by SJ Reaver
Elara just wanted to play a game. When she filled out a form for her prefered setting, she had no idea that she was signing up for a trip to another world. Now she, a husk of a human recovering from cancer, is flung into a land of scheming gods, powerful cultivators, and demon warlords. Enslaved and clinging to life, her only way forward is a forbidden power strong enough to rival the heavens.
- Beware of blue boxes
- It's a zero to hero tale. The character starts out weak and stays that way for awhile
- Cover by the handsome ssddx
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Where do i even start here?
Lets try a little story. I came here from Nighthunter, curious about Reaver's new project. Inittialy, i didn't pick it up, because i wasn't a fan of cultivation stories. But then, after hearing people talk about it, i decided to give it a chance. And it blew me away.
If this story doesn't make the top 50 somehow, then i've lost faith in what RRL considers 'Good'. Hell, scrap that, this story is great. For me, it hit all the right notes, avoided all the common pitfalls of the cultivation genre. So, i'm treating it to a Super Review. Only fitting for such a story.
As described in the summary, Empyrean is a Zero to Hero story. But unlike many i've read it manages to navigate around the traps of the genre, as well as the even larger pitfalls of the cultivation genre. Right from the getgo, Elara becomes a chracter you care about, and i rooted for her every step of the way. Another author once told me, that in a story, the rewards are so much sweeter if the character struggles and suffers for them, and this is proved to be true here.
Elara faces very real danger, a foreign, unfriendly world, slavery and death. And she responds to these in actual, beliveable ways. The author neither glorifies or glosses over her suffering and hardships, instead keeping it at just the right pace. The action scenes are fluid and easy to read and visualize. As are the charcter descriptions and the scenery.
It moves at just the right pace, showing us Elara's growth and the events taking place around her without rushing or being too slow. This is actually a hard thing to do, and i can say from experience that Reaver does it well.
So, easy to read. Easy to visualize. Easy to actually make you SEE what is going on. Easy to put yourself in Elara's shoes.
Do i need to say anything more? Reaver has achieved the perfect style of writing. At least to my tastes. The dialogue, descriptions and the pace all flow together smoothly, making for an enjoyable read. My only nitpick is that sometimes, Reaver appears to run out of steam right at the last sentance, ending a chapter just a wee bit akwardly.
This is my own personal preference, so just feel free to ignore it.
Again, nothing less than perfection here. Either you have insanely good writing skills, or an entire team of proofreaders at your beck and called. I can't decide which one of those is sacrier. Whatever you're doing here, keep it up.
And so, we get to the meat of Empyrean. The characters. A better author than me once said "A story is about who it happens to." Without good characters, what keeps you tied to a story? Not much, really. A journey, not matter how epic, is empty, hollow and meaningless if the characters involved are flat, cardboard cutouts.
Elara is a likeable MC. She's not a perfect little flower, doesn't have people gushing over how she's SO SPESHUL or SO TALENTED.
She's a person.
She has flaws.
She has weaknesses.
She's made bad decisions.
Her hair isn't perfect when she gets out of bed.
Heel, she doesn't HAVE hair, thanks to cancer.
She can feel pain.
She can wear dirty clothes.
In short, she's a person.
But most of all, we can relate to her. We can put ourselves in her shoes and wonder if we have any right to judge her. If we could ACTUALLY have done things differently. If we could have done what she couldn't.
As of right now, we a rich, diverse cast of memorable characters. Initially, it starts off small, with only Elara and a few others. But, slowly, more names and faces begin to trickle in. Hawk follows the typical 'Cultivation Noble' mindset, but is a coward at heart. Emerald manages to be a favorite, despite me never having like ditzy characters. And Brother Buttercup will be remembered for a long time.
I could rant on and in about this section, but in summary: The characters are good. They're unique in their own little ways. They too avoid the pitfalls their respective types. And best of all, they can be relateable. Keep it up.
Now, on to the questions.
What are you trying to write?
To me, Empyrean comes of as a mix of ZTH and Wuxia. Howeevr, it carves out the elements of what i dislike in both genres. For example, ZTH's obnoxious tropes of making the world revolve around the character, and Wuxia's Flowery, nonsensical phrases and speeches. My biggest joy in this story is that i have not heard a SINGLE; "The ancient, archaic energy" or "The difference between them was like the difference between heaven and earth". NOT ONE. And i salute you for it.
So, the cultivation aspects?
