In the Celestial Empire, a land ruled by Immortals and stalked by Spirits and Beasts, a young girl from the slums of an unimportant city is found to have the Talent. In the great Sect of Argent Peak, she will take her first unsteady steps upon the way.
Can she learn to not only survive, but thrive on her journey?
Updates Mondays and Thursdays. The first three Volumes can now be found on Audible
Cover Art by Melody Cheng
Original, unedited Quest found here
Tales of Destiny, an anthology of short stories in the same setting
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To be blunt, most of you who are reading this review likely did not come across this story due to familiarity with Quests (A CYOA story format decided by popular vote), nor did you do so due to familiarity with the author. I'm sure you came here because of your familiarity with the genre, and the desire to sift through all the generic imitation trash to find that next diamond in the rough that would be Worth It. Worth your time. Worth reading. Worth following.
Forge of Destiny is Worth It.
The story of Ling Qi is an understated one. I'm sure that if you already read the first chapter before reading this review, you'll have some inkling of what I'm referring to. Make no mistake, however; This story is Xianxia to it's very core. It does not reinvent the wheel of the genre, but it does what so many other stories fail to bother with. It takes the world in which it is set, and it brings it to life. This means that, as a result, things such as the heights of Cultivation are common knowledge. There are no hidden Realms. No secret levels. The road to Ascension is the Empire is one that is...If not well trodden, it is at least decently mapped out. Ascension is the end goal for any who walk the path of Cultivation, and that is made explicit from the outset.
In exchange, Yrsillar does not build high as most genre writers do. Inventing new and fantastical limits for their protagonist to break through over and over again. Instead, they build deep. This world in which Ling Qi and the Argent Sect live are living, breathing things. Mysteries for us, as readers, to explore through Ling Qi's eyes. And this journey is done masterfully. The Argent Sect is a melting pot of the different peoples of the Empire, notable clan scions taken from all across its borders, each representative of the cultures of their homelands and Clans and most importantly: Themselves.
Much like ourselves, Ling Qi is a stranger to the land of Immortals, and through her eyes we watch the struggle for a mortal in a land of nascent godlings struggle to find their feet purchase in the vast new world which she has found herself. Starting from nothing, and with the goal of any Cultivator ahead of her. In this regard, Yrsillar makes no mystery of what lofty goals Ling Qi's eyes become set.
Yet, even if you know of it academically, that does not mean that you understand the gulf between Heaven and Earth.
Thus, we join Ling Qi in her journey to uncover the world of the Immortals. The secrets of Cultivation, and reaching the heights of power in the Empire. Along with the many threats both within, and without. In this regard Forge of Destiny is a Xianxia story to its very core: Power informs Politics, and Victory needs no excuse. Ling Qi's triumphs are earned, her failures the result of the environment she finds herself in. The same is just as true for everyone around her, from the lowliest mortal to the most wise Elder.
I can go on forever, praising the excellence of the journey in its raw, unfinished form, marred by the nature of the Quest format. But you readers who are only just discovering this excellent journey now benefit from the finished product, and to do so would be to spoil the surprises in store for you.
Let it simply be said, that Forge of Destiny is Worth It.
A well-crafted xianxia story that is grounded in the setting. Which is something rare in this genre. Additionally, this story has a charming main character who is well characterized with a fabulous supporting cast that stays relevant throughout the story.
It doesn't do anything fancy or try to break new conceptual grounds with what the characters can do. What this story does do, however, is put complex characters with believable motivations into a fantastical setting. Some were born and raised in this setting and know exactly what to expect, but others have no grounding and muddle through it the best they can.
Overall, this story is not about the main character getting more power to overcome everything that comes their way. It is not a power fantasy. It is more about the characters and how they react and develop in their journey to become an immortal.
A sub-theme, however, does appear. The conflict between freedom and obligations and what freedom truly means in the context of this setting.
This story brings Xianxia to new heights, it uses the classic Chinese setting that all Xianxia do use, but this story is something different from those and arguably vastly better. It uses consistency, makes characters reasonable and rational, atleast as much as Cultivators can be. The common Xianxia tropes like cheats, arrogant young masters, last minute powerups and the likes are all absent from this story, which is a fresh breath of air from all the repetiveness of the Xianxia genre.
The characters in this story are extremely well written for Xianxia characters. They have their own motivations for their actions, with all of them having some kind of goal.
