Always been an avid fan of fantasy genre, especially long and epic ones! Cang Yue is one of those authors that you've heard of for the longest time but never really had an excuse to tap into until someone really shoves you in the face with it, I mean recommends it to you in a very blunt way. Before I ventured off into Yun Huang (what the land is called inside the book) I was suffering from severe Grave Robbers withdrawal as I've just devoured all eight books plus all the side books of Nan Pai San Shu's popular novel series. Nothing better to cure withdrawal than an equally epic series to dive head-first into right? NO!! As it turns out, both the audiobooks for Jing and Yu are not complete and so here I am, writing a post about how awesome these books are instead of reading. I really hate waiting for audiobook updates, which is why I usually never chase incomplete audiobooks while they're updating, but for these two series, I broke my own rule. The audiobooks are really wonderful, by the way, but I'll have to warn anyone if they don't intend to finish the books by either reading them in chinese (if you're literate enough) or find a translation, the wait will probably be long for Yu and maybe infinite for Jing. Luckily for me, I've tried reading the 3rd book of Jing in chinese and although I can manage reading it, I really miss the wonderful audiobook voices that brought the books to life.
Enough gushing about the audiobook and all its awesomeness. On with the review!!
Jing is the epic prequel of Yu. If you are considering hoping onto the wagon and embarking on this epic journey after me, here's a grain of salt for you: the history of Yun Huang is over 900 years and starts with the short story Right Hand of God which is inside one of her short story compilations 星坠卷 Falling Star Scroll along with another short story Dong Feng Po which is in the compilation book 沧海卷 Sea Scroll. Right Hand of God is the prequel of all prequels for all the stories taking place in Cang Yue's world, Yun Huang. It is about the origin of Yun Huang's Kong Sang lineage/peoples and SPOILER-KIND-OF, the story of the twin gods Creation and Destruction that the Kong Sang people worship even until the Yu series . Dong Feng Po is about Jian Sheng (Sword Saint?) Mu Yuan which takes place a few decades before the start of the events inside the Jing Series. The chronological order of the books align with the history of Yun Huang although there is a 900 year gap between the end of Jing series and the beginning of Yu series. If anyone needs a complete write-up of the order to read the books, just let me know I'll find a list and translate it and add it here in this post.
My first glimpse into Yun Huang was while reading Dong Feng Po, the short story. I honestly had no idea that I was reading a Yun Huang story as it was pretty wuxia-ish and had a bit of politics. It wasn't until I got to Jing-Po Jun, the second book of Jing, that I found out that Dong Feng Po was about the first love of Mu Yuan, the swordswoman who happens to be Yun Huan's (Po Jun's) shifu. Then I went on reading all her other short stories since I had just wanted to get a taste of Cang Yue's writing and I was really feeling her wuxia (it's really good) and when I got to her third compliation book, things got a bit fantasy. The first story in the complilation book was Right Hand of God, and it was so different from the other short stories I had read before. It was so interesting and gripping, I couldn't get enough of it. Lucky for me, turned out it was actually the lid of the Pandora's box that is Yun Huang.
If you want to start these two series, I highly recommend to start with her two short stories mentioned above as they will lay down the foundation, at least you will not be lost when Jing and Yu mentions the past. The audiobook of Yu is farther ahead, Jing the audiobook is incomplete (up to book 2) but still I think reading those 2 books are better than not as Yu heavily mentions the past and the characters in Jing although they are 900 years in the past and basically faded into legendary figures already.
At first glance, Cang Yue's writing seems flowery and confusing, dry (lack of romance) to some even, but for me, it is such a breath of fresh air!! Something I noticed especially while reading Jing and Yu is that Cang Yue has a truckload of characters and she isn't afraid to paint a whole universe for her readers filled with it's own people, creatures, history. With over nine hundred years of history in Yun Huang to weave a story out of, Cang Yue takes her time, places her countless characters like little chess pieces onto each of their paths on her map and allows the readers to catch fleeting glimpses of the stories taking place across it. Some characters never cross paths, while some brush shoulders like a fish and a bird, parting ways immediately, and some leave unerasable marks on each other's lives. Sometimes these characters do unimaginable things, while others act as predictable as a bowling ball going down the gutter, making the reader bond with them in unexpected ways. Things are never idle in Yun Huang, everyone has a motive and everyone is restless. As one character says "Can you not wait two or three days for me to pack up?" "No, there's no time." so the reader is treated this way too, kind of pushed along by Cang Yue's pen, almost no time to let what is happening or what this or that character just said sink in. In time, everything will make sense and like the characters, we'll figure out what's going on too.
