The Water Outlaws (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews

What happens with the systems you’ve navigated your whole life turn on you? When all the terrible things you studiously ignored demand your attention? Lin Chong is the Master Arms Instructor for the Emperor. She has always followed the rules and that got her tattooed with the mark of a criminal and on the Empire’s bad side.

Left out in the cold, she is enveloped into a feme rebel group. Will they change the system? Will they steal a bunch of stuff and be done with it? What are the true motives of the Bandits of Liangshan? The Water Outlaws is theatrical, poignant, and absolutely thrilling. I relished every page and will be revisiting it any time I need a martial arts movie fix. 


(Check out S.L. Haung on our Ever Day's Fantasy Panel!)

— From Opinionated October Staff Picks


A 2023 Pick for Vulture | The Washington Post | Publishers Weekly | Men's Health | IGN | Polygon | Goodreads | Amazon | Nerd Daily | WeAreBookish | Paste | Books, Bones & Buffy | The Escapist | Paste Magazine | SciFixFantasy | Distractify | Gizmodo | Ms. Magazine | Popsugar | Book Riot | Autostraddle | The Mary Sue & others

Finalist for the American Library Association Carnegie Medal

Inspired by a classic of martial arts literature, S. L. Huang's The Water Outlaws are bandits of devastating ruthlessness, unseemly femininity, dangerous philosophies, and ungovernable gender who are ready to make history—or tear it apart.

"This wuxia eat-the-rich tale is a knockout."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

In the jianghu, you break the law to make it your own.

Lin Chong is an expert arms instructor, training the Emperor's soldiers in sword and truncheon, battle axe and spear, lance and crossbow. Unlike bolder friends who flirt with challenging the unequal hierarchies and values of Imperial society, she believes in keeping her head down and doing her job.

Until a powerful man with a vendetta rips that carefully-built life away.

Disgraced, tattooed as a criminal, and on the run from an Imperial Marshall who will stop at nothing to see her dead, Lin Chong is recruited by the Bandits of Liangshan. Mountain outlaws on the margins of society, the Liangshan Bandits proclaim a belief in justice—for women, for the downtrodden, for progressive thinkers a corrupt Empire would imprison or destroy. They’re also murderers, thieves, smugglers, and cutthroats.

Apart, they love like demons and fight like tigers. Together, they could bring down an empire.

About the Author

S. L. Huang is a Hollywood stunt performer, firearms expert, Nebula Award finalist, and Hugo Award winner with a math degree from MIT and credits in productions like “Battlestar Galactica” and “Top Shot.” The author of the fantasy novella Burning Roses as well as the Cas Russell novels including Zero Sum Game, Null Set, and Critical Point, Huang’s short fiction has also appeared in Analog, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Strange Horizons, Nature,, and more, including numerous best-of anthologies.

Praise For…

A 2023 Pick for Vulture | The Washington Post | Publishers Weekly | Men's Health | IGN | Polygon | Goodreads | Amazon | Nerd Daily | WeAreBookish | Paste | Books, Bones & Buffy | The Escapist | Paste Magazine | SciFixFantasy | Distractify | Gizmodo | Ms. Magazine | Popsugar | Book Riot | Autostraddle | The Mary Sue & others

In the jianghu, you must break the law to make your own.

"S.L. Huang’s new epic fantasy is a battle cry of a book. . . . A glorious, wuxia-inspired saga of femme and queer resistance in the face of oppression."—BookPage, starred review

"In this addictive queer, feminist epic fantasy, Huang (Burning Roses) brilliantly retells the 14th-century Chinese classic Water Margin for a 21st-century audience. . . . The author’s background as a Hollywood stunt performer enriches the kinetic action sequences, which are both easy to follow and thrilling to read. This wuxia eat-the-rich tale is a knockout."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Huang's new epic fantasy moves at a breakneck, adrenaline-filled pace that makes it difficult to put down, and the convincing, broad cast of characters powers the plot forward amidst cunning turns of strategy and shocking, dark twists. . . . Fans of Iron Widow, by Xiran Jay Zhao (2021) and She Who Became the Sun, by Shelley Parker-Chan (2021) will eat up this new adventure about justified anger and fierce female warriors."—Booklist, starred review

"Non-stop action that will thrill you with its feminist heart. This tale’s legendary gathering is the birth of true heroes: those with the imagination to understand how the world could be different for the downtrodden, and the courage to make it so. What skill it takes to turn a cornerstone of the canon upside down and yet have it feel so convincingly classic! S. L. Huang doesn’t put a foot wrong in this magisterial epic.”—Shelley Parker-Chan, Sunday Times bestselling author of She Who Became the Sun