Ling Qi is just a mortal girl who has been selected to join the sect and enter the world of cultivators, there she learns about the cultivation world and its strange inhabitants. Her goal is a well defined but hard to reach one, she is fully determined to reach it, even if she has to suffer in order to improve herself, and for good reasons, the competition in the sect is not kind to people who do not give their fullest. The path to the top, to Ascension is a harsh one, and one can count themselves to be lucky to find people they can call friends while being on the path of cultivation.
The world feels realistic for a Xianxia one, with well established cultivation rules and it has some of the most well constructed worldbuilding i have read so far in a Xianxia story. One of the things i do really like, is that the people and their culture is not one solid monolith unable to change at all like you see in other Xianxia's, this feels like a living world.
The story goes in-depth to do a detailed explaination of cultivation and all its related concepts, for both the very basics, and the advanced stuff. While the story may not use the tropes that ruin other Xianxia stories, it still does use the core concepts of Xianxia. It also makes cultivation explainable and put logic behind it.
The story is easy to read, consistent pacing throughout the entire story. The writing style of the author can keep you reading and enjoying the story.
Grammar is good like one would expect from a skilled author, though the occasional mistakes and typos can be found, they are however quickly corrected whenever spotted.
There is just so much potentional with this story, and where it can go, and how it can expand and improve on other Xianxia tropes/concepts not used yet in this story.
This is a story for any fans of Xianxia or Eastern Fantasy in general, its also a great introduction to the Xianxia genre, though on the other side, no Xianxia story comes anywhere near the quality this story has, so reading this will ruin any future chances of enjoying any stories in the Xianxia genre.
This is your first Xanxia ? My condoleance, for once you've read this, you will come to the horrifying conclusion that it's all downhill from there.
This story is so damn good it will ruin the entire genre for you as you'll never find another Xanxia that can hope to compet.
As noted in the novel's description, this is originally a forum quest - basically an ttRPG, except there are dozens of people controlling one character. This has three monumental effects on the story, all of which are nearly unheard of in Xianxia:
- All the characters have stats, their abilities are consistent with those stats, and the world is consistent with the abilities. There is limited scope for ass-pulls.
- The MCs moves are debated on for pages and pages, meaning they behave in a mostly logical manner, aiming to optimize their chances of success - and they don't know what the author knows about the world, so there's less 'lucky coincidences'.
- Since actions are resolved with dice, the MC can fail. The character knows it. The audience know it. For a Xianxia, this is freaking revolutionary.
Overall, this makes for a refreshing, grounded, down-to-Earth feel, unusual in Xianxias.
The actual Quest is way ahead, though, so you're likely to check it out. But when you do, here's a tip: The GM's story posts actually have a [next] button on them that'll take you to the next part of the story, bypassing a lot of browsing of old debates. Man, the hours I wasted before figuring that out...
Competently set up cultivation system, a world with deeply set up lore which doesn't meaningfully intersect the plot, and a refreshingly diverse and interesting set of side characters who, despite their strengths relative to other cultivation stories/progression fantasy, aren't engaging enough to sustain the lackluster battles and uninteresting cultivation process.
In essence, the likeable characters and intriguing set up plus lack of cliched tropes pulled me in but at the end of the day the novel never presents a deeper more interesting hook, never shocks you with any surprising twists, and fails to give any interesting pay off in the end.
MASSIVE SPOILERS FOLLOW
So what is so unsatisfying?
Lets take a look first at the characters and their diversity/growth -
Bai Meizhen - the snake princess - From cold, noble heiress, terrifying all others noobs with her overwhelming aura, this bai princess initially helps our mc out of pity/basic courtesy, perhaps even just to nurture a potential talent (she recognizes that any commoner invited into the sect must clearly be talented in order for the government recruiters to bother). Eventually however, she warms up to MC's constant attempts to befriend her, and she eventually comes to trust and like MC romantically, which leads to a romance drama arc as mc is unable to reciprocate her feelings and the 2 eventually talk their feelings out, and eventually come to an understanding. They slowly settle into an awkward friendship, with bai meizhen acting as Mc's mentor/training partner in certain aspects of her cultivation, and the two try to find ways to relate/engage with each other without reopening the wounds from previous relational tension.
As I wrote that, I realize that while this might not be First Law levels of fascinating character building, its still highly competent character writing, with as much depth or more than even the webnovels I consider to be by all time favorites. (like mother of learning, or lord of the mysteries).
As I think about the characters I realize that the problem I have with them isn't the characters themselves, but rather the sheer breadth of them, and how it dilutes the plot. Besides the snake princess, we have -
The quiet nerdy virtuous girl who learns the harsh reality of cultivation politics
The rural bumpkin loner who forges her own path, providing a different perspective on the sect drama and empathizes with the mortals/little guys
The young prince who squandered his youth but now resolves to be more reliable and live up to his full potential so as to not disappoint his friends.
