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?
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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 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.
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.
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...
I'm going to start by comparing this to another highly praised xianxia here on RRL, by showing what was done right or competently and what the other xianxia/wuxia did really badly.
Well executed xianxia so far (around 50 chapters in). The characters are not annoying little shits, but still kids. The young masters are aproprietally childish/b-line villanous and the MC is not exactly OP, but not the weakest kid in the bunch.
Also there is no absolutely wasted overarching overcomplicated plot hinted in the background from the beginning, that then rots and stinks up the whole story by being incompetently written.
!!!FOLLOWING CONTAINS SPOILERS!!!
The last review I've done was painting in the mists, where the author spent half of the first book removing everything that could even pose a threat to the character and doing bland exposition with flat characters.
I'm talking about it because I've criticised his charactrers as anime tropes without even a little bit of flashing out, just show us the character in a dog and pony routine, show his one character dimension and send it to the sidelines so that wish fullfillment might take place for poorly or not at all defined reasons.
Here is what he should have done. The characters here are anime trope characters, but they are competently fleshed out, not just shown. They act and react, not just represent their one dimension. Their thought processes and motivations are at least hinted at and stuff happens for a reason (at least when it mattered to me).
Painting in the mists removed the spice by removing the young masters and b line villains, but left the most atrocious of all - blatant wish fullfillment without any struggle whatsoever. The MC was given super duper ultra rare technique for no reason at all! He just dreamed about walking in a park and an old man gave it to him. For no reason, with barely two paragraphs of preface. No sense of pressure, no stakes in place, nothing.
Here the MC trains hard to catch up to the middle of the pack for several chapters and has a lucky encounter when undergoing advanced placement examination, where she meets a spirit that convinces his master to give her a technique that she might use. Not the strongest stuff, not the hardest stuff, just a little bit of a better chance.
The main character of the other xianxia/wuxia is a reincarnated engineer that decided to do things his own way. He is muscular, elegant, beautiful and in the first chapter on the first day we know him it is revealed that he has a rare talent. That talent is in the next chapter shown to be basically the best there is possible to get, with a little bit of handicap, that is then removed by afformentioned meeting in a dream.
Here we have a little girl that lived in the streets for some of her life until being basically forcefully recruited into the sect. She then procedes to try and survive in the new environment and slowly starts to thrive there thanks to her go getter personality.
She also slowly realizes that she had made mistakes and not all is as it seems with her past - mind you she does not have misterious heaven defying past - she just realizes that running away from home might not have been the best solution and that her mother might not have been the evil strict person she thought her to be.
Just compare the two - the first got everything by investing nothing and is lauded as great genius, the second slowly builds herself up from humble beginngings and there are still thousands of other geniuses better then her. The first basically does everything by himself or is given everything, because the side characters are not fleshed out enought to be more than stick figures on a training field. The second one learns things from others, because she was just a beggar on the streets with only mere basics of eduation. She learns things from others and communicates and interacts with them. The first one is merely given large amounts of exposition to explain the stuff that is happening.
The combat is competently written in both of those fictions, but the characters fighting in this one are definitelly better.
Both stories are slow, but here there is at least stuff happening, in the other one, the stuff is just exposed and then forgotten.
Changed to five stars for competent example of what a xianxia is about with all the obvious clichees, which are not overused. Complimented by show and tell approach without the need for huge sinister background plots.
Finally a decent Xianxia on RR, I have found that most Xianxia on RR tend to try and compensate for the perceived problems with the genre, like excessive melodrama and slow pacing, by toning things down and adding comedy, or by speeding up early chapters with little explanation and more action, but they usually end up over compensate and end up as either boring or incomprehensible, you have shown a much clearer understanding of the genre in your work, by just using the genre to write a decent story with interesting characters, with a female protagonist no less, a perspective uncommon in the genre, and usually muddied by over the top romance when it is.
Can't wait for more!
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.
I'll preface this by saying I binge read to chapter 135 in a long weekend. This story will definitely hold your attention if you are a fan of what's essentially a high school drama acted out with Xiaxia tropes.
That being said, I'll start with why I don't really see this as a Xiaxia.
While it's definitely got flashy battles, in context, they read more like super-stylized high school melodrama than the brutally gory beatdowns that tend to be the norm. It's more akin to different cliques arguing in the hall on their way to class. Really with how convenient medical care is, there are no true repercussions to losing a fight other than being ostracized by their fellow classmates afterward. The MC just has to endear herself to the right clique to fit in and all is well.
