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The Water Outlaws, by S.L. Huang

Review copy provided by the publisher.

This is a retelling of the Chinese classic Water Margin, and if you think you know antiheroes, you don’t know antiheroes until you know classic Chinese lit antiheroes. These people do not let up on the antihero. The author’s note warns you in the front: “gloriously violent,” it says, and that is true. Torture, one attempted sexual assault, cannibalism: yep. It’s all here, and Huang does not look away. If that’s not something you’re up for, this is not the book for you. Take the content warnings seriously here, people.

It’s martial arts fantasy. It’s got a big cast of–not brothers, not quite that, this is sisters mostly, siblings but mostly sisters. It’s queer and female and full of people who aren’t fitting the mold, going off and becoming bandits and challenging the oppressive empire, and some of them would really like to tell themselves that they’re doing it in an honorable, upright way, but they’re not, they’re bandits, they do bandit things, they steal and they maim and they kill, they fight among themselves, they politic and they lie. They mess with alchemical forces beyond their ken, or at least that should have been beyond people’s ken. They mess up a lot, and sometimes they mess each other up. They mess up the work that their healer does, much to her annoyance.

They make themselves heroes. They make the wrong people gods. They make an immense amount of trouble, not least for each other. And there’s nothing quite like them, but you know, there probably should be.

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