The beautiful, elegant, proud girl who loves the young prince but cannot be with him due to clan politics, who seeks power to elevate herself in order to earn the approval of others and also to break free from the politics of her clan.
The noble heiress who's power lies in her social command and who seeks to create her own faction in the sect. She has a noble vision for herself and her province but also suffers under the almost impossibly high expectations of her insanely powerful mother....
And that's only the allies who are reasonably developed. There is a plethora of other side characters, 3 antagonists with their own fleshed out motivations/background, all vying for mc's attention. The story kept me engaged by bouncing from character to character, spending 2-4 chapters on any small arc before moving on to the next thing. From side quest with one group of characters, to relationship drama to another, to training with another, to exploring with another, to tea time with another.. the story never stops bouncing between characters, and for a while, that's enough.
But it's not enough to make up for the story's other deficiencies..
At the end of the day one of the biggest problems I have with forge of destiny is how meandering the plot is. MC wants to get strong. Strong enough to ensure her own freedom. Strong enough to protect her family and her friends. over the course of the story she needs to confront her own miserable past and overcome the traumas that cause her to act irrationally. There's also many hints and tidbits of the politics of the world at large interjected into the story, which are interesting ish but at the end of the day do not feel integrated deeply into the story at all. they're a convenient excuse for why the snake princess is hated by the noble heiress of that other clan, but that's about it. The larger worldbuilding dictate to us what alliances our characters have, and set the motivations for many of our side characters, but that's it. Mc is too weak to engage with any of the politics and enemies outside the sect, so outside of one confrontation with an enemy barbarian cultivator that somehow snuck into civilized territory, there's no deeper connections.
So in essence - MC grinds for power, goes on little side quests/puzzles, builds her realtionships, and trains some more. The overarching plot is boring as hell. It's only redemption is that the individual mini-arcs are competently written, and some of the challenges/trials the mc must undergo are even really engaging. but these individual arcs aren't deeply tied into the overarching plot of the story, and there is not greater thread of story which pulls you further along. By the end of the first book, the mc decides to become a retainer for a different noble heiress, but I don't feel any chemistry between mc and that princess. I don't care if that princess actually achieves her goals. I don't care for another year of mc grinding her powers.
Last thing with regards to plot - the final tournament arc happened, and it was the most boring, predictable tournament ever. I could tell the moment the tournament bracket was put up exactly who'd win and who'd lose EVERY INDIVIDUAL FIGHT OF THE BRACKET. out of 16 participants, 8 + 4 + 2 + 1 = 15 fights, I predicted exactly who'd win each fight. It was so blatantly obvious. And beause of that - so so boring.
This leads to the second, deeper problem with the story. Forge of Destiny is a cultivation story without interesting cultivation. Mc gets some pills, removes impurities, opens a few meridians, and then moves on to the next level. Her progression through the first realm was fast enough that it managed to feel engaging simply because everything was new and she shot through it so quickly, but in the second realm, there wasn't any interesting breakthroughs from early-middle-peak. Mc just trains, grinds, takes pills, and progression happens in the background. The author does take a tiny bit of effort to introduce some plot to mc's cultivation when she peaks in second realm - she fails breaking through to 3rd realm of physical cultivation and needs a few weeks of repeated tries. that's it. her body is sore, she takes some pills, 5 chapters pass, and she breaks through without drama.
Along these lines- the powers mc acquires are all underwhelming. At first, when she opens her first meridians, learns her flute aoe powers, picks up the bow and learns a movement technique, these power ups at least are sort of engaging since mc goes from powerless to being competent. But everything else past this, beyond these few landmarks that drastically increase her capabilities, every subsequent breakthrough is extremely underwhelming.
She picks up a familiar for example, a godly xuanwu (2 headed turtle snake). Except its a baby. and even reaching the second realm, it can.. shoot fire? act as a meat shield? make grass grow longe around it? In the few fights it participates in, it sort of entangles the enemy's familiar, and they sort of tussle in the background a bit. In the final fight of the tournament for MC, her familiar finally does something big, uses a mutual knockout ability and takes out the enemy's familiar, except the ability itself isn't built up or described in a hype way. Its boring to read, and the conclusion of the fight is still a foregone conclusion. Mc loses the fight anyways, but has the 'dignity' of taking out the enemy's familiar. That's it.
MC picks up a rare resource for forging a flying sword. It is a flying sword and does some damage. She can't control it that well, and it gets easily damaged and knocked away by stronger opponents. That's it.
