Under: Books, martial arts, Movies
28 Aug 2011

As a child I have always loved books and moves involving adventure and martial arts. I loved the swordsmanship of Conan the Barbarian books and the sage lessons of the Kung Fu TV series. Some of the best martial arts flicks are timeless such as Seven Samurai but the theme of all of these wonderful books and movies show how the fighter overcomes overwhelming adversity by focusing his Ki (Qi, Chi).

Well I was asked to read Chambers and I agreed as I’d not read a martial arts book in a while. Let me just say once I started reading this book – I could not put it down easily. I usually take months to read a book (at a few pages a night before dropping off to sleep) but Chambers is a real page turner. I was a bit apprehensive as this looked to be a teen adventure but I was pleasantly surprised that I related well to the characters and the book grabbed my interest from the first couple of pages.

In this post I will review the book (soon to be a movie) and interview the author, Sarah Gerdes.

Here is a video about Chambers.

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The story starts out with a bang. Cage and Mia – siblings are waiting for their father in a cave. They see their dad whisked away and follow with the help of an orb – right into the Ming Dynasty!  The teens have to first survive being captured (as spies) and figure out what they are doing there – and ultimately find they are part of an epic battle that has gone on for a thousand years.

Cage has to pull all of his marital arts experience from his modern master to make sense of their predicament and with the help of his sister, Mia – they have to navigate these treacherous times to save their father and fulfill their destiny!

Cage had to depend on the powers of the orb for time travel and some magical feats. Mostly he (Cage) had to use his extensive martial arts prowess to defeat ancient warriors with extensive weaponry including crossbows, shurikens (throwing stars in modern lingo), along with various swords and daggers.

Often times martial arts books and movies make extensive use of magic in the fighting scenes but in Chambers I was riveted while reading how Cage defeated mass attackers with weapons. I could see how many of these sequences could really work if a fighter did not make too many mistakes. This was very refreshing after watching Mortal Kombat and Dragon Ball movie characters using magic to win their fights.

Mia is a headstrong, beautiful girl that has to learn to serve the Empress along with the many customs of the times. Luckily Cage does not have to worry too much about her while they both try to prove their innocence and save the Emperor.

While I won’t say too much more other than the author, Sarah Gerdes managed to intertwine Ming Dynasty history and customs in an interesting way while telling the story. I was able to keep up with what was happening while reading this fast paced historical adventure. While I thought at first this was a teen book before starting the read – I found it kept my interest all the way through – and I am a middle-aged man.

Chambers should have broad appeal since is a historical fiction set in a really interesting point in history (the struggle for power in the Ming Dynasty) that also has martial arts in it.

Chambers is the first book in the series and I understand the books have been optioned as a film series. Here is a recent video of the New Northwest Day show about Chambers.

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I rate this book 5 Kicks Up!

Flickr: photos/tucia


When I got the book I fully intended to do a book review but after reading it – I found I really liked it. I asked the author Sarah Gerdes to do an interview and she agreed.




[John W. Zimmer] I liked that Chambers integrated martial arts into the historical fiction. Can you tell use a little bit about your martial arts background?


[Sarah Gerdes] I’ve always been fascinated by martial arts, and watched my oldest brother get involved in MA when I was a teenager. Seeing the time and dedication it required, I waited until a co-worker revealed she was a blackbelt. At her invitation, I attended a self-defense class, and two weeks later, signed up for a black belt program.


[John W. Zimmer] I was totally intrigued by the setting in the Ming Dynasty. How much research did you have to do?


[Sarah Gerdes] A lot (smile). It started with general research of China, searching for a period that had real teenagers in roles of authority. 6 months and lots of time at the library later, I found the 2nd Ming Emperor was ruled from age 12-14. Once I had the time period locked, it took 2 years of research to cover every aspect of life: clothing, buildings, food, decorum etc.


 [John W. Zimmer] How did you come up with the idea of book?


[Sarah Gerdes] When my son was 12, we were climbing the rocks outside a volcano in northern California. I was always telling him stories, and as a reluctant reader himself, he suggested I write a book he could read. This was the start of the time-travel adventure concept. An earlier version I wrote was geared for his age group, but when the studio got involved, the producer asked if I could re-write the book based on a more mature audience 18-25) to deal with the themes. That opened up a new world in terms of plot lines, themes, fighting and romance. The initial idea evolved to be Chambers.


[John W. Zimmer] Tell us a bit about the fight sequences and weaponry.


[Sarah Gerdes] A part of my training includes Weapons. In my program, we are given the weapons based on our belt level, so I only have so much experience. Since I’m one belt below a black belt, I pulled most of the scenes from actual practice sessions I’ve had to endure. The scenes with one against multiple are, sadly, from observation and what I’d do (in theory) versus what I’ve thus far been allowed to do in practice. For the weapons, I couldn’t use what I’ve been taught. I had to adapt the weapons for the period. This took an extensive amount of research from weapons sites and masters from around the world (thank heaven for the Internet!). The design, styles, uses and details of the weapons I found were so amazing, I wrote an additional 50 pages or more that got cut by the editor. Apparently, I’d gone a little overboard in my zeal for the weapons.


