Yeah, I’m a weeb.
So, I was able to stumble across a translation of the novel for the drama I am not going to finish watching past ep 25, Siege in Fog. I was totally engrossed in reading it, read it ferociously at bedtime for three nights in a row, finally finished it last night, and…
…first, I have to give the author well-deserved kudos. Whatever else, she wrote a set of compelling characters and gave them emotional resonance and genuine interest. I wanted to know what was happening to Qin Sang. I wanted to know what was going to happen to Liankai. I wanted to know what Min Hongyu was trying to do. Second, the book has a distinctive style that shines out even through the amateur (fan) translation. Um. Hm. Thirdly, it was good enough to get me hooked and keep me hooked until the very last page.
–at which point I got annoyed.
Plot recap: heroine Qin Sang has been married into the family of the warlord Yi for two years. It is not a happy marriage–she was pressured into it after her own family fell into troubles–and she spends months at a time avoiding her arrogant playboy husband, the third son of the family, Yi Liankai. They get together early on, but she despises him and he doesn’t seem to take it very much to heart. Moderately important to the interpersonal relationships but less so to the plot than it seems to be is the presence of Pan Jianchi, a revolutionary who also happens to be QS’s ex and who ends up Liankai’s aide.
The next thing that happens is when QS goes back to the family home following the collapse of the patriarch, she’s met by the second brother, Lianshen, and then unceremoniously locked in a room with the other womenfolk. It seems Lianshen has decided to throw a coup. Now, QS is a heroine and within three pages has hit a guard over the head with a chair and has a gun to Brother Lianshen’s head.
Only…within another page, she’s locked back in the room again. Well, that was still a heroic act and she deserves credit for trying, surely! Surely she will do something else heroic and proactive at some point during the rest of the book, right?
The next thing that happens is Liankai joins forces with another warlord and manages to push Lianshen out of the city. Liankai himself, because he has spent so many years posing as a useless playboy, lacks hard power himself and needed the alliance. So their position is still precarious. How much so is immediately seen when an assassination attempt lands Liankai in the hospital and QS, turning for help to his crippled eldest brother, lands them both in house arrest again. Being paralyzed is no reason to stop functioning if you are in the Yi family, especially if you want to get back at the brother who did it to you ten years ago.
With QS (who is pregnant, by the way, and, OUCH, it’s her second child after she aborted the first) held as hostage, Liankai is sent to go fetch back second brother so elder brother can have a word with him. This doesn’t make sense to me, and probably isn’t meant to, because Liankai gets caught the instant he sets foot in second bro’s territory. QS escapes again, but even after getting away from Eldest Bro successfully, only ends up getting taken by Second Bro. Yeah.
You may have noticed at this point that both the hero and the heroine are kind of useless. So we in fact at this point switch POV to someone who can–or at least tries to–get things done. This is Liankai’s mistress-slash-spy-slash-hater-slash-lover, actress Min Hongyu. She’s a woman who wants power and influence and is willing to work hard to get it. (She doesn’t get it.)
The end of the novel is kind of a muddle, mostly because Min Hongyu can’t really work out whether she’s working for Second Bro, Liankai, or with Pan Jianchi, or herself. She should have stuck with one of the above, because she ends up shot by all of them. What Second Bro wants–and has been brutally torturing Liankai for–is “that thing,” which goes several chapters before being revealed as a French bank draft for several million yuan–enough to fund a war or rebuild a territory.
After the climax, which I will SPOIL below, there’s a flashback that adds a tinge of sweetness to the bitter by showing us the real first meeting of Qin Sang and Yi Liankai, and showing that he has indeed loved her for a very long time.
Pros: Fast-moving plot with high stakes and compelling characters. Oodles of drama (the chapter Liankai reveals that he knows Qin Sang is pregnant…and has already been trying to kill his child…and has already killed one baby before–is heart-wrenching), and lots of emotion and motion.
Another thing I quite liked was the final chapter. Put where it is, at the end of the novel and yet flashing back not to the beginning but to the leads’ childhood, and untying quite a lot of motivating factors there, is a very intelligent touch. SPOILER: Liankai throws himself and his brother off a tower after bargaining for Qin Sang’s life–and revealing that he has already arranged for “the thing” to land in safe hands. The flashback also reveals that when the two of them had met as children, Qin Sang was kind to an orphaned, injured boy who really needed a friend. In context, it’s rather sweet.
As it comes directly after Liankai’s death and QS’s lonely return home, recuperating and grieving now and not yet ready to consider the question of what she will do with the rest of her life, it reassures us of the hero’s feelings, reminds us that he was the hero and we were supposed to root for him and be sad that he is gone; and also gives us some hope about QS’s own feelings and future decisions. Some sweetness–to mellow out the bitter: very well done.
Cons: I think this is the first time I’ve been able to articulate what frustrates the heck out of me when I’m watching some dramas. It’s the fact that this book fails a primary rule of literature inas much that the heroes must accomplish SOMETHING and the plot must go SOMEWHERE. (So I misremembered the Mark Twain quote: it’s “That a tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.” My point remains, however–) because the plot does go somewhere, but it’s the villains who control every aspect of it.
Throughout this book, absolutely none of our heroes (or at least, our viewpoint characters), do anything that affects their own or anybody else’s future. It seems that they do–QS braining a guard with a chair and exfiltrating the…room, Min Hongyu blowing up an arms depot and escaping the fort with Liankai and Jianchi–but these exciting events are quickly proved to be pointless or just a trick. QS gets talked into putting the gun down, while Liankai ends up turning the car around himself.
This happening to Liankai in particular is hard to swallow. The guy is supposed to be the damn protagonist, but spends the entire book either in house arrest or kissing up to someone with actual power. I don’t really care about his sympathetic backstory in the past if it doesn’t coincide with or explain actions in the present. The guy doesn’t even get to take proper revenge for his mother, what the hell? I’ll admit my expectations were also tempered by having watched part of the drama before reading the book. The drama makes a huge deal about him being the destined next leader, the crouching tiger hidden dragon of the Yi clan, etc, the hidden surprise Old Master had prepared to surprise the world with, etc…so, so very disappointing.
SPOILER: the one scene Liankai gets to be proactive in happens to also be the one when he dies. And it is very satisfying, and he does get to kill the bad guy as well, but…when it comes at the long tail end of a string of not being able to do anything else at all, being repeatedly captured by enemies and not even able to successfully escape–it’s…disappointing.
I’m not even going to bother being disappointed in Qin Sang being unable to act–her role is more of a romance heroine who learns that her husband genuinely loves her, and to reciprocate (somewhat)–and Min Hongyu was a mess. Even Pan Jianchi, revolutionary saboteur, doesn’t get to accomplish anything. And despite this, he gets to exit stage left, waving the flag. But, you know, whatever.
Overall: I think if I hadn’t gone into this expecting something to happen, I wouldn’t have been disappointed.
But it really isn’t reasonable that a published, professional, popular book by an established author needs to be approached with lowered expectations. And this is a professional, well-crafted book.
Rated: I read it. I quite liked parts of it. I wish had been better.