Book Review: Da Mo Yao (Ballad of The Desert) by Tong Hua

dmy2I recently finished reading Da Mo Yao by Tong Hua, and I thought that it would be a crime if I didn’t write a review on that.

Da Mo Yao, in my opinion, is one of those rare books that really capture your heart and mind and don’t let loose of their seductive grip on you. Tong Hua does a wonderful job in modifying history and weaving a touching tale out of it. This book is no exception to the phenomenon that is Tong Hua.

As it is a norm with most Chinese novels, the readers are forced to choose between the two male leads who are both a perfect pairing with the heroine. I wasn’t surprised to see ferocious shipping wars online (and truth be told, even I was tempted to take part in one, but I refrained from doing so).

Tong Hua has given us a wonderful heroine who we can’t help but love for her perseverance and love for books.

Jin Yu is the perfect heroine material with her spunk, tenacity and will-power. She’s an orphan who’s brought up by wolves and she doesn’t know her true parentage. One day, she saves a man who’s lost in the desert, who’s actually a Han scholar. That man ‘saves’ her from the wolves, and takes her away to the Xiang Nou tribe which is the biggest adversary of the Han dynasty. But in her eyes, the ‘saving’ is equivalent to kidnapping. Under rigorous instruction of the scholar, whom she grudgingly starts to call “Papa”, she becomes develops from the state of a human-wolf to a civilized person. Her Papa is the advisor of the Shan Hu of the Xiong Nou (the tribe leader). She befriends Yu Dan (who I think is a cute character and would have a made a lovely pair with Jin Yu), the Crown Prince of the Xiong Nou, who’s roughly of her age. She also is tight with Yi Zhi Xie, who’s the uncle of Yu Dan (the Shan Hu’s brother) but not much older than her, and Mu Da Duo, who adores Yu Jin like a big sister.

The happy and carefree Yu Jin cruelly discovers that life isn’t always a bed of roses, when the Shan Hu dies. Her Papa also dies and his last wish is for her to flee to the Central Plains so that she’ll be safe there. The reason: Yi Zhi Xie, her best friend, stages a coup and takes over the position of Shan Hu.

This forces Yu Jin to run away with Yu Dan. But the two don’t make it far before realizing that they’ll never be able to beat their pursuers. Yu Dan forces Yu Jin to run away to her former wolf pack and promises that he’ll return for her (But little does she know that he’ll never ever return *sob*).

Then, our heroine goes back to the wolf pack and befriends Brother Wolf (who’s got to be the cutest and the most adorable non-human sibling I’ve ever seen, met or read about!). Using the knowledge that she’s acquired by reading all her father’s military manuals (Love a heroine who loves reading books!!!), she helps Brother Wolf conquer all the wolves of the desert.

Now, it’s time for our heroine to meet the two men with whom her fate has been intertwined. One is Meng Jiu, the handicapped head of the Shi Enterprises, which was the largest organization in the Han. She’s caught by his caravan when she tries to steal salt from their provisions, but Meng Jiu lets her go. He even gifts a set of Luo Lan style clothing which is very expensive and extremely beautiful.

Later, she rescues Huo Qu Bing’s caravan and helps them in crossing the desert and leads them to Chang An, which was the capital city of the Han. Though Huo Qu Bing’s actual identity was that as the nephew of the Emperor (Huo Qu Bing’s maternal aunt is Empress Wei Zhi Fu, and his uncle is the Great General Wei), he lies to her saying that he’s a merchant named Xiao Huo. They bid farewell to each other with heavy hearts.

I actually love Tong Hua for her speedy setup of the story. While the whole of Yu Jin’s past is detailed in the first chapter, the meeting with the two male leads happens in the second chapter itself. I love it when novels don’t waste time in building up expectations and directly hand us what we want!

Anyways, back to our story. Yu Jin decides that she can longer live in the wolf pack and that she has to go to Chang An.

So, she changes her name to Jin Yu, and proceeds to Chang An. But once in the big city, she can’t figure out what to do to earn a living. In the meanwhile, she gets tricked by a woman named Hong Gu, who ran the Luo Yu dancing houses. She gets roped in to become a dancer.

But then, she gets called over by the mysterious Big Boss Shi to his house. She goes in expecting Huo Qu Bing, but finds the ethereally beautiful Meng Jiu.

They both become friends, and he decides to make her the head of the Luo Yu dancing house. It’s instantly understood that Jin Yu is extremely enterprising, and she decides that the house shouldn’t just feature dances, but also do musicals. She writes a musical named ‘Hua Yue Nong’, based on the life of Princess Ping Yang, the Emperor’s sister.

[Info: Princess Pingyang was the source through which the Emperor met Wei Zhi Fu, his current Empress, who was then a court maid. Wei Zhi Fu’s brother is the Great General Wei Qing, who was then a mere horse-cleaning boy. But after ousting the Dowager Empress and deposing the then Empress, Wei Zhi Fu was crowned the Empress. The ousting had taken place with the help of General Wei, so he was rewarded by giving the hand of Princess Pingyang, who was much older than him, in marriage. Huo Qu Bing is the illegitimate son of the sister of Wei Zhi Fu and General Wei. In fact, even General Wei and Wei Zhi Fu were illegitimate and were born out of wedlock].

In Hua Yue Nong, Jin Yu makes sure that the story of General Wei and Princess Pingyang is portrayed as a romantic one and not as a political move, so that the Royal family won’t get offended.

