The Water Outlaws by S.L. Huang

The Water Outlaws by S.L. Huang
The Water Outlaws by S. L. Huang. This edition Solaris Books, 2023

With thanks to the publisher, Solaris Books, for providing an advanced reading copy of this book.

Back when I was a kid, back in the rose-tinted days of the late eighties, I distinctly remember being glued to the TV screen on a regular basis by a couple of Japanese TV shows. One was fantastic Saiyūki (aka Monkey), based on Wu Cheng’en’s Journey to the West, and the other was the equally fantastical The Water Margin, based on the 14th Century Chinese novel of the same name. I absolutely loved both of these shows, and later went on to develop a genuine love of Chinese literature.

This book, The Water Outlaws, is a genderspun retelling of The Water Margin, and honestly, reading it feels a lot like rereading the original. Many of the characters from the old classic are in there, albeit gender-flipped in the case of most of the heroes of the piece, and there’s a bit more in the way of fantastical elements than I remember from the source material (though that could just be bad memory on my part), but even so it feels cut from the same cloth.

As you’d expect from a wuxia novel, there’s plenty of action in these pages, and S.L. Huang really knows how to make that action pop. Whether it’s a simple training sequence, or an all-out magical battle between the principal hero and her arch-rival, every movement and every explosion of power and every burst of energy is painted in vivid technicolour for the reader to enjoy. In fact, I got so entrenched in the action that for the last hundred pages, give-or-take, I could barely put the book down.

I’ve already recommended this one to a bunch of friends, and really hope it gets a good showing come awards season next year. I initially gave it four and half stars when I finished it, but having spent the last couple of days thinking about it, and writing this review, I’ve decided to up that to a full five. It deserves every one of them, and I can’t recommend this one enough to fans of action-packed martial arts fantasy. It’s due out in the UK on 22 August, and I eagerly invite every single one of you to join the haojie of Liangshan in their struggle against corruption.

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