Monday, February 25, 2013
The Elementals by Troy Jackson
When I heard that this book was set in Qin Dynasty China, I couldn't resist requesting it. I hardly ever see good Asian literature that I jump at every chance to read more. And let me tell you, this book definitely delivers.
The Elementals is a re-working of the life of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of Qin. He's also the one that unified China (this was the dynasty that followed the warring states period). Except that they all have some sort of supernatural powers fuelled by something called a Tempest Demon.
I'm not sure if this is some translation thing, but I do not remember any of the "principles" behind how their amazing powers work. I mean, the Yin-Yang thing is there, but the rest of it (The Void, the Tempest Demon) just felt a little un-Chinese. I watched a lot of martial arts shows when I was a kid (China/Hong Kong has actually produced a lot of good ones), and I loved The Legend of the Condor Heroes (and many other like it). So when I say it feels weird, I'm guessing a lot of people like me would say that. It might be due to translation though.
But one interesting point is about how they describe a Tempest Demon
"Within every living being exists a manifestation known as the Tempest Demon. For a vast majority, it lies dormant and the individual never realizes what lives inside."
This sounds awfully like the Christian concept of a human nature. Of course, the paragraph follows by saying that "The human compulsion to act maliciously and immorally is not a natural response, but an unnatural one", which is quite contradictory if you assume that the demon is part of one's nature. But this is in line with Confucious, as echoed in the 三字经 (Three Character Classic)"人之初，性本善" (When men is born, he is good).
Ahem, back to topic. The book is the first in a series (If I'm right), which means there's a lot of world building and the introduction of the three protagonists - Cai, Jiao Ai, Shi Lin and their friends and allies. I think the courtly sections of the book was really great, because I really miss watching those kinds of drama. The plot may be a bit slow for those who need a fast-paced read, but I think it's fine (if a little long).
Overall, this is an excellent book. I may disagree with the philosophy in this book, but face it, it's set in Ancient China and Confuscianism is what they believed in back then. If you're interested in Ancient China, give this book a read!
Disclaimer: I got this book free as part of Virtualbookworm Blog tours in exchange for a free and honest review.