[John W. Zimmer] I grew up watching the TV show Kung Fu as a teen and have always thought martial arts concepts were a way of life (or should be). How did you manage to capture the mystical part of the martial arts so well in the book?


[Sarah Gerdes] Thank you for the compliment. It’s very humbling that you say that. During my very first lesson, I was struck by the symbols and words on the walls of the practice room. They were very spiritually oriented, yet when I commented on this to the instructor, he wouldn’t answer the question until I was a fourth section (2 away from a black belt). In effect, he told me that the right to tap in to the spiritual side (the spirit/soul etc) had to be earned. Those that didn’t make it through the toughening, weeding-out process of rudimentary practice were not worthy to have the enlightenment that comes with training in the pure forms. Some of the practice techniques, like Bagwa Chung, are designed to tap in to this very element that is all around us. I tried to work that into the book in a way that was both believable but tangible for readers who have no idea what true martial arts is all about. Now that I’m in the second book, the challenge is quite different. It involves native Americans, who believe in being one with nature. Whereas they called mysticism, another culture calls spirituality, but it’s very similar. Another level exists within all of us. It’s there if we choose to tap in to it, and live our lives in such a way where we can be sensitive.


[John W. Zimmer] Tell us about the main characters Cage and Mia. They work very well together – how much of you are in them?


[Sarah Gerdes] Dare I reveal this much! Well, the fighting with Cage is certainly me, along with anger at a relatively absent father, who was working all the time but did his best. At the same time, I have injected a little of myself in Mia, but the first book doesn’t express it so much. When she hits her fantastic, teenage rebellion streak (in book 2, after learning her father has been lying to herself and Cage), that certainly has a bit more of me. That said, I never played soccer—one of her gifts. All those moves actually came from my middle brother (I have 3 bros) who was/is a soccer whiz. Though this brother wasn’t the one who got in to martial arts, I adored him, we were only 16 mo apart, and we were best friends growing up, doing everything together. (that happens when you live on a tree farm with no one around for miles). We weren’t twins, but it certainly felt like we could read each other’s minds. That influenced the interaction between the two, as did the challenges of starting with similar viewpoints on life, then facing the struggle, disappointment and other emotions that arise when a sibling takes a different course in life.


[John W. Zimmer] About the upcoming movie – are you going help with that process too?


[Sarah Gerdes] I’m going to stick with what I know, and continued writing. A screenplay is its own art, and I’ve got a lot of work to do on my existing art (writing) before I take on another. That said, I’ve been invited to provide opinions on a number of elements (roles etc), but I think my biggest gift to the producer is to stay out of their way so they can do a great job.


[John W. Zimmer] Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?


[Sarah Gerdes] The producer Lucas Foster has produced some big hits like Mr & Mrs Smith, Law Abiding Citizen etc. When I got a bit depressed at the time it takes to make a movie, he said something that resonated. “Making movies is like training for a marathon. Some days it seems like progress has only moved an inch. In a few weeks, that’s become a foot. Then a mile. It takes a while, but its eventually completing a marathon.” Writing is like that. One can become a writer starting with a single sentence a day. That sentence becomes a paragraph, then a page, a chapter, and ultimately a book.


This is where practicing martial arts is a definite asset. It’s a combination of determination, patience and ‘pushing through’ to the other side. During my early belts, we held positions for many minutes, to the point where my muscles felt like acid, burning off my bones. The instructors counseled us to ‘set your mind.’ Once that was in place, the body could handle any physical challenge. At the time, I thought I was going to collapse, and sometimes I did, but ultimately, I came to believe (and experience) that I truly could push through anything when I set my mind.


Writing is similar. An aspiring writer (replace writer with any objective) sets his or her mind to becoming, then doing that task, over and over with diligence, the outcome is not in question. One will become a writer, technically and creatively. To invoke a conventional saying, it takes 10,000 hours to become proficient at any task, be it making a free throw, jazz musician or writer. In approximately 10 yrs, I’ve written 7 books and 2 screenplays. I tallied my numbers for writing, and I’m only about 3,500 hours. I’ve got a long way to go to qualify for true proficiency, but I’ve made a lot of necessary progress. In a sense, I’m still training for my marathon.


About the author: Sarah Gerdes is writer living outside Washington with her family. In addition to Chambers, she has two other books and 3 screenplays in production. For more information on Chambers, check out the Chambers Series facebook page or the Chambers youtube channel. For more on Sarah, her official author site is http://www.sarahgerdes.com/, and her random musings on all things life is www.sassality.blogspot.com.


The books are available on Amazon.com and BarnsandNoble.com.


I would like to take this opportunity to thank Sarah Gerdes for the great story and interview!

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13 Responses to “Book Review of Chambers – & Interview with Author Sarah Gerdes”

  1. Dr. J Says:

    I had not heard of this book, John! I was never a fan of the many early chaotic Chinese martial arts movies, but I loved the deeper stories of the TV show Kung Fu and more recently, The Matrix. Over the past year, I have discovered Zatoichi, and several other earlier Japanese martial arts movies and enjoy them.

