The Eleventh Son: A Novel Of Martial Arts And Tangled Love

Eleventh Son is one of the few (that I have seen) twentieth century wuxia novels translated into English. You see, while my better half was out of town, taking care of family for almost six months, I was able to indulge all my dark Netflix desires: Family Guy, Voltron, and kung fu movies.

I knew that, for example, the great (and also sui generis) Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was based on one of a series of novels. But I had also assumed it was from the nineteenth century or earlier, but it was actually from the mid-twentieth century. So I decided to search for a professionally translated version of a wuxia novel from that period and among the few I uncovered was… The Eleventh Son.

The style of writing (at least in translation) is so plain and chopped that it’s almost a short hand. It’s like someone wrote a novel in something between a caricature and loving embrace of the AP stylebook.

The story is of a famed bandit Xiao Shiyi Lang who finds himself rescuing and mutually falling for a (married and pregnant) Shen Bijun (whose husband is himself a world renowned martial artist). In between are fights and twists and all that and then it ends on a ridiculous cliffhanger. Actually, the whole plot doesn’t hang to together very well (an episode trapped in a dollhouse is just pointless) and the ‘big boss’ appears out of nowhere, narratively speaking.

I gather that a television series was made based on this and I suppose that might be better. Even though it was written and published as a novel, you can think of it as a screen treatment or libretto. If you read an opera libretto, you’ll find it to be various combinations of ridiculous, nonsensical, melodramatic, sappy, and downright stupid. But watch an opera live… well that’s something else.

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