In the modern world, qi is money.
The days of traveling martial artists and mountaintop masters are over. Power is controlled by corporations, modernized martial arts sects, and governments. Those at the bottom of society struggle as second class citizens in a world in which power is a commodity.
Rick is a young fighter in this world. He doesn't dream of immortality or becoming the strongest, just of building a better life for himself and his sister, who suffers from a spiritual illness. Unfortunately, life isn't that easy...
(Author's Note: After the first book's successful run on Amazon, I'm posting the sequel chapter by chapter here as well for all the fans who supported me.)
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I never took the time to write a review before, so hear me out, please.
I read a shitton of wuxia/xianxia, but honestly, the genre is saturated with so much garbage that most of the time I feel like a goddamn pig slogging through mud and shit trying to find a truffle. Thing is, this story is a goddamn truffle. A juicy one with earthen and smoky tones.
The characters feel real, the problems are relatable, MC isn't OP, at all. It's wuxia without all the bullshit.
This is a truffle, people. Enjoy it while it's here.
Alright, I am going to be the Negative Nancy. This series started off fantastic, from concept, to world building, on to characters. All great. Then... then the story kinda loses the plot.
As best I can tell, the MC is supposed to be prideful. That seems to be his consistent problem. But his chacter flips from pratical to prideful at the convience of the story. It seems that, whenever the author needs the MC to do something that is fundamentally against the established chacter, he is threatened. And he just meekly complies with being threatened. Need to get him into a tournement, just threaten him, need to get him to fight someone, more threats. The character is a brave coward. Brave, up until the author needs him to do something, than he is meekly cowed.
This bipolar characterization would be fine if the story takes even a second to acknowledge it, but the MC never broods on it and no one ever comments on it.
Street Cultivation is a modern day, westernized adaptation of the Cultivation genre. In this world, all of the Qi in the world is harvested by giant corporations and used as currency. These are used as pretty straight forward financial analogies. There's a credit score analog. Demonic bonds substitute credit cards. There's "investment" cores. All in a cutthroat capitalist world where the poor get taken advantage off.
The analogies are interesting but not subtle. Even as a giant critic of capitalist society the metaphors were so obvious that I could flinch at the unsubtle political subtext. The same applies to the style of the prose. It's utilitarian and curt. It avoids the pitfalls of overly purple prose by being overly restrained and direct. This stylistic choice is one I applaud, for it completely sets the tone shift from traditional Chinese Wuxia, filled with beautiful introspection in search for one's Dao to the "by the numbers" capitalist bastardiation depicted in this novel. Yet boring, even when poignant, is still boring.
To this point we get to the characters and the story. Here too, this story steps aside from genre conventions. In Easter fantasy, the protagonist usually has a set goal, traditionally set by a journey, and improves himself along the way. This story falls more in the usual western archetype where the villains decide the plot while the protagonists merely react and go with the flow. Personal taste plays a part here: the reason I so enjoy progression fantasy, be it cultivation or leveling systems, is that they tend towards protagonist agency. In this, Street Cultivation disappoints.
Richard, the main character, combines an overly bleak view of everything at complete odds with his rapidly improving circumstances with an incredibly dogmatic point of view. If there are too axis, where one has "sense of adventure" and the other has "rationality", Richard would fall squarely in the third quadrant (both negatives). The plot only happens because he's desperate enough that the plot is the less risky option. When a character gives him a cure to his sisters chronic illness, he never thanks her, or even mentions if it worked? Why? Because the character is a shady criminal and he wants nothing to do with them. When he meets someone willing to change the system he despises, who makes a very good offer to help him with a life threatening situation with no commitment necessary from Richard's part? He runs the fuck away and changes the plan to a dumb one. Why? Because he's fucking scared of associating with a bad "rebel". He's even stupidly afraid of making a demonic bond he can cover with just the interests of his investments if overthrown. Richard is the sort of person that would vote Biden in the primaries, because Bernie is too risky and we definitely can't have Trump.
Richard, in a way, is a product of his environment, and his failings are also an accurate depiction of some poor American people. Specifically the ones with enough of a head on their shoulders to escape the poverty line. However, these are left unaddressed and unmentioned. Honestly? I'd much rather focus on his sister. Or Emily. Or Damien. The secondary cast is well characterized and quite brilliant and engaging, which leaves me with no doubt that everything I'm describing is a conscious characterization, if a dull one.
A young woman with a life threatening chronic condition in a magic university. A magical engineer with a vendetta against a South African Warlord. A young man with an excentric persona plotting a socialist uprising. Those are characters in this story... yet we're following the 22 year old jobless average joe that was forced into a sports career because no other job would take him. He isn't even passionate about sports, he's just doing it to make ends meet.
There's no spirit. No glory. No love. Just the dull capitalist struggle up the ladder. Poignant but uninteresting.
To be honest, I tried liking this story, but I really couldn't manage. Basically this story is set in a "modern" Xian'xia setting where the rich are cultivators and cultivators are the rich. The middle class also gets to cultivate and has power and the poor get fucked. A bit like real life in that way.
Now the protagonist starts out as an "undeserving poor" as the author calls it. But as I said, starts out, as the story progresses he does everything to deserve his poverty. He has no wealth, more pride than a king, a sister that's very sick and a healthcare system like the US. Basically he starts out rather fucked.
