Guo Jing and Lotus have escaped Qiu Qianren’s mountain stronghold on the condors’ backs, but Lotus carries a wound that will surely kill her. Their only hope lies in the healing powers of the King of the South. Little do they know that to seek an audience with this mysterious figure will place them all in mortal danger. Meanwhile, many li away on Peach Blossom Island, a plan has been hatched that could tear the two lovers apart for good. And, with Moon Festival approaching, Guo Jing is honour bound to take part in a long-awaited martial contest at the Tower of Mist and Rain in Jiaxing.
Yet the greatest threat to their happiness stems from Guo Jing’s past. He is still betrothed to Genghis Khan’s daughter. Rejoining the Mongol army could help him to avenge his father – but it may force him to take the field against the soldiers of his true homeland, splitting his heart and soul in two.
A Heart Divided is book 4 in Jin Yong’s Legends of the Condor Heroes and the last of the series. Before I get too deep into the review, let me direct to my reviews of the first three books in the series here: A Hero Born, A Bond Undone, and A Snake Lies Waiting. I recommend digging into those reviews, because I think it is interesting seeing how my views on this series have changed.
I originally got into this series with A Hero Born, and I just thought it was a cool book with lots of great martial arts fights. And it is definitely that. But three books later, and having traveled the full journey, I see there is so much more to it. This transformation in my thinking began with A Snake Lies Waiting (book 3 in the series). The first two books did an amazing job of grabbing my attention and introducing me to the characters and their various relationships. There are many characters and so much interrelational dealings that at times it was hard to keep track. But, it is so important to stick with it, and I give a lot of credit to Yong for the way the author was able to develop the character set and the story that by the third book things had become second nature to me.
And I say that is perfect timing, because the last two books of the series are really when stuff hits the fan. Particularly in A Heart Divided, the characters reap the consequences of their actions. Up until now there was a lot of set up for the big fights to come, but now that the time for those fights has arrived reality has started to set in for everyone involved. This is where the depth of the story comes in. Rivals, friends, enemies, allies, lovers, masters, students, parents, kids, cousins, husbands, wives, emperors, generals – everything comes into play as the story plays out, and the tension that has been building for a lifetime is about to get its final payoff.
I am not exaggerating when I say “lifetime”, either, as it has literally been that for some of the characters, Guo Jing in particular. The narrative in book 1 begins with Guo Jing as a very young boy watching his father get murdered for being loyal to the Song Empire. I think watching Guo Jing grow up has been my favorite aspect of this series. He goes from boy to young man to adult in the span of four books. He learns so much about the world, experiencing love and loss in spades, having to make difficult choices along the way, always trying to do the right thing while guarding his honor and the honor of those about whom he cares at the same time. It is not an easy series for him, but so much of it goes back to this being a time of war for the Empire and that is the cause of many difficulties. I have to say that in the beginning of the story I did not feel much of an emotional connection to him, but throughout the series and experiencing all of the trials and tribulations right along with him that connection grew to be quite strong. In the end, I really cared about what happened to Guo Jing and where he ended up.
Part of the reason why I did not recognize the depth of the story from the beginning is that I was not focusing much on the ongoing war. Much more of the story centered around the war in A Heart Divided than the other 4 books combined, and I liked the extra drama this brought to Guo Jing’s journey. The title of is a double – nay – triple (?) entendre, referring to the questions Jing encounters. He has a lot at stake in the outcome of the war, and so it becomes another layer of suspense in an already seemingly bottomless abyss of anxiety.
I also want to shout out the translators, listed as Anna Holmwood, Gigi Chang, and Shelly Bryant. I do not know much about translating texts, nor can I speak a word of Chinese, but the decisions made by the translators of these texts are really evident to me. In my opinion, they did not try to Westernize the language too much, leaving in words and phrases that represent the Chinese culture being presented by the author, Jin Yong. There are so many times where I thought, “what is this character trying to say” because the phrasing did not fit within the English language template in my head. I was left to figure it out using the surrounding context, and by doing so the book demands a certain level of focus and adjustment to the language. I am really grateful for that, because it meant I was much more invested in every detail of the story.
A Heart Divided is the perfect ending to a series that has only gotten better with each subsequent release. It stays true to the other three books in the series with great martial arts battles, continued character growth, and a story full of suspense. Even better, it improves upon all of these aspects and gives the readers a fitting ending. I definitely recommend this series.