    The Chamber sounds like a worthy effort! I very much enjoyed your interesting interview with Sarah Gerdes. I am not sure what style of martial arts she is studying, but it sounded like a kung fu system. I’m ambivalent about her teacher’s not answering her question because of her not earning one as if a parent felt that way about a child I would question that approach to upbringing.
    Dr. J recently posted..Lab Notes: Insomnia Costs $63.2 Billion a Year; Modified Vaccinia Virus Targets Cancer CellsMy Profile

  2. Dr. J Says:

    I looked up Bagwa Chung and see that it is a Korean style. Actually, before begining Kenpo, I studied Chung do Kwon, Chee do Kwon, and Moo do Kwon depending on which school I practiced at. The instructors all were friends :-)
    Dr. J recently posted..Lab Notes: Insomnia Costs $63.2 Billion a Year; Modified Vaccinia Virus Targets Cancer CellsMy Profile

  3. Self Defense Lessons Says:

    Like you I haven’t read a martial arts book for a while.

    I just read through Bruce Lee’s striking thoughts which I think is a MUST for any one interested in the man or just general martial arts.

    I’ll surely pick a copy of Chambers, and check it out.
    Self Defense Lessons recently posted..Self Defense Guide – Lesson 3: Basic Defense & AttackMy Profile

  4. Sarah Gerdes Says:

    Hi guys,
    Thanks for your comments. Very astute–exactly what I expect from readers of this blog. Oom Yung Doe is Korean, and the Grandmaster “Iron” Kim is at the head of the line. The philosophy is definitely interesting, and not for everyone. I’ve chosen to take the approach of focusing on the positive/introspective side and not get wound up over the philosophical differences. I’ve got to spend more time making sure I can walk the day after:- Sarah

  5. Dr. J Says:


    I found Striking Thoughts on Google Books and wanted to say thanks!
    Dr. J recently posted..Lab Notes: New Study Shows Half-Match Transplant Success; NYFD 9/11 Heroes Face Increased Cancer RiskMy Profile

  6. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hey Dr J!

    I’ve always enjoyed a good story. My critique of most martial arts movies (I get the roku kung fu channel) is the “masters” seem to have most of their fights in the clouds… or are jumping over building like crouching tiger… The thing that struck me about this book is it was a good story that happened to have kung fu in it… it is a real adventure so if you like the genre… :)

    I remember taking Okinawan karate in junior high-school for a while. They used to have me doing these breathing exercises focusing on my isometric hand movements from a low-horse stance. It is easy for me to envision the more Eastern formal styles getting in to meta-physical stuff.

    I remember that you were trained over there in the service Dr. J!

    STL – Thanks for the tip!

    Sarah! It is kind of funny but each master like everything else in life has something to offer. I like you choose to focus on what works and what I like.

    I love how you weaved all aspects of the martial arts into the story. I’m looking forward to the next book. :)

  7. Matt Klein Says:

    We all need an escape from time to time. This book might be the ticket. Very cool graphics!

    Especially like her quote “Writing is like that. One can become a writer starting with a single sentence a day. That sentence becomes a paragraph, then a page, a chapter, and ultimately a book.” It gets easier and easier once it becomes a habit.
    Matt Klein recently posted..A Shortcut on the Road to MasteryMy Profile

  8. alison Says:

    I just read through Bruce Lee’s striking thoughts which I think is a MUST for any one interested in the man or just general martial arts.
    alison recently posted..Quickest Way To Get PregnantMy Profile

  9. Matt Says:

    Great review, I’m looking to check this book out myself.

  10. Stephan Hilson Says:

    I could relate to this book since I love Conan the Barbarian cartoon, Martial Arts films, Kung Fu Panda film and other martial arts films and cartoons. Chambers is interesting martial arts book to read. It is nice that you interviewed the author of the book, which includes description of character and other stuff. Thanks for sharing the interesting interview and book review of Chambers.
    Stephan Hilson recently posted..Forfaits mobilesMy Profile

  11. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Matt Klien,

    The book is a great escape! Funny but the writing comments are helpful to me too as I’d like to pen a book someday.

    Thanks Alison.

    Hey Matt – ikigaiway.com,

    It is a good read – I’m waiting for the next one!

    Hi Stephan Hilson,

    We have similar tastes in literature. Thanks for stopping by!

  12. la dad Says:

    Should I say spoiler alert? lol, Maybe I should wait for this movie to be release in theater.
    la dad recently posted..$35 for Four 30-Minute Private Martial Arts Lessons for Kids or Adults; or $49 for One Month of Unlimited 40- to 60-Minute Classes, Four Semi-Private Lessons, and a Uniform at Z-Ultimate Self Defense Studios (Save 88%)My Profile

  13. Chris Says:

    Just wanted to say that I’m glad you posted so much info about the book. I’ve seen it pop up here and there but I wasn’t certain it was something I was interested in. After reading more about it, I definitely intend to look into it. Thanks!