cover image The Water Outlaws

The Water Outlaws

S.L. Huang. Tordotcom, $28.99 (496 pages) ISBN 978-1-250-18042-1

In this addictive queer, feminist epic fantasy, Huang (Burning Roses) brilliantly retells the 14th-century Chinese classic Water Margin for a 21st-century audience. Arms instructor Lin Chong is proud to be one of the few women in the Song Empire’s bureaucracy, but after she fights off sexual assault from the more politically powerful Marshal Gao Qiu, she is arrested, declared a traitor, and nearly beaten to death before she reaches prison. Luckily, she’s saved by delightful scene-stealer Lu Da, the Flower Monk. Lu Da shares a god’s tooth (a magical stone that imbues the user with power) with Lin Chong and takes her to the Liangshan bandits, a group of women and queer people who have “fallen off the edges of society,” and who set out “to aid and protect” others like themselves—even if that means taking on the empire itself. By cycling through perspectives, Huang brings a large and varied ensemble cast to vibrant life, skillfully including queer identities in a way that feels historically and mythically resonant (bandit Chao Gai, for example, “rides the sixteen winds,” an idiom for “people who changed the gender they lived as, for a time or permanently”). The author’s background as a Hollywood stunt performer enriches the kinetic action sequences, which are both easy to follow and thrilling to read. This wuxia eat-the-rich tale is a knockout. (Aug.)