The thing is this is an aversion of Xian'xia. Meaning instead of heavenly encounters or just plain luck, he's got encounters with assholes, bad luck and bad decisions. I don't think there's one chapter after the first where he doesn't get fucked over. Being beaten up, inheriting his parents debts, joining an underground fighting ring, getting crippled, ending up effectively a slave, then gaining a billionaire heir as his personal enemy.
Honestly that's the latest chapter and where I stopped caring about this story. The MC is an overly prideful fuckup machine and the story so far has been how he stumbles from bad encounter to bad luck to fuckup to bad luck to bad encounter. Basically the MC is a classical authors chew toy. Where a normal Xian'xia protagonist would be an author avatar that has more luck than brains this one is the very opposite.
And to be honest, where classical Xian'xia gets boring because you just know the character will get the next OP thing for certain, this one gets boring because you just know a new chapter a new torment. And it won't get better because the MC is just the kind of never-do-well that has enough intelligence to fuck himself over where a dumber or smarter person would have just done nothing and coasted along.
An interesting urban fantasy take on cultivation novels; in a world somewhat similar to our own, qi (called lucrim) serves as a literal currency as well as a source of martial power. The rich are fed elixirs and gifted birthright cores to guarantee a high lucrim generation rate; the poor sign demonic contracts, the payday loans of the spiritual world.
Our hero is desperate for cash to pay for his sister's medical treatment, and so ends up in an underground fighting circuit. You've read a lot of these books and you know how it proceeds from here.
I rated this series very highly until its final chapter (most of those chapters now removed ahead of eBook publication). In practice it mostly follows the ol' LitRPG template of a protagonist fighting, getting stronger, rinse and repeat. There are exciting powerups, good combat and a lot of interesting worldbuilding. Mysteries abound! Most of the characters are fun, and while it's safe to say that character development isn't the series' strength, neither are they cardboard cutouts. It was my go-to recommendation for Westernized xianxia.
After book three... I'm not convinced. While most of the book is excellent, its conclusion is problematic. It's intended as a firm ending: this is not a xianxia series proceeding ad infinitum up a power ladder.
Unfortunately, though, while the conclusion is arguably true to the character, it is also arguably regressive. Part of the problem is that, past the first book, the idea of the lucrim economy all but disappears -- or, rather, it stops being the driving force. The trilogy closes with the first book's protagonist having fulfilled his dream, but it doesn't feel earned by the narrative because the character has grown so much in the interim. It all just stops, leaving literally every mystery unresolved and providing closure for exactly one relationship, between the protagonist and the "final boss", and the result is neither intellectually nor emotionally satisfying.
I can only hope that at some point the author comes back to the series and retcons in a better epilogue, but we'll see.
This is honestly the best story I've read on here so far. Well-written, sympathetic characters. Plenty of room for development. The cultivation system is actually interesting. I like the dystopian kung fu cyberpunk feel the setting has going for it. The story also incorporates the noire feel present in much cyberpunk. Seedy characters, wierd and fascinating, not necessarily good or bad so much as just out for themselves. I would like to see like, SOMETHING break the protagonist's way at some point. So far any wins feel like pyrrhic victories at best.
This novel takes the concepts of cultivation and breathes new life into them by spinning a non gimmicky magic/power/cultivation system out of it.
All of the good parts have been maintained while the rest have been excised. The fact that all the novel's characters are consistant to their own motivation and the worldbuilding and descriptions are in the goldylocks zone and boy oh you do you have a story.
As reader I've enjoyed this novel immensely and look forward to seeing how it progresses. As someone who writes, this novel is a shiny example of what to be if you're competent enough to manage it.
SarahLin has knocked this out of the park, you owe yourself a read and them, your support.
This story failed in several ways at keeping my attention, but what ultimately led me to drop it was the handling of the "mystery core" that Rick finds within himself in the very beginning of the story.
It was set up as a stereotypical xianxia/wuxia "cheat", by which I mean the advantage or shortcut or insight that allows the protagonist to advance faster or to beat much stronger opponents, that will serve to elevate the otherwise unremarkable main character above the rest of the herd. But no, it was just a red herring that took 18 chapters(180+ pages) to reveal as such, and very anti-climactically.
I think it's fine to subvert a trope; some of my favourite stories are deconstructions/subversions. The problem is that besides skillfull writing, it requires great familiarity with the ins and outs of the genre, which I don't feel this author has with wuxia, and maybe not even with litrpg.
This is the first wuxia story I've read, so I'm not a great recomendation if that's what you're looking for. However, as a general story this has it all. It's engaging, the characters are fantastical while remaining relatable, and the system of lucrima generation and management is genuinely fascinating. It's very readable and the story does a great job of naturally progressing and increasing the stakes without relying on characters making stupid mistakes. The lead is a compelling everyman who draws you in effectively, and the fight scenes manage to be well detailed while still seeming frantic. Overall, an excelently written story with exceptionally compelling stakes.
This is one of the few novels I have earmarked for push notifications. I always run to read an update when they are published.
The author has written a very good Wuxia type novel. Qi. Cultivation. Inner Energy. But he has done it in a futuristic setting instead of the past.
Spirit Energy has been 'farmed' and commercialized. The MC has a few strikes against him right from the beginning. He's poor. His parents are dicks (sorry but they are). His sister has a problem with her dantian that has nearly bankrupted them. And he has problems generating enough lucrim (inner Qi that is monetized) to survive.
Give this a try. It's worth your time. And the author does a great job of responding to comments and questions.