For once, they manage to make sense. Mostly. I can never wrap my head around dantians and pillars, no matter how hard i try. But, Empyrean keeps it simpler than that. I'm not going to spoil it by jumping in and explaining. Rather, i'll leave that to the reader to find out. Also, like i said above, the most annoying parts of the cultivation genre is blessedly missing. No spending entire chapters admiring inner natal palaces, folks, Elara has better things to do.
The actual character growth?
Pretty well done, in fact. This is proven by Elara's slowly changing mindset over the series. But, unlike others i've seen, she doesn't become, say, a stone cold killer because she's thrust into a world where it's normal. Her beliefs and morals are what helps her here. I've seen many a 'reviewer' bitch and complain about an MC that refuses to kill anyone in their way when they're thrown into a new world, but contrary to that belief, MCs like this are the bigger man/woman, because they refuse to let it change them.
And again, with combat. Elara foesn't magically pick up a spear and become a master, or train for two weeks and steamroll people who've trained for years. She's not a SPESHUL WIDDLE SNOWFLAKE. She's a person. She was feelings. She feels fear. She can crack and falter under pressure. This is going to be off-putting to those who want a generic powercreep MC, but i don't care. She's a great character, and her evolution so far has been well handled and engrossing.
Will it please fans of the genre?
Most likely. I can't really speak for everyone, since people have different tastes, but i myself disliked cultivation, but found i was engrossed by the story. Some of the hardcore fans may not like it, as it lacks what they want, eg: Mile long speeches and snobbery contests. But, anyone else, it should please.
Are there any glaring flaws?
No. While people will nitpick about what they don't like, there is nothing about Empyrean that made me want to put it down. As i covered above, it has everything a good story needs. Now, all it needs are dedicated fans. I honestly can't find anything wrong with the story. Even after taking off the rose tinted glasses and leaning back to objectively view it, there was nothing flawed about it.
A great story, written by a better author than me. That's all i have to say. Go and read it.
I'm sad I didn't come across Reaver's work at an earlier date. The writing is exemplary. The prose is well thought out, structured and has an easy to follow flow. The author has an extraordinary vocabulary and a good handle on the English language. Besides the occasional typo, there were no faults in the writing.
As far as the story goes, Empyrean is a solid piece of work so far. I like the fusion of western cultivation and the 'system' mechanic from GameLit novels. While most authors use it as a crutch, Reaver does not. It exists as a bonus to the excellent storytelling.
I like to save the best for last, and it has to be the characters. Elara and Hawk jump out at the reader. I like how she is clawing to survive and enjoy some degree of normalcy as far as health goes. At the same time, I want to punch Hawk in the face and tell him to get over himself. However, since he's a fourth rank water cultivator, my attack would miss or be countered, or he'd look at me as no more than an Unclean fly and let my phalanges shatter against his hardened skin.
That's basically all you need to know. It's a well done mix of litRPG, portal fantasy, and cultivation novels.
The MC is well done (even if she might not be likeable to start with) and steadily grows over the course of the fiction. Her actions have increasing consequences and slowly reach beyond her immediate surroundings.
The story slowly ramps up and introduces the world, one bit at a time, without being overbearing.
The style is concise and enjoyable, and easy to read through. Grammar is top notch.
This is a good story and I recommend it but be aware that the author is being serious when they say that this will be a slow build.
The MC makes shortsighted decisions, poor assumptions, is only selectively proactive, and cannot handle pressure. These are recurring traits that the MC struggles with and, much like real life, they are unable to move past them without a lot of effort. So, on one hand you have a well written and believable character, but on the other you have a MC that keeps making the same mistakes repeatedly.
Outside of the MC there is some inconsistent characterization and the characters offer little in the way of surprises. Their interactions are well crafted, but sometimes lack the depth you expect from previous examples.
The world is looking interesting and well developed. Cultivation stories have some common tropes and those same ideas are here, but they are presented organically.
An overall decent piece
I really recommend a fan of either of the genres to give it a try. Although there's a big Deus ex machina moment, I liked how the main character actually ended up failing spectacularly, in a believable way. It feels like the failure had consequence as well.
Grammar has a few mistakes that are quickly corrected by the author when pointed out, and overall the prose is of excellent quality. Few repetitions. The world building is decently paced too and not invasive. Same for the blue boxes.
I hope the author has a lot planned for this because it's off to a great start!
Sj Reaver (also the author of the fabulous 'Nighthunter') has begun writing a beautiful story.
Yes, the premise is overdone. Yes, everyone knows the main character will (eventually) be OP.
But the world building and elegant writing style overcome these drawbacks.
Come immerse yourself in this world, trust me, you'll enjoy the ride!
So far this is shaping up to be a truly excellent novel - keep up the good work!