Meanwhile, Jin Yu starts having feelings for Meng Jiu, but he seems unaware of her budding love for him.

A visitor comes in the form of Li Yan Nian, who’s an extraordinary lute player. Jin Yu knows that the neighbouring Tian Xian House had offered him the double price of what they were offering. So he explains that his sister had advised him to come here because the business is done well here and soon, the Luo Yan House will become No. 1.

The said sister is Li Yan, who’s described as heart-stoppingly beautiful. But she’s a woman on a mission, and has a dark agenda on coming to the Luo Yan House. Her arrival changes everything and marks a turning point in the lives of all the characters of the book.

Li Yan’s goal is to enter the Palace as the Emperor’s concubine.

Up until here, the book feels fine. But Li Yan’s entry made me feel a bit nervous. And somehow, her character didn’t really appeal to me. Maybe, it’s because though she did enter the palace, she didn’t really achieve what she’d originally wanted to. It felt more or less like she was just a tool to drag the plot out.

You can read the full description of the plot in Wikipedia. And since this is a review, I’m refraining from disclosing more than the fact that Huo Qu Bing and Jin Yu are the OTP. While my heart does hurt for Meng Jiu, I can’t really help but point out that he did have enough of chances to grab Jin Yu, but he himself pushed away.

I love the part where Yu Jin and Yi Zhi Xie meet. And since Wiki doesn’t really mention them meeting later on, I’ll just summarize that for you guys.

Jin Yu runs away from Chang An after Meng Jiu coldly (?) rejects her love confession to him. But Huo Qu Bing catches up with her and kidnaps her away to his army base. Jin Yu dresses up as a guy and agrees to stay because he threatens that if she runs away, he’ll order for all the wolves in the Xi Yu Region to be slaughtered. Jin Yu sacrifices her two beloved pigeons which were gifted to her by Meng Ji, Xiao Tao and Xiao Qiao, to kill the Xiong Nuo falcons that were tracking Huo Qu Bing’s army.

In grief, they both get drunk that night, and they consummate their relationship. The next morning, Huo Qu Bing begs her to marry him, and she agrees. They decide to celebrate and go to a nearby town, where two Han men insult the Xiong Nuo. The Xiong Nuo rope in Huo Qu Bing because he’s also a Han and challenge him to a fight.

Huo Qu Bing agrees, and his opponent turns out to be none other than Yi Zhi Xie. At first, his guards declare that Yi Zhi Xie’s won, but after Yi Zhi Xie points out that they’re lying, Huo Qu Bing and Jin Yu are allowed to leave. The whole time, Jin Yu’s under a veil, so Yi Zhi Xie doesn’t recognize her. But Mu Da Duo recognizes her and that leads to tension between them. Turns out that Mu Da Duo is now Yi Zhi Xie’s Queen.

Just as they’re leaving, a turncoat former Han General recognizes Huo Qu Bing and a chase ensues. Mu Da Duo tries to kill Jin Yu, but Jin Yu uses the last tactic up her sleeve and exposes her face to Yi Zhi Xie who orders his men to stop, in a daze.

Jin Yu and Huo Qu Bing escape, but he’s severely hurt. She hides him in a cave behind a waterfall, and goes out in search of food with Brother Wolf, when she runs into Yi Zhi Xie and Mu Da Duo. Yi Zhi Xie’s clearly not over her, as he asks her to come back with him. He tries to approach her, and doesn’t heed her warnings, so she shoots an arrow into him. However, Mu Da Duo takes his place and is hit by her arrow.

Thus, Yi Zhi Xie is forced to leave in order to save Mu Da Duo. In the incident, it’s revealed that Mu Da Duo knew that Yi Zhi Xie loved Yu Jin, and because of the similarity in their characters, he projected his feelings towards Mu Da duo, who accepted them. When she got to know that Yu Jin is alive and is in Chang An, she even sent assassins after her due to envy. But Yu Jin escapes.

Well, that’s that for the Yi Zhi Xie and Jin Yu’s reunion.

I love the childhood part of the story a lot. I just yearned to get to know more about Jin Yu, Yu Dan and Yi Zhi Xie. I find them really interesting as characters. But I think Tong Hua did justice to them by making sure that we got to see only snippets of their relationships because it will remain poignant like that.

Li Yan shouldn’t have been the villain for most part of the book. I just felt that she doesn’t deserve that much of written space. And as for Li Gan, I didn’t even get the point of his character except that he’s willing to die for his Emperor’s woman (not even in an honourable context!).

I like the way Huo Qu Bing slowly breaks Jin Yu’s walls and stands by her in spite of all her problems. But the part where he can’t marry was really dragged out. It became the bone of contention in the story.

Characters like Meng Jiu and Huo Qu Bing show us that it would really be awesome if we have two men in our lives—one as our soulmate and the other as a guardian angel. But then, we also can’t help but be reminded of the fact that this kind of things only happen in fiction. In real life, we would be lucky if we found a man who loves us wholeheartedly and unconditionally.

Da Mo Yao had its faults. But I still loved it.

You can read the English translation of the book by Ms.Koala here.

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One thought on “Book Review: Da Mo Yao (Ballad of The Desert) by Tong Hua

  1. Pingback: Ballad of The Desert and Infernal Devices: Similarities!!! – The Asian Cult

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