I saw the author post something on social media before this was released about how some early readers didn’t think the novella had enough fighting to be wuxia. Zen Cho said that was because she meant for the novella to be a fan-fic of an imaginary 50 episode tv series of that genre. I don’t really know much about wuxia but I do think that The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water has the flavor of it at least. The general premise is that a bandit walks into a coffee house, tries to stop a customer from harassing a waitress, starts a fight, and the waitress who happens to be a religious devotee (a nun) decides to join the bandit’s group; hijinks ensue. This much seems pretty standard, and on the surface, so are many of the characters. There’s the really good looking bandit (Lau Fung Cheung), the gruff but honest bandit (Tet Sang), the feisty girl with something mysterious about her (Guet Imm), the illiterate one who wants to learn (Ah Hin), the sort of doctor (Ah Boon), etc.
The key thing is ‘on the surface’; most characters have some kind of secret that at least some of the others don’t know, but the cool thing here is that said secret is not always the kind of thing you’d expect in an adventure story, which this partially is. The bandit group has to avoid law enforcement and pretty much the general public since they’re wanted, and get to a delivery of the goods they are currently transporting, and naturally things don’t ever go quite as planned. Plan B is of course pretty risky, and it too does not quite go as planned, but thanks to a minor twist, things might work out sort of, except that it means some big changes for the group, but maybe not bad ones. This novella is really more about the characters learning about each other, but there’s still plenty of plot too.
What I don’t quite get is the presence of magic in this world; it’s clearly a part of the world, but it’s never quite clear how real or imagined the magic or witchcraft or mystic powers actually are. The general world seems somewhat historical with references to things like the Protectorate and guns, making it colonial-era nineteenth century-ish, but I don’t know enough about the time period in Chinese history to really know how issues of religion and mysticism and magic might have fit in. It’s not a deal breaker, but I’d be willing to bet having a little background in that might make the part of the story related to faith practices more interesting or detailed. For example, the title is a reference to the nun’s religious order and it also has some other possible less literal connections, but since I’m not so familiar, I couldn’t say how literal or not things are actually meant to be; I can however come up with some general possibilities, and that’s really all you need.
There’s enough with the plot and characters though that even without the magic or details of religious beliefs and practices, there’s still a lot to get in terms of meaning and just plain entertainment out of the story. Even if you’ve never heard of wuxia or any of the other specifics of the world, it’s still an interesting story with something to say about how people can surprise you in some intriguing ways.