin Chong is a respected master arms instructor. Her disciplined rule-following ways have yielded a quiet comfortable life that Lin Chong is content with, until an ugly incident leaves her wrongfully accused of treason by Grand Marshal Gao Qui, a close friend of the emperor. Stripped of her rank, banished from her home and branded a criminal, Lin Chong prepares to spend the rest of her days in custody, but then she is rescued by a group of rogue heroes known as the Liangshan Bandits. This infamous cohort consists of spirited rebels who believe in shaping a better empire by targeting those who would bring harm to the poor and needy. With the help of these radical warriors, Lin Chong learns to re-evaluate what is right and wrong and fights to make those who are wrongfully in positions of power pay for their tyrannical acts.

Gritty and thought-provoking, The Water Outlaws is a fantasy full of epic fights, magical artifacts, and heart-pounding heists carried out by strong, strategizing, gender-bending bandits. The cast of characters that make up the Liangshan bandits are the heart and soul of the novel. From calculating scholars to big-hearted himbos, Huang shines by making a group of morally grey characters easy to love.

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Genre: fantasy, wuxia
China

Lin Chong serves in the Imperial Army as a master arms instructor, content to do her job and stay in line. An incident in the monastery condemns her, and when she escapes, she’s recruited by the Bandits of Liangshan, a group of women and queer identifying people who imagine a better world than what they are given: a place for progressive thinking.

Funny, reflective, adventurous and full of bravery. SL Huang said the goal was for an over-the-top cinematic wuxia drama, and Water Outlaws delivers. Huang takes a classic Chinese novel called Water Margin, and creates their own adventure. You don’t need to know the original story to have fun with this, though, as Huang breathes in life for the contemporary reader who may have little to no knowledge of Chinese literature. The wuxia adventure and magical elements make this a bright and fun fantasy. Yes, there are politics, religions, and war, but Huang blows them out of proportion to dramatic effect.

The audiobook is narrated by Emily Woo Zeller, who also narrated He Who Drowned the World, which I read in the same week. I was nervous about confusing storylines with the same narrator, but I shouldn’t have worried - the narrative choices and voices felt entirely different from the darker, grittier fantasy. I particularly enjoyed her narration of the Flower Monk, Lu Da, embodying the “eclectic patchwork of the human condition all by herself” as Huang describes.

The Water Outlaws is long, nearly 20 hours on audiobook, but a worthwhile and fun listen, with deep messaging on embracing your own identity and smashing the patriarchy, all while blowing things up.

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Happy Book Birthday to The Water Outlaws!

This was a book of mixed emotions. I think the premise is great with quote unquote found family band of outlaws, politics, and the patriarchy. The action sequences were epic. The government corruption and the science experiments were by far my favorite part. Huang is a talented writer. The multiple POVs were very strong, each containing their own narrative voice. But herein lies where it starts to fall apart for me; there are sososo many characters and I unfortunately couldn't connect and love any of them. The pace was also excruciatingly slow in the beginning I very nearly dnfed the book. The action does pick up and yet the plot feeling aimless never quite goes away. This being a retelling really hurt this book that had a lot of potential to be great. I was hoping for this to be more of a reimagining rather than full retelling. To me, for historical retelling to shine in a fiction sense it needs to be willing to deviate from the original to create something new. The Water Outlaws felt stuck to the history in a lot of ways. If I wanted a retelling of historical value I would read a nonfiction.

Thank you to Tor for the eArc in exchange for an honest review.

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I really enjoyed so much of this! I loved the focus on corrupt government and a group of female and/or queer outlaws who are determined to fundamentally change their world. The entire book is so well-written, especially the action scenes and the depictions of female rage.

The only things I struggled with are the fantasy elements and the desire to know more about the characters. The alchemy aspects went straight over my head (this is probably just a me problem) and I struggled to pay attention to them. I also wanted to know even more about the characters! All of them are so interesting with such unique and powerful backstories and sometimes it felt a bit surface level. It left me wanting more from them.

Overall, this is a solid book full of great characters and a great retelling of the Liangshan outlaws.

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CW: sexual assault, violence, cannibalism

The Water Outlaws follows Lin Chong, an expert arms instructor who trains soldiers for her Empire. Lin Chong is a rule-follower, unlike some of her closest companions. That all changes when a powerful man makes a move on her and she rejects his advances. In his humiliation, he accuses her of attempted murder and tears her life away from her.

Ling Chong is sent away and goes on the run from the Imperial Marshall, but she is saved by a former student and recruited by the Bandits of Liangshan. These bandits are outlaws living in the mountains, and their goal is to stand up for outsiders, but they have their own agenda.

This book is fast-paced and has an interesting cast of characters, though I wish we had a little more time to learn more about the characters and their motivations. I am not familiar with the work this is based on, but it didn't hinder my enjoyment. I recommend this for someone who wants fantasy with less Western influences.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the e-ARC at the same time as listening to the audiobook. It made the experience so much more immersive and engaging! Plus Emily Woo Zeller is one of my all-time favorite narrators, and as always, she did a phenomenal job.

Thank you so much to NetGalley, Tordotcom, and Dreamscape Media for providing an e-ARC and digital audiobook in exchange for an honest review.

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Good martial arts adventure! I also really enjoyed Burning Roses by this author so if for any reason you think this one may not quite be for you you should go read that novella. It’s more a fairy tale than the action driven story here so if one doesn’t suit you the other should. This one’s great for keeping you turning the pages to make sure things are going to be okay!

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