Saturday, August 26, 2023

Book Review: The Girl From Wudang by PJ Caldas

 Tigress, the girl from Wudang, reaches the USA with a goal to teach every woman the skills to defend themselves from male predators and takes up prize fighting to attract attention. There are two issues that affect her attempts: lightning attacks of cluster headaches and sudden flashes inside her brain that take her randomly to the past or future. When an AI company hires her for a project with the assurance that her headaches will be cured, she is all too happy to enlist. But she has on her shoulders the task of saving the world from some AI creatures, NPC monkeys from a video game, who have run amok and are creating havoc in the world by infiltrating every network.

The Girl From Wudang is the upcoming debut English novel by the Brazilian best-selling author PJ Caldas, who is also an advertising giant, an Emmy winner, and a martial artist. I received an advance review copy from the publisher, Tuttle Publishing, through Netgalley. This is a fantasy novel in which the writer has tried to blend Daoist (Taoist) philosophy, the discipline of Tai Chi, and the concepts of artificial intelligence. The book uses elements of martial arts and science fiction and is pretty violent and gritty in its style.

The story is told from the first-person perspective of Tigress, Yinyin Yang, or Claudia, as the titular girl prefers to call herself at various points in the plot. The plot presents her as an aggressive person with a clear and strong goal. It is her character's arc of transformation from an egotist and narrow-minded martial artist in search of fame and immortality to a person who realises that attaining the state of dao is to be selfless and protect others that forms its central plot. She, who is an embodiment of aggressive yang, attains balance only after finding her yin. Another interesting concept that is introduced in the book from Daoism is that of Wuwei, 'letting go' or 'doing nothing', which is essentially giving oneself into the natural course of the universe.

There are many descriptions of the philosophy of Daoism in the novel, which the author has fabulously merged with the central plot. I loved the fable of the two yang fighters that eventually resulted in the extermination of all of them. The final victor is the yin fighter who chose to practice Wuwei and decided not to interfere in the course of the balancing act of the universe. This fable is mirrored in the plot, and the philosophy of balance is established as its backbone.

The main style of martial art that is portrayed in the novel is Tai Chi, which I always thought of as a light form of exercise and not at all as a full-fledged fighting form. The author's background in martial arts has immensely helped in the writing of the parts describing fighting, which occupies a major part of the book. The passionate narration of fighting scenes offsets the issue of their geographical ambiguity.

The novel draws a parallel between Daoism and modern technology. The side of technology is unfortunately not balanced with that of philosophy. The science fiction elements—neurology and AI technology—are severely lacking when compared to the philosophical side. The descriptions are pretty basic and limited to the surface level only, and the stronger philosophical parts unfortunately totally drown them out.

Another issue that I have with the book is its reluctance to end the scenes in a satisfying way. Many situations succeed in hooking the reader but slowly lose steam. The climax part drags on and on and refuses to end until the action becomes totally chaotic, making me refuse to care anymore. Some crisp editing may probably help. I also had an issue with footnotes. I don't have issues with footnotes in non-fiction, but in fiction, they help only in deflating the tension. One exception that I can point out are the notes in Salman Rushdie's latest book, Victory City, in which it is also an inessential part of the story. I managed to ignore most of them in The Girl From Wudang, though the ones that I read are definitely illuminating.

The Girl From Wudang by Brazilian writer PJ Caldas is an interesting effort that tries to blend science fiction with martial arts action. Though it has its share of flaws, its winning grace is the solid way in which Daoist philosophy is used to tell the story of its protagonist. The book made me interested in reading more about Dao, and that itself is a great achievement for a book intended as popular fiction.

1 comment:

  1. This seems interesting with an odd mix that includes Daoism too.