I decided to start a new post category because of how much I have to say about this novel series.
Cang Hai is a 6-volume wuxia novel series by Feng Ge, and is part of a larger series which, from what I understand, includes another series called Kunlun and another series that is Kunlun’s prequel. I read Cang Hai in Thai, so I’m sorry if I make a mistake in any character or place names. Additionally, the Thai release splits the series into 8 volumes, so any reference I make about the volume number will be based on the Thai release version.
Cang Hai mainly follows the adventures of Lu Jian, a simple boy from a fisherman’s village who gets entangled with a bunch of weird people and the quest for the eight ancient scrolls that will shake the entire martial arts community.
For this review, I will talk about the overall plot and characters, then I will write my thoughts on the novel.
The story’s main focus is on the conflict between two superpowers in the martial arts community: the East Island and the Eight Sects of the West. Each of the eight sects is in possession of one ancient scroll, and if the scrolls are combined, a hidden secret will be revealed. The sects don’t really like each other, so they haven’t managed to combine the scrolls yet.
Lu Jian, the MC, was friends with Yao Qing, the young lady of the Yao clan. One day, the Yao clan was attacked by the one of the Eight Sects, the Water Sect. After the chaos where the other sects join in the battle, Lu Jian got kidnapped by Japanese pirates and was forced to go on a voyage Japan with Ning Bukong, the leader of the Fire Sect who used a forbidden technique to turn Lu Jian into his ‘slave’. Lu Jian cannot be apart from Ning Bukong, or else he himself will die. During this time, Lu Jian became involved with the young Oda Nobunaga and his sister Oichi. The story kind of suggested that Oichi had a crush on Lu Jian, but it didn’t matter because Lu Jian later met a monk from China, who helped to set a temporary seal on his slave condition so Lu Jian could be away from Ning Bukong. Lu Jian went back to his homeland. The Japan arc had nothing on the main plot of the story. I guess it’s just a gimmick to sell the book? But the author clearly did his research on Japanese history, I’ll give him one.
Lu Jian later met the young master of the East Island, Gu Zhen, and the two became sworn brothers. Lu Jian was also reunited with Yao Qing, who became part of the Earth Sect. Yao Qing was in possession of many scrolls that she obtained through her wits. Despite Lu Jian having a crush on her and her liking him enough, she decided to be a bitch and abandoned Lu Jian for another guy (for reasons I can’t remember).
Lu Jian managed to fix his slave condition because he met Ning Bukong’s daughter, Ning Ning. This part is really confusing if you haven’t read the full explanation in the book, so I’ll just say Ning Ning saved his life and helped free him. Yao Qing, having ditched her previous engagement, pulled the bitch card again and ditched Lu Jian because he was growing too close to Ning Ning, but Lu Jian said he only loves Yao Qing despite all the bitching.
Lu Jian found out that his father was actually the leader of the Sky Sect, which meant that as a son, that pitted him directly against Gu Zhen, who’s the young master of the East Island. However, the two decided to continue being bros, hoping to erase the grudge between the two factions.
Many turn of events happened, and the MC gang managed to combine all eight scrolls and unlock its secrets. However, the bad guy (who’s also Gu Zhen’s master) came along trying to get the treasure before them. The gang had to prevent that, because they’d have no chance of surviving against the bad guy if he became any stronger.
In order to get the treasure (and save Yao Qing who almost died protecting Lu Jian from the bad guy), Lu Jian and co sailed all the way to England. Luckily, Xian Bi, one of the senior members of the Earth Sect, was British, so she could translate and stuff. After a fierce battle of martial arts and wits, the gang managed to defeat the bad guy, save Yao Qing, and return alive.
Lu Jian became the leader of the Sky Sect and also the leader of all the sects, while Gu Zhen became the master of the East Island. The End.
Feng Ge is hailed as the second Jin Young, and from this series, I can really see the similarities both in prose and characters. Honestly, I don’t really enjoy Jin Young’s works so much. I know they’re good, but they’re not my kind of thing to read, I guess? But I liked Cang Hai, even though it was a bit difficult to finish.
Lu Jian is comparable to Guo Jing in Legend of the Condor Heroes, where he’s a sincere young man, who through different circumstances and good heart, received training from many great masters and ascended into one of the strongest martial artists. And like Guo Jing, he’s still that simple but honest and kind-hearted young man from beginning to end.
As Guo Jing was paired up with the witty Huang Rong, Lu Jian was paired up with two witty characters: Gu Zhen and Yao Qing.
Let me talk about Yao Qing first. At the beginning of the story, she taught Lu Jian how to use the sword because she was bored and wanted to overpower him, so she could feel good about herself. Yao Qing had difficult circumstances at home, which played a huge part in the early plot of the novel. At that point, she was the standard haughty princess type of wuxia female protagonist. However, after her arc, she bordered on becoming an antagonist. She dissed Lu Jian often and was constantly jealous when he hung out with other women, whatever the reason. I found her really annoying, so even with her ailment later in the series, I didn’t really feel sorry for her. She’s not bad at heart, but the lengths she’s willing to go for her own benefits… sheesh, I’d find her a really toxic person to be around. It’s like the author split Huang Rong into two characters and dump everything I don’t like about Huang Rong plus some more bitchy characteristics onto Yao Qing. She became more true to herself and more trusting at the end, but eh, I still don’t find her interesting.