There's so much story going on, there's barely any time for romance too. These characters are too busy, have too little time. I really love a good epic, and Yun Huang really delivers this. While a lot of stories like to play on good and evil, xian and muo, Cang Yue's story completely eliminates these. There are sides played, but there are heroes in the Bing Yi people as well as rotten apples in the Kong Sang people. There are mysterious ancient powers passed down from the age of the gods and there are also enormous mechanical birds used as weapons of war, there's no limit to these inhabitants of Yun Huang which will stop at nothing to gain control of the land their ancestors called theirs, Yun Huang. There are heroes that will betray the entire kingdom for a chance their own race can see a better future, but there are also those heroes that will make the impossible happen so that their own kin can see the sunlight once again. Who is right and who is wrong? The God of Destruction can possess a man and turn him mad, destroying friend and foe alike, yet in his most helpless state, it is also the God of Destruction that saves him from the fire. In the Right Hand of God, the God of Creation explained to her loyal subject that the world would always find a way to balance itself out. Ironically, the man that is so loyally serving her had betrayed her in his last life, sealing her away from Yun Huang, yet she still gives him a second chance and send him to correct the great mistake he had made in his previous life. Although man can gain power and seal away the Gods, they themselves will become creation and destruction, the cycle will go on, again and again. There are parallels in the events in Right Hand of God, Jing, and Yu that are almost poetically alike: is history repeating itself? Yun Huang's history, the events of Jing and the events of Yu in that case, is simply a demonstration of this neverending cycle of prosperity and decay, peace and war. All the characters, regardless of how high they are in Yun Huang's ladder or how powerful they are physically, are all helplessly nailed onto the giant wheel of fate, unable to free themselves. This is the most magical aspect of the Yun Huang books, the story is so complicated and the scale of the events so big, that all we get are glimpses of these characters, instead of following a 'main character' and his or her growth through a linear story, I get to stalk a whole handful of characters and never quite know where they'll end up. Some characters only show up for a chapter, immediately die off, but somehow their brief presence was so impactful that you can't help but read in between the lines and try to find out more or assume things about them that really don't matter anymore since they're already dead anyways.
I think it's safe to say, the charm in the Yun Huang books are the characters. There are so so many of them that it's impossible not to pick a favorite. Somebody's got to catch your eye or your heart. Maybe it's the lonely Su Guang, or maybe it's the tragic and unregretting An Jing Ran (I don't like this woman by the way, but some reader love her a lot), but whoever floats your boat, I can promise, even if they aren't dead, they won't have as much 'page time' as you would hope. Cang Yue isn't obsessed in making you love a single character and she doesn't seem to mind if you end up hating a character either. In fact, some of her characters are so irritating, you just want them dead sooner than later, but still this irritating character will try to present herself likeable or at least have human traits worth your compassion so you at least feel bad for wanting her dead haha. Plenty of redeeming story archs and downward spirals too.
I'm not going to do a one by one character analysis, that'd probably make this post too long and tedious, so I'll just wrap up with my favorite character: Su Guang. I wasn't able to pick a favorite character inside Jing, although there were plenty of interesting and likeable characers, but none particularly grabbed my heart in the way that rivaled with the story itself, if that makes any sense. Ok, maybe fangirlly way, if that makes more sense? Although I love Lui Li almost as much as Su Guang, she's so likeable that I never need to 'worry' about her as much as Su Guang and she seems to have that kind of I'll-be-okay-no-matter-what-I-meet-wit
All in all, I really really enjoyed these stories and they're nothing short of epic for me at least. I want to give a wave to any Game of Thrones or Song of Ice and Fire readers, these books do give off similar vibes so if you love power struggles and plotting characters and non-linear story archs, these books might be your cup of tea. I hope the audiobook doesn't take too long to update or I'm really going to loose it and just go read the book with my mediocre chinese literacy!!! PS: a Canadian producer picked up Jing - Twin Cities to make into a movie. I haven't heard anything more about it lately and hope that it hasn't been dropped because to me, a western company producing this sounds great! First of all, due to the genre being fantasy, I really don't mind even if some characters aren't played by chinese faces. Cang Yue's descriptions of Bing Yi: blue eyes, golden hair. The jiao-ren (mer-people) are blue haired, blue eyed too, so it's pretty open to interpretation. All the recent drama adaptations of Chinese novels are really scaring me lately. Tong Hua's Once Promise recently got its adaptation and I am just... not happy. I'd rather they not turn them into dramas, but honestly, it's better they do than not, at least there's a chance I'd like it right? I'm looking forward to the Mirror Twin Cities movie for sure though.
PS, I know I used the word 'epic' a bunch of times. I hope nobody counted lol