Dragons and Boxers (2020)

Author: Kyle Fiske
Publisher: Earnshaw Books
Subject: History/Boxer Rebellion/Martial arts

The Boxer Rebellion is a chapter of Chinese history that Sinophiles and martial arts devotees know well, but bringing it to life on the written page for readers hailing from primarily English-speaking territories is another matter entirely. Fortunately, that challenge is refreshingly navigated in the hands of author Kyle Fiske, as “Dragons and Boxers: An American caught in the martial arts whirlwind of the Boxer Rebellion” surely makes clear.

Synopsis

Under Fiske’s authorship, “Dragons and Boxers” is a time machine of a novel, taking readers back centuries for an adventure into a period of Chinese history they’ve probably encountered in a history class with a young man’s story of facing adversity, providing a human anchor to its travails.

Christian Missionaries the Manchu Dynasty & the Boxer Rebellion

In Northern China in the year 1900, the Cooper family are Christian missionaries at a time when the Manchu Dynasty is eroding while the Boxer Rebellion is on the rise.

As events continue to boil over, an unexpected attack on the Cooper family leaves the teenaged Wayland Cooper barely alive, with his parents James and Dorothy both being killed. Though Wayland is left for dead, he is taken in by Master Gao and Old Wu, and begins his recovery from the attack in the city of Tientsin (Tianjin). As Wayland comes to find himself in the midst of a conflict between rival martial artists, his own ability to utilize the martial arts of China becomes a crucial weapon for him to start wielding.

Review

Within the first few paragraphs of “Dragons and Boxers”, Fiske brings the world of China, circa 1900 to splendidly captivating life. Though we’ve seen countless stories of a white Westerner becoming one with another culture in everything from “Dances with Wolves” to “The Last Samurai“, Fiske’s storytelling of Wayland’s growing relationship with Chinese culture and martial arts is simply poetic.

Blending Chinese Culture & Martial Arts

Wayland just walking though a local market as a stranger in a strange land is its own tale of isolation and yearning by itself in Fiske’s hands. However, Fiske’s knowledge about Chinese culture and martial arts is what really enlivens the soul of “Dragons and Boxers”.

Graphic Training & Action Sequences

The training and action sequences Fiske takes readers through feel as out and out graphic as one could possibly ask from a novel. Wayland’s journey is one of a man made into a real warrior in a time where he is called upon to become one, but Fiske’s mastery of storytelling elevates it with gripping action scenes that eschew the gravity deviance of a wuxia novel and keep things grounded with a more visceral impact.

Don’t Think, Feel!

While that might seem a counter-intuitive approach to some readers, Fiske’s mandate is of the Bruce Lee “Don’t think, Feel!” variety, with such moments as Wayland “seeing stars” from a palm strike to the head written powerfully enough for the reader to experience the same.

Kyle Fiske is well-versed in the art of sword fighting

Kyle Fiske is well-versed in the art of sword fighting

A Visceral Weaving of Fights into a Fiction Novel

From his exquisite detail in capturing the time of the Boxer Rebellion and the overall early 20th century Chinese setting to his incredible talent in weaving a fight scene together with the written word, Fiske is all about putting the reader in the epicenter of his story. From the first page to its last, “Dragons and Boxers” accomplishes that goal with the most vibrantly illuminating of flying colors…and kicks!

Summary

With extraordinary attention to detail in its time period, setting and action, and a protagonist that every reader will eagerly cheer for, “Dragons and Boxers” is a can’t-miss novel for aficionados and fans of action, historical fiction, and anyone with an all round desire to venture back into a pivotal moment from over a century ago.

Kyle Fiske is a masterful storyteller that you don’t want to sleep on (with “Dragons and Boxers” making sure you won’t forget it!) He shows that he’s an author for readers around the world worth following – especially by those who love to see literary action scenes given the same reverence, for example, under Yuen Woo-ping’s supervision, hint hint!

Trivia

  • Kyle Fiske was previously a competitive fencer, and has practiced Chinese martial arts, focusing upon swordsmanship, for over twenty years.
  • The book cover design was done by Kung Fu Bob. He does the box art for many of the latest Hong Kong Blu-ray remasters for 88_Films: releases such as Jackie Chan‘s “Operation Condor”, “Dragons Forever”, “Dragon Lord” and many more.
  • Fiske is also the author of a collection of short stories: “Even Closer Than the Sea”.

Favourite Quotes

  • “Chinese styles usually have one or more ‘forms’. These are patterns of movements, really just a number of techniques linked together. These forms serve several purposes. Firstly, they teach you how to move in accord with the style, and also they are a catalog of the basic techniques and movements. Learning them in a sequence helps you to remember them all. And finally, doing them all in a sequence is a good bit of exercise, and it strengthens and loosens up the body. – Gong Lihao (taking Wayland through the basics of training.)
  • “You are foreign and don’t know all of our ways. A teacher does not take on a student lightly, because he will forever be responsible for that student’s actions. And that student must know his duty to honor not only his teacher but the whole lineage. Do you understand that? Can you uphold my teachings, even if they go against your desires and natural inclinations?” – Master Gao (when Wayland asks to study martial arts with him.)
  • “I think I can.” – Wayland (in reply.)
  • “I will accept you. Show up in the training courtyard tomorrow morning.” – Master Gao (after Wayland also says that he will not quit.)

Book Rating: 8.5/10

What are your impressions of “Dragons and Boxers”? Which historical stories blended with martial arts action do you remember most vividly?

Indulge in “Dragons & Boxers” now!

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From the earliest days of childhood, Brad Curran was utterly fascinated by martial arts, his passion only growing stronger after spending time living in the melting pot of Asian cultures that is Hawaii. His early exposure developed into a lifelong passion and fascination with all forms of martial arts and tremendous passion for action and martial arts films. He would go on to take a number of different martial arts forms, including Shaolin Ch'uan fa, Taekwondo, Shotokan Karate and remains a devoted student, avid and eager to continue his martial arts studies. Brad is also an aspiring writer and deeply desires to share his love for martial arts and martial arts movies with the world!

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