The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water
by Zen Cho
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted May 17, 2020
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I received an ARC of this title from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. Zen Cho's The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water will be released next month, June 23. It wasn't until I started reading that I realized it is a novella rather than novel, so it was a quick read. Not as satisfying as I had anticipated, based on the two books of hers I have read, plus the title led me to believe it would be different than it turned out to be. I expected a calm and lyrical story, and while it is well written, it has more action than contemplation, even though the title refers to a worshipped deity. The Order of the Pure Moon is probably fictional, the deity is usually perceived to be feminine, although at times has been visualized as male. It bears similarities to Buddhism. A nun that is said to be a reflection of the deity is the most pure and devout.
If I'm not mistaken it is set during the Japanese occupation of Malaysia in World War 2, or it's a fictionalized version of a similar event. A former member of the Order mentions the year 2483, which translates from the Southeast Asian lunisolar calendar to the Gregorian as 1940. The Protectorate must be the occupying force, the Revisionists the rebels wishing to drive them out. There are many bandit gangs that are on neither side of that divide, instead they harry and attack any and all indiscriminately. The main group at the heart of the story do not consider themselves bandits, instead they are "roving contractors," which I gathered was more like black marketeers who will do business with anyone if the price is right. Into this group comes Guet Imm, a votary of the Order of the Pure Moon, whose tokong (temple) had been destroyed by bandits, or maybe it was the Protectorate's mata, which translates from Malay as "eye," so police or guards or similar function. She had been sequestered in her cell for years, meditating on her deity's "five fingers" of philosophical thought, and had not been aware that a war was going on. Several of the men don't want her to be with them, others welcome her healing gifts, although they all wish she was a better cook. Even more conflict arises when she realizes they have sacred artifacts from another tokong, and they intend to sell them, which she considers sacrilegious. A surprising element arises when we learn that one of the men is also a former member of the Order, in his earlier life as a woman.
As I said above, it's a quick read, but not that satisfying. Guet Imm's mystical arts of fighting are dropped in randomly, including her ability to disappear and reappear at will. They're never explained, and just too convenient for the plot. I did get the feeling we might get another story in this world in the future, and if that happens I would like to read it. But if this is all we can expect I hesitate to recommend it. I've rated it just 3 stars on Goodreads.
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