MC has an arc where she makes these bone puppets from a manual, with help from her nerdy friend. One scout puppet helps find this spirit liquid, which eventually is turned into a pill that can be made once a month to boost mc's cultivation a bit, and another puppet helps her scout an enemy fortress.. and in the climactic last battle she uses several puppets in a formation against her overwhelmingly powerful opponent and it distracts her a little bit. That's about it.
and mc learns various songs, and movement techniques, and they all provide little power boosts that enable mc to curb stomp scrubs a bit harder but which are useless against the truly strong opponents of her year. I found all the fights super underwhelming.
Throughout the whole story I kept finding myself thinking of martial world and a will eternal and other chinese xianxia stories and missing the exciting battles from those.
At the end of the day, after writing everything out, I feel like the problem is that everything is just too reasonable. Everything resolves in such boring predictable ways. She ran away from home and hurt her mother/abandoned her? Well 5 letters and some self reflection later, she realizes that she was wrong/misunderstood her mom and she brings her mother/baby sister to the sect to have them live nearby. MC is participating in a trial? She finishes it, gets some tutoring, a few pills, maybe some secondary art/ability that sort of barely enhances her a tiny bit, and on to the next trial! Mc finds a godly turtle pet? aww hes so cute and weak and theres cute dialogue and character interactions, but that's it. She raises him well, hes loyal, acts as a bit of a meat shield in fights. Every drama that happens, basically think of a wholesome realistic way for it to play out and that's probably what happens. Everything resolves in a few chapters. The most intriguing character is gu xiulan, the childhood friend of the young prince who after realizing she can't be with him, and realizing she's falling behind mc, reaches for a new power which she can barely control and leaves her horribly scarred. But she maintains her confidence/cocky attitude and singlemindedly pursues her goal of power. That's about the only surprising development.
At the end of the day, the story masks its lack of depth in plot by jumping around through the sheer breadth of characters and world. It teases deeper intrigue and a grand world just outside the sect, but we never go there. If I wanted to read a slice of life however, other stories do it with more comedy. The constant jumping around gives a feeling of whiplash, and the sheer number of characters in the end prevent me from becoming too attached to any one of them. It is in the end, a story that falters under the weight of its own ambition. A story with so much flesh and fat of character and worldbuilding stacked up on it that it hides the lack of a deeper plot skeleton to support its unwieldy weight. Forge of destiny is a uniquely flawed masterpiece that I'm sure will be deeply satisfying for some, and while I'll probably return one day to sample its world and characters again, I simply don't feel particularly compelled at the moment to see what happens next.
As several other reviews will tell you, this is a more grounded type of xianxia with a decent power balance, which is fairly rare.
I enjoyed the aspect of how the so called road to cultivation is already set up and there is no unnatural powerups so far.
Fight scenes are well explained without going in too much detail but keeping a flow.
My gripes with this series comes from the MC's character build. The MC is someone who ran away from home and lived on the streets ever since, because of something that happened in the past. Until she got picked up by a cultivator for her talent and sent to Argent Sect. But she seems too naive for it.
From the small descriptions and bonus chapters related to it, Ling Qi saw the darker part of the world, a shade worse than what she experienced before running away from seeing her mother's work as a courtesan. So as a commoner and a 'street rat' she should have an understanding of how dark things can be, but she constantly tries, for some inexplicable reason, to ignore it all.
This shows mostly in how she acts against YanRenshu. She destroyed years of his work, but seems to expect no real retaliation even after her spirit beast almost got poisoned. Which was prevented by her housemate's spirit beast. Housemate who she'd hurt and manipulated for her own benefit. I won't get into too many details because of convolution, but basically my pet peeve is her hypocrisy on trying to be good, or look it to the outside world while manipulating people close to her.
Now, here comes the main deal breaker which made me pause the novel for at least until this review went up. Ling Qi's motivation has been written as the desire for freedom. And for freedom what's necessary is power, and she's talented in cultivation. But she discards it.
When she broke through the third realm what she realised she wanted was family, and the power to protect it, although it's all described vaguely on what family means to her.
The problem comes from another hypocrisy. She has power now, having reached the third realm of power. She has in her less than a year time received 3 offers for the future.
A marriage to one of her best friend's cousins, which she seemed all too happy to consider, as opposed to how off put she was when a girl kissed her, the explanation for which was how men acted towards her mother in the past. Can you see the ridiculousness here?
