Besides fairy tales, Greek myths and Arthurian legends, one other constant in my childhood was the pugilistic novels and drama serials I would invariably get hooked on. Dreaming about soaring through woods and over water using ‘qing gong’ was just the beginning, the neighbourhood kids used to play games involving some martial arts heroes or heroines. Oh yes, there were some real kick-ass heroines in those stories and televisions series I admired.
Growing up, I’d felt a void in the English publishing world when it comes to Asian pugilistic fantasies. Only in recent years was this void filled when The Condor Heroes was published as an English graphic novel series. So, imagine my utter delight when I stumbled upon Kylie Chan’s White Tiger and Red Phoenix enroute home from Sydney. For me, it was a long cherished childhood dream come true.
Briefly, these two books are part of Ms Chan’s Dark Heavens series, which relates the adventures of Emma Donahoe, in first person perspective, when she decided to become full-time nanny to Simone, the daughter of John Chen, a very rich Hong Kong businessman, who is really more than just that and a martial arts exponent. Simone is a target for some very unusual kidnappers, and at first her employer and co-worker, who is really her charge’s bodyguard, were furtive about the mysterious guests that come and go at the apartment, the strange habits of both John and Simone, as well as the unsavoury enemies her enigmatic employer seems to attract.
As she forms a genuine attachment to the precocious five year-old who sometimes seems wiser and older than she is, Emma gets drawn into a world of magic and extreme danger where both immortals and demons can exist in the mortal domain. Reluctant at first to involve Emma in his own battle against evil, John was persuaded to teach her martial arts when it became clear that she needs to be able to defend herself and help protect Simone. As lessons progress, he realized that Emma herself has more hidden depths than she even knew. I won’t elaborate here or I’ll risk giving away the entire story. Check out Kylie’s website if you want more.
Reading this new-to-me author’s supernatural Fantasy adventure series is a trip down memory lane for me. All those Taoist rituals and myths of the various deities and immortals were already familiar but seen through the Australian author, who’s married to a Hong Kong national, it brought fresh perspectives on Chinese culture and beliefs about death, incarnation, yin and yang, good and evil.
Not only were the two books full of intrigue, demons, dragons and other changelings that had me gripping the seat and turning the pages, the swordfights and action were written with true insights into the ‘rou’ (soft/ fluidity) and ‘gang’ (strength) of the various martial art forms. And no wonder! Kylie holds a senior belt in Wing Chun and tai chi, and I suspect she must have read or seen some of those fancy kung fu stuff, because besides injecting a voice of authority into the action sequences, she really let her imagination fly, and it was every bit as wonderful for me reading these two novels as picturing the flying moves, the punches and kicks, and the deft and graceful maneuvers in my mind.
Kylie’s description of the places and settings brought alive Hong Kong, Paris and London for me, especially Hong Kong. You could almost experience the alleys, lanes and festivals through her. The subtle romantic tension between the two main characters was a bonus. I would have been perfectly happy if she’d dragged out the consummation of their love until the next instalment, but mercifully, she decided to spare her readers the agony. But now, lots of questions surface … I’m anxious to find out how the story will evolve with the discovery of Emma’s true nature, and there are still quite a few mysteries to solve. I can’t wait to get my paws on the third, Blue Dragon. I’m guessing there’s going to be a fourth, after the four winds of course!
Thank you, Kylie Chan, for bringing Chinese culture and kung fu to many who would otherwise not have the chance to learn about the fascinating myths and legends I grew up with. And nice covers too, not mention beautiful website.