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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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.
If Harry Potter and Mulan had a love child in a death world, but there is no Voldermort, nor Huns attacking (yet). Every xianxia cultivator trope exists here, some are subverted, some are played straight. The beauty of this story is in the world building, and character development.
The "main" character is a talented commoner, surounded by others of equal or greater talent. While this is slice of life, with (mostly) low stakes highschool drama; the political situation in the Empire is fraying, and outside events are stiring.
Note: Luck (or lack there of) is mostly dice rolls. And most major actions taken by Ling Qi, were driven by readers of the origional version.
I've looked at many Xianxie genre books, and almost every single one of them is either wish-fufillment trash or that the MC is Edgelord Mcgee, having the genre be heavily misused. However, when this genre is done right the diamonds shine brighter than most others.
Forge of Destiny is definitely one of those diamonds.
Through the skilled use of the reactions from the MC Ling Qi, a fish-out-of-water homeless thief thats trying to crawl to the top of the rising mountain of competition of her sect, the Author is able to make the story feel as realistic as a Xianxie can be; the character's are more than just smug and arrogent Noble waiting to be beaten up by the MC or the the Beatiful lady thats just waiting to be swooned and added to the evergrowing harem.
Although not that many chapters into the story, I have high hopes for this book and believe it will get into one of the top 10 of RR.
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.
When I first read Forge of Destiny, what absolutely grabbed me was the characters, Ling Qi especially. Seeing her internal conflict, how she gradually changes along with the others around her as the world advances at its own pace really touched me.
The themes of what it means to be free, and how Ling Qi's views develop with time is a intriguing read.
Forge of Destiny is an excellent coming of age story centered around a young former street thief as she grows up in a Xianxia world. She is discovered to have talent and is taken to the sect where she makes learns new power, and makes friends as well as enemies.
The setting is based off of Xianxia world, but the characters feel real. People do not exist just to praise the main character. She is talented, but she has no true "cheat code". There are no cardboard cutouts of characters, every main character is very fleshed out and has a unique personality.
What this reminds me most of all is a more mature version of the early Harry Potter books. I'd reccomend this to anyone with a love of fantasy.
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.
This is one of the rare fictions here on R&R that rises above its trashy power fantasy peers with strong world building and well realized characters. For those who are burned out on one dimensional murder hobo MCs carving a path through villain shaped cardboard cut outs, this might be a story worth trying.
This story, unlike so many of its peers from this genre, feels alive.
Just editing my review.
So far this has been one of the better fiction I have read here.
Author goes in detail of the day to day but its not really boring. It has enough excitement to keep you hooked.
The story is sufficiently deep and has very good potential. Author keeps posting lores or additional info to [rpvide context of the world / time period and the give us a good understanding on the though process.
Overall, I still feel that it is a bit on the slow side. But lets see how things progress.
Forge of Destiny is a Xianxia story unlike any other I've read.
Now it doesn't reinvent the wheel, or does something too original, it has quite a bit of cliches. Not the overused CLICHES, but still, it has some.
Now why do I rate it so highly then? Its because it does some things that most other Xianxias, or even stories in general, fail at.
The first Xianxia story I've read was TODG ( Tales of Demons and Gods), I know, I know, its quality is rather... questionable, specially the Tls.
But one thing it did was introduce me to xiamxia formula, that unsurprisingly 99.99% of other xianxias follow, which consists of MCs gaining increasingly outlandish powerups, and bullshitting their way through increasingly impossible odds.
And every character ever introduced serves either the purpose of being crushed under the titanic weight of the MCs cock, or praising said cock and saying how their small atrofied dicks will never reach a tenth of the MC's. This archetypes usually repeat thenselves through the story, the only difference being that the first ones are just mortals and the latters are Demigods of the 20th strata of heavenly bullshit. But they are the same in the end.
And to tell you the truth I enjoyed those somewhat. Hell I even made a game of guessing what flavor of bullshit OPMC n° 1457 would pull out of their asses.
Most people like me read xianxia because its so predictable, only reading to see if the execution was good or if the author could make something interesting for once.
Forge of Destiny breaks away from that. And my god its refreshing.
The world actually feels... well alive for once, the characters are not mere one sided plot devices. They have motivations and agendas of their own, they are fleshed out and interesting, they aren't left behind and forgotten.
The MC has great part to play into that, Ling Qi is talented, but not world breaking, and that allows the side characters to flourish because they arent suddenly 200 tiers behind with no hopes of catching up due to the exponential empowerment.
And most of all the way its all bundled together is incredible. The MC is relatable, she's smart, although a bit naive, and somehow she acconplishes being dense, without being Dense, which leads to funny ligthearted moments without degrading the story.
Overall the story is among my favorites in the site, it's a Xianxia, but its a xianxia done right in my opinion.