The second offer was staying in the sect, which was made by the Elder/Spirit named Xin who's been only benevolent and given Ling Qi most of her power/opportunities so far. Not to mention everyone in the sect who's helped her get stronger, whether paid or not.
And the third option which she, for some reason accepted, was becoming a vassal to a ducal house's daughter with a justice complex, whose mother almost killed her when she was young. And she didn't just accept it, but made an eternal vow on her Way about it. Like, really? It hasn't been a year since she started cultivating and she made an eternal commitment to be a servant? Blew my mind.
Honestly, I probably wouldn't have minded as much about her decision if it wasn't made for ETERNITY and on her powerbase. Like, really girl?
And it's like there wasn't a possibility for a fourth option? Maybe there wasn't but the author at least didn't explain it.
The Forge of Destiny follows the arc of Ling Qi, reluctant immortal, lost daughter, formerly of the slums of Tonghou.
On a distant mountain peak, under the eyes of a venerable Sect, the scions of ancient imperial clans rub elbows with the daughters and the sons of merchants, where a few lost thiefs and scoundrels are without a place and newly-minted scions of baronial and ducal houses try to find theirs - into this boiling plot Ling Qi is thrown.
FoD succeeds where so many of its contemporaries have failed. And why is that, you might wonder?
The magic system is decent, perhaps even good.
There is a glut of the traditional archetypes and troupes, the young masters and the animal companions, the battle princesses, the imperial way a la China that never was, spirits both young and ancient. Now, in my own opinion, FoD's greatest strength is its characters.
The dark action girl who renounces all, yet misses her lost mother, who just wants to be seen.
The young master, who tries to live up to his old heritage.
The girl with fire in her veins, betrodded to one she despises, unrequited in love.
The thug, trodden on for his entire life, learning that his fists has a reach that is only so long.
The scion of a ducal house of a generation, raised with gauntled fist, yearning to match great expectations, to build a world of law and justice, where might does not make right.
It is to these characters the readers return, chapter after chapter.
I haven't read xianxia in a while, and this one was refreshing. For one, the characters are not stupid. They have depth and you'll want to get to know them more. But that's the only thing that kept me going.
I'm not really fond of the style of writing. I feel like there's something missing that prevents me from connecting to the characters more. There was a distance between us. I've read a lot of novels that aren't in first person's p.o.v. but somehow, I was able to empathize more witb the characters. I think, my favorite interludes here are that of Bai Meizhen, Cui and Ling Qingge. Those three chapters are considerably better written than the rest combined. There are so much "telling" in this novel. It's like I'm reading an entry in a diary about something that happened. It wants to tell the mundane, but not in an effective way. At least, not effective to me.
All I can say is, this novel is too long. Which is good for killing time. However, why is it long? Like most xianxia, its goal is seemingly to cultivate and reach the peak. I know that Ling Qi has a tough childhood and she wants to be strong. But as the story is, there is no gripping plot that justifies the length of the novel. It's quite common in xianxia to just follow the life of the MC as it unfolds. I think, part of the reason why it turned out like this is how Ling Qi is programmed. Ling Qi doesn't have a clear idea on what she wants to do. It's normal in real life. But it's almost 200 chapters on my part. Aside from the pursuit of strength and keeping the few peoole she cares about, she doesn't have anything she's working hard for. And that isn't really exciting, just plain and repetitive.
I can't comment much on this one. I haven't paid much attention but since I wasn't irked about the grammar while reading, it's probably fine.
This was the only thing that kept me going. The world building is nice and all, it's clear how much thought was put into this novel. It's just that, I didn't develop enough care about it since the plot was aimless for me. I think Ling Qi would be better off as a side character. I mean, she's a great character. I feel like her choices are logical enough. But she doesn't have a goal. Pick any other side character in the novel. They would be a better choice as protagonist. Cai Renxiang has a clear idea on what she wants to happen, Ling Qi is just kinda swept by it. Bai Meizhen has a purpose as well. As for the more ordinary characters, I thing Su also has a clear goal which is to kill her mother. There are a lot of side characters with a clear goal in mind and are working hard for it. Their goals are stated early and it would've been more interesting to follow the journeg of someone with direction in life than someone who just goes where the breeze takes them. And because all the characters have depth, you can really empathize with them, which makes them an even better choice.
Before I drop this novel, all I can say is Bai Meizhen is the best girl.
In a genre filled with adolescent power fantasy and plot that endlessly repeats, Forge of Destiny is a gem, with compelling characterization throughout and consistent worldbuilding.
It's by far the best Xianxia I've ever read, even with the caveat that Chinese works likely suffer from translation woes.