Like many readers of fantasy, the Lord of the Rings trilogy played an important role in my love for the genre. As a teen, I would re-read the books and appendices multiple times like a sort of pilgrim’s ritual. Yet, when I think of fantasy what comes immediately to my mind isn’t elves or orcs but dueling swordsmen atop lush bamboo forests, gilded imperial palaces where secrets snake around corridors, and midnight alliances formed on darkened rooftops. I think of wuxia heroes anchored by the desire to avenge their slain families because filial piety and honor go hand in hand, and of romantic tension and longing conveyed with barely a glance and often through combat. And I think of the warring desires of duty and freedom, of the fight and balance between light and darkness, and of the divine cousins, fate and destiny.
It’s unsurprising that my debut novel, Jade Fire Gold, contains all of these. And even less surprising that I was inspired by the stories that filled my childhood in Singapore even before I entered the Shire and met my first hobbit. For me, the names “Jin Yong” and “Gu Long” came well before “Tolkien”. As kids, my cousins and I would pretend that we were wandering xiake (martial heroes) fighting for justice, xiuzhe (cultivators) saving villagers from demons, prodigies prophesized to change the world, and warriors daring to oppose our fates. We were Asian kids with dollar-store towels wrapped around our shoulders like superhero capes, using chopsticks as weapons, and brandishing old bamboo backscratcher canes in lieu of swords. We were the protagonists, the heroes. We were the chosen ones.