After watching 2 versions Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre TV-series (1978 & 1986), I wanted to read the book. Far as I remember, Chin Yung's books always contain heroic themes, how the protagonists love their homeland, which made me not too eager to read them. I enjoyed reading this one very much, though, because of the complexity of the plot.
The main plot of the novel is how the heroes fought over a famous sabre, The Dragon Sabre, because it was said that the owner of the sabre would conquer the martial arts world. It was frustating to read how greed those people were. This book has many characters (wikipedia says the number is 956), but it was not hard to remember most of them; at least that was my experience. I think it's more difficult to remember names in Russian novels.
In the beginning of the story, the Dragon Sabre fell into the hands of Jie Thay Giam, 3rd student of Thio Sam Hong from Bu-tong-pay. He had meant to give the sabre to his teacher, but on his way he was attacked and became paralyzed. Thio Sam Hong's 5th student, Thio Coei San, went out to look for the culprit and he met the beautiful In So So, who was actually from a heretical clan, who had grabbed the sabre from Jie Thay Giam. The sabre would fall into the hand of Cia Soen, and with Thio Coei San and In So So, the three sailed off to a deserted island up north. Thio Coei San married In So So and they would have a boy, named Thio Boe Ki; who was the main hero in this novel.
Ten years passed. Thio Coei San, In So So, and Boe Ki returned to the mainland. In the deserted island they lived happily, but in the mainland they were forced to tell Cia Soen's whereabout, because Cia Soen had the sabre. Thio Coei San and In So So committed suicide and Thio Boe Ki was poisoned. Helpless to help Boe Ki, Thio Sam Hong - who was at this time 100 years old - finally sent the boy to an eccentric physician, who had actually refused to treat Boe Ki because the boy was not belong to Beng Kauw. Beng Kauw was considered as a heretical clan. The physician treated the boy anyway because the case was a real challege, but after he had been healed, the boy would be killed. In this years Boe Ki learned medicine. Later he would became a very skilled physician and cured Jie Thay Giam.
The physician then died after meeting his nemesis, while Boe Ki fell into a ravine and found a long lost Shaolin book. From this book he learned how to heal himself and gained powerful inner strength. When he got out from the ravine, Boe Ki was about 20 year-old.
At this time, six clans had cooperated to attack Beng Kauw. Boe Ki saw that the massacre was not right, so he used all his power to defend Beng Kauw. Beng Kauw people then made him their chief and Boe Ki used this opportunity to show the world that Beng Kauw was actually not evil.
Originally Beng Kauw was founded with an intention to drive off the Goan (Mongol) soldiers. Under Boe Ki's leadership, Beng Kauw worked together with 6 clans to drive away Goan soldiers. Although still young, Boe Ki had the charisma to lead Beng Kauw - and later to lead the martial arts world. It was evident in both TV series, how the great Thio Sam Song was proud of Boe Ki.
Four beautiful girls loved Thio Boe Ki, but finally he realized that the one he truly loved was the Mongolian princess: Tio Beng. She didn't mind to leave her wealth, kin, and position to follow him. On the other hand, as the Beng Kauw chief, Boe Ki also knew that it was inappropriate if he was with her; so he left his position and lived happily ever after with his beloved.
In the end, Boe Ki finally became a true hero, a wise man who had forgiven all the people who had forced his parents to commit suicide. He also forgave all who had cheated him and harmed him.
After the 'rebellion' led by Beng Kauw, the Goan soldiers were gone, and the Beng (Ming) dynasty began.
Among the characters, I think the most evil was the chief of Go-bi-pay, Biat-coat Soethay. [although the main antagonist was Seng Koen] She was very narrow minded, stubborn, merciless, and thought that she was always right. In this book, those who were supposed to be from good clans, did wicked things; while those had been considered from bad clans, actually were not that evil. Although Boe Ki was kind-hearted, honest, and sincere, other characters could easily think bad of him, just because of his mother came from a heretical clan, because he himself belonged to Beng Kauw and seeing a Mongolian princess. Like when his uncles caught him red-handed holding his 7th uncle's dead body. In this scene, Tio Beng desperately tried to protect Boe Ki's good name and she was ready to take all the blame because they had already branded her as a bad character.
So much Boe Ki loved his god-father, Cia Soen, that the boy did everything he could to save him - including leaving his bride on the altar. Boe Ki always remembered how Cia Soen raised him (along with his true parents) and taught him martial arts theories (for then he was too young to practice). Apart from the fact that Cia Soen was holding the Dragon Sabre, many people also looked for him because he had killed too many - but in martial arts world, who had not? For Twenty years Cia Sun tried to solve the sabre's secret without result. Only the chief of Go-bi-pay knew the answer.
Beside the Dragon Sabre, the Heaven Sword was also a famous weapon. However, people in this book chased Cia Soen until the end of the earth, while it seemed noboby wanted the Heaven Sword. Go-bi-pay had the Heaven Sword until it fell into Tio Beng's hands.
Both TV series each had a scene how complicated Tio Beng's situation during a war between Goan soldiers vs Beng Kaw + six clans. In 1978 version, Tio Beng released her father and brother from the clans's prison (an act of betrayal to Boe Ki vs her filial duty); while in 1986 version the clans used her as a hostage to threaten the Goan soldiers. These scenes were not in the book. However, I hear that Chin Yung has revised his works a couple of times.
Watching the 1978 version in the 80's, we children wanted Thio Boe Ki (or Thio mBoe Ki as we called him with our thick Javanese accent) to end with Coei Cie Jiak, for Angie Chiu was the most beautiful among the four girls. Now as I see recent pictures of Liza Wang and re-watch how she looked like in 1978, I must say that she was also very beautiful then, and appropriate to play the clever Tio Beng. As for Adam Cheng, for years we (as) children still referred him as Thio (m)Boe Ki. Even then I was blushed to see him in the torn clothes. In the story, Boe Ki was in the ravine for four years and during that time he never changed clothes.