​"Huang writes action that feels both kinetic and spiritual. And her community of rebel bandits strikes up a fascinating debate about how to save a country from itself. Tearing myself away from this addictive book was one of the hardest things I’ve done lately."—The Washingon Post, Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels of the Year

"This queer retelling of a Chinese classic is a fantastic and entertaining blend of action, humor, profanity, social justice, delightfully larger-than-life characters, and so many magnificent fight scenes!"—Kate Elliott, bestselling author of Unconquerable Sun

"At once a boisterous martial-arts epic, an intricate heist story, and an all too timely tale of resistance against tyrannical institutions, The Water Outlaws is also unusually engrossing. . . . In addition to being a Hugo Award winner, polymath Huang is a Hollywood stunt performer and armorer, able to write scenes of intricate combat with effortless clarity and breathless pacing. This novel reads like a movie in the best way."—Vulture

"Rogues with hearts of gold, the motley rebels of Liangshan will warm your heart as quickly as they'll cause it to race, thump and break. Huang's writing is a god's tooth in its own right, sparking these heroes alive. Lu Junyi is a personal favorite, and her relationship with Lin Chong is a bond that binds not just two women together, but a whole revolution. If, like me, you grew up on the martial arts movies of the 80s, and are enamored by queer genderbent monks or rebels loud and quiet both—grab this book!"
—Suyi Davies Okungbowa, author of Son of the Storm

"Reimagining the famed Chinese novel Water Margin, this epic wuxia fantasy will blow you away. . . . Huang's dynamic prose and animated action will keep you hooked 'til the very last page."—IGN

SL Huang is a literary genius, and this book proves it. Breathtakingly researched, tightly plotted, and cunningly written, this book is full of delicious vengeance and sharp humor. I laughed, I raged, I was swept off my feet and I loved every minute of it!”—Jesse Q. Sutanto, New York Times bestselling author of Dial A for Aunties

"Spectacular. A whip-smart rollercoaster of a book with action scenes that knocked the wind out of me."—Sarah Gailey, author of Just Like Home

“An addictive action-adventure novel and one of the most straightforwardly utopian books in ages. . . . Huang’s sensitive exploration of the conflict between law and justice is as exciting as the most spectacular airborne kick."—The Washington Post

"An utter delight and rip-roaring treat for anyone who grew up on wuxia films, Shaw brothers movies, and loves fantasy. Clever, cunning, tightly plotted with brilliant martial arts fight scenes that had me grinning. S. L. Huang delivers all of what I enjoy about the genre: loads of action, no shyness of profanity, fantastic levels of research, and characters who leap off the page in their largeness. This reimagining of The Water Margin is freaking awesome!"—R.R. Virdi, author of The First Binding

"This queer fantasy novel inspired by the Chinese classic Water Margin by Shi Nai’an doesn’t pull any of its anti-authority punches, and it’s all the better for it.. . . . Huang has delivered an exciting martial arts adventure!"—Book Riot

"Feminist, fantastical and queer AF, this action-packed martial arts adventure will knock your socks off."—Ms. Magazine

"Reimagining the famed Chinese novel Water Margin, this epic wuxia fantasy will blow you away. . . . Huang's dynamic prose and animated action will keep you hooked 'til the very last page."—IGN

"Huang has written a gloriously cinematic novel, one that delights in martial arts tropes...The Water Outlaws is a hell of a lot of fun."—Locus

"This queer epic fantasy retelling inspired by the story of the 14th-century Chinese classic Water Margin is perfect for everyone who loved Shelley Parker-Chan’s She Who Became the Sun. A feminist, action-packed tale of bandits and found family that’s bursting with martial arts tropes and rich mythology."—Paste

"A fantastic novel of resistance. It breathes new life into a classic saga with scintillating action. The Water Outlaws teaches us to refuse to be defined by people who don't care about us."—John Wiswell

Praise for S. L. Huang

S. L. Huang is amazing."—Patrick Rothfuss

Calculated to mash my every emotional button.”—Amal El-Mohtar, The New York Times Book Review

“S. L. Huang delivers one of the best additions to the fairy tale genre in recent years. Burning Roses presents a compelling tale that favors change, the chance to forgive, and—universally—the desire to be forgiven.”—The Chicago Review of Books

“Huang dazzles in this dark, diverse fairy tale remix. . . . Fantasy fans won't want to miss this.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Old tales are given new life in S.L. Huang’s invigorating, crossover blend of Chinese and European folk stories. The combination of fairy tale, rich storytelling, and older queer women full of scars is everything I ever wanted in a book.”—Neon Yang

"Paced at a flat out sprint."—Kate Elliott

Product Details
ISBN: 9781250180421
ISBN-10: 1250180422
Publisher: Tordotcom
Publication Date: August 22nd, 2023
Pages: 496
Language: English