Gu Zhen is one of my favorite characters in the book. He’s a cunning fox, and although he sucked at fighting, he used his wits (or money) to get out of most situations. Most of the battles he was in, I was constantly going: how did the author come up with that?! He’s the rich smartass type you don’t ever want to get into a debate with, because he’ll break down your every word and turn it against you. (He also quotes poetry a lot. Smartass.) Gu Zhen had this issue where he’s falsely accused of raping his sister and colluding with the pirates, which made his crush hate his guts and want to kill him. In order to clear his name, he had to find the pirate leaders and have them testify that they do not have any alliance with Gu Zhen.
His arc had a hell lot of tension, but it ended in an anti-climactic manner, with the person who accused him (his step mom) stabbing herself and his dad saying ‘oh I knew you were innocent all along.’ He didn’t get the pirates to confess, but at that point in the story they didn’t even matter anyway. Honestly, I was disappointed that his arc ended without much catharsis.
Now that I’ve talked about Gu Zhen, I should talk about his crush. Xu Miaomiao is one of the top five masters of the East Island, despite being a young and inexperienced lady. (People would say she got the title because all the other masters were already dead.) Her martial art technique is to use magnetism to control metal scales, which could be used for offense or defense. She kept these scales in the shape of mirror carps stashed in a basket. This is, by far, the most unique technique I’ve seen in every wuxia I’ve read so far. Although it’s usually overpowered by, like, every other thing in the book. Despite Miaomiao trying to hunt Gu Zhen down at every opportunity, she listens to reason. She trusts him when he hangs out with other women for strategic reasons (unlike Yao Qing). And deep down, she believes in him despite literally everyone in her life saying that he’s a dickhead. That ended with the two having a supportive relationship with each other after Gu Zhen managed to clear his name. Gu Zhen teases her a lot, but that’s because he’s head over heels for her. Honestly, if not for these two, I wouldn’t be able to finish the book lol.
There were also many other interesting supporting characters. One of them is Xian Bi, an English woman and part of the Earth Sect. She’s partner with Bai Luo Xi Men, a magical cat that hypnotizes people. (This cat also taught Gu Zhen how to fight in one of the volumes… this is the first time I’ve seen a guy being literally kicked around by his cat master lol.) Xian Bi had some kind of ‘are they, are they not’ relationship with Yu Zhao, the leader of the Thunder Sect. If Yu Zhao had sex, he will lose all of his thunder powers. Despite that, I was rooting for them to get together lol. I like this subplot.
Ning Ning, Ning Bukong’s daughter and Lu Jian’s other love interest, is also pretty interesting. Unlike Yao Qing being a bitch in general, Ning Ning is stable and straightforward. While Miss Yao was off being toxic, I was rooting so hard for Ning Ning. She had a crush on Lu Jian but didn’t want to get in between his relationship with Miss Yao, so kept quiet about it. She’s a nice and dependable person to be around. In case you’re curious, she ended up forming some sort of connection with the leader of the Wind Sect, who also had a one-sided crush on Xian Bi.
Uh, okay, that was waaaaay too long. I’ll start the actual review now.
In Thai, we have the phrase ‘the plot sails out to the open sea’ to describe a story which loses its original direction and just kept going on and on. (*cough Gintama*) Cang Hai literally went out to the open sea, going all the way to England. For half the series, I forgot what the original goal of the story was. A lot of the story could be cut without consequences to the main plot. One up of this is that Cang Hai lives up to its name of ‘wide sea’, and having characters from different cultures going to different countries makes it more interesting.
I don’t know of this book being similar to Jin Young’s style work in its favor or against. If you’re a fan of Jin Young, then that’s a plus for you, but for me, it’s both a yes and no. I like the prose and the excessive citing of poetry. I think it’s cool. But I’m not a fan of how the plot flows, and I’m not experienced enough to explain how exactly. I mean, having tension and tragic characters is a good thing, but for some reason, I don’t like how it’s written. It’s like for everything the characters do, there’s this and that obstacle, and I’m like ughhhh really, when are we going to have some actual development? I’m also not a fan of Yao Qing and Lu Jian’s relationship with each other. Although it’s not that toxic once they sort it out, the two spend most of the books misunderstanding each other.
What I’ll give Cang Hai for is that the martial arts techniques are super cool. Although it has many general techniques, there’re those fantasy ones like Miaomiao’s magnetic fish or the Sky Sect’s cloth shield. I also liked it when characters fight with strategies instead of charging into battles.
I still have to say that Cang Hai feels very long, and if you’re not used to reading 400+ chapters of long-ass stories like Doluo Dalu or just don’t like long stories in general, then you might find it difficult to finish like I did.
To sum it up, Cang Hai is a wuxia novel with really cool characters and concepts which I really liked, but some aspects of the plot and the female lead’s bitchiness is a minus for me. If you’re just getting into wuxia, I don’t think this would make a good gateway series. I see it more like a ‘Jin Young fans finding something to read’ kind of book.