That's not to say the first few fights are not engaging. The author doesn't hold back on injuring the kids or describing their wounds, but quickly you realize it doesn't really matter how bad they're hurt because all those visceral scrapes and broken bones don't make much of a difference to their performance. The fight was decided before it began, and if the MC was going to run away, she runs away. If she's going to hold her ground, she holds her ground. Then a quick trip to the med bay and everything's back to normal.
Once time in particular I got my hopes up that a fight was going to carry weight when the MC got poisoned and it was supposed to stunt her cultivation, but in the end, it didn't make a difference to her abilities, and honestly, I think the author forgot about it.
The lack of stakes and telegraphed endings is a big part of why I have a hard time seeing the fights as anything more than a metaphor for verbal spats in the school halls.
For the other tropes, the pill refinement is there, but it might as well not be given how little weight the pills carry. Sometimes there's a sentence where the MC exclaims how she's glad she got such and such a pill a while back because it really helped her, but really those tidbits make no difference to the story since we're not given much more detail than that. I'm comparing it to other stories where the MC collects a patch of rare 'Heavenly Blue Grass' after a harrowing adventure, then mixes it with the 'Celestial Star Dust' he looted off some baddies to make a Bone Marrow Elixer that will push him through the bottleneck in his cultivation that's been holding him back for the last ten chapters. In this novel, the pills and medicine are there but more as filler content than an integral part of her journey.
One part I do enjoy is how easy she laid out the steps for progression. It goes Gold, Silver, and Bronze then onto the next tier of cultivation (Which are numbered--ie tier 1, tier 2, and so on) You won't get lost in her progress with all the silly names most Xiaxia like to add to their tier list.
This is where the novel shines. It takes the tried and true character tropes (that I love) and fleshes them out into real people.
Each character has a unique voice, their own physical quirk, and an endearing trait. But what really makes them come to life is their flaws. They all seem to have a clear spark of selfish evil in them that they either nurture or actively suppress. What makes it so engaging is you don't know what path a character is going to take--whether they'll be a villain or an ally. What makes it even better is the grey morality of their actions makes you realize none of them are really in the right.
Full marks for all the characters without a doubt.
The story is told straight up, making it really easy to follow along with. The narration doesn't have any embellishments or stylized hooks, so there's not much to be said for this category.
I'm not a Nazi and for Royal Road standards, this category definitely gets full marks.
It's a Slice of Life all the way. For the first hundred chapters this is fine, but then it begins to suffer from the same kind of repetitive stagnation that makes me drop other promising novels.
I don't mind a Slice of Life, but neither the scenery nor the stakes really change. There are mini-arcs, but their progress is all over the place. The author will set on up, drop it for a time to set one or two more up, then eventually by the time she gets back around to the first one, you need to catch back up on where it left off.
The mini-arcs are also hard to invest in since very little progress is made at their conclusion. They tweak the story a bit, but don't really change it, so that adds to the feeling of stagnation.
And as good as the character are, their interactions are often skimmed over and the ones that do get fleshed out, again, don't change the story much. Instead, they are filed away as food for thought for the MC.
I really enjoy the grounded world that's being built around multi-dimensional characters, but after 135 chapters the story is pretty stagnant. It's spent a lot of time fleshing out options for the MC, but she's too indecisive and her schooling is too repetitive for any of that to feel like progress.
Forge of Destiny circumvents what nearly every Xianxia and perhaps most web novels get wrong. Unlike other web novels, where conflict can be boiled down to competitions of physical strength and over the top nefarious plots, Forge of Destiny returns to the basics of good fantasy story telling, character and world building.
Instead of a cast of paper thin side characters who's sole purpose is to be saved or stomped by the protagonist, Forge of Destiny instead makes every character equal in motivation, backstory, and strength. In fact, I would argue that Forge of Destiny puts more emphasis on the motivations and backstorys of the side characters. The result is that every interaction between characters becomes meaningful and the protagonist comes to learn and rely on the side characters.
Forge of Destiny's most unique strength is how it is able to draw us into the world it creates. This is because, unlike many web novels out there, the protagonist of Forge of Destiny is a part of this world, not the exception. She isn't some powerful once in a millenium talent with a meteoric rise to glory, she is only one of millions of youths who will likely amount to nothing in their journey of cultivation. What results is a story that doesn't break the social conventions of the world which allows us to feel the complex dynamics at play in a society of cultivators. It allows us to be a part of the world, not break it. By making our main character not a special snowflake, we get to bear witness to the typical. The result, a masterpiece of world building.