- Traumatising content
All humans possess a Pith, the essence of a mind where consciousness, reason, and emotion reside. Those who study its power can control their surroundings, move from body to body, and alter the very fabric of another’s thoughts.
On the continents of the Eight Oceans, the magicians wielding this energy formed secret societies, ruling nations from the shadows. Ten years ago, the public exposed them, plunging the world into chaos.
In the industrial empire of the Principality, Anabelle Gage has dreamt about Paragon Academy for as long as she can remember. An exclusive magic school, that can hone her abilities and cure her terminal illness.
And then they reject her.
She has one shot at saving her life: Enter the city’s cutthroat underworld, and make enough money to buy a new body. By any means necessary.
Ana forms a band of desperate exiles: A banished noble with dimension-warping power, a mind-reading mercenary, and a twenty-year-old bombmaker in an eighty-year-old body.
Together, they will uncover the secrets of this world. The true face of Paragon Academy. The drowned ruins of an ancient utopia. And the ocean, slowly rising, swallowing the planet beneath the waves.
Discord Link: https://discord.gg/4WcFQN7
Updates once a week on Monday nights. You can also read it at the main site here.
Warning: This story contains mature, potentially traumatizing content. Violence, mind control, genocide, bigotry, body horror, self-harm, suicide, addiction, existential horror, and more. Read at your own risk.
Note: As a heads up, this story also includes LGBT content.
Cover art by Tithi Luadthong
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Pith is a fantasy coming-of-age story with succintly-portrayed but uniquely compelling worldbuilding that dips into some cyberpunk themes with its use of souls as a setting conceit ala Pillars of Eternity, but while that stuff is great, it's not what truly sets it apart from other web fic - you can find piles of stuff with charming characters and interesting worlds that, unfortunately, don't really know what to do with them. No, what makes Pith almost unique and especially worth your time is the technical skill with which it is written.
Even among the more professional stuff like PGTE and Wildbow's work, I have never seen a serial webnovel with such a clear and consistent idea of exactly what it's trying to do, both thematically and on the micro and macro levels of the narrative, and with such calculated pacing to execute on those aims. The story is fast; most chapters get through multiple scenes and plot beats, while staying consistently within the 4-8k word range. The story is dense; it's rare that you'll leave a chapter without the sense of having learned something important.
But what's most impressive is the deftness with which the differents characters and plot elements are woven together. Though there are two protagonists who gets the lions share of the screen time, there are piles of important recurring characters, very few of whom spend much time together in the kind of RPG party-style situation you tend to expect in these works. Yet they're all interconnected in complex and often surprising ways that emerge over the course of the narrative, both directly and in how they thematically mirror and contrast each other. Characters you initially dismiss as auxiliary end up linking back to and reinforcing the main story, goals which seem individual all ultimately tie into the central conflict. It never wastes time or narrative energy on anything.
I also write webfic, and a lot of the time, when I'm reading other works, I get envious in a silly and childish way about the success of the story, thinking stuff like, "hey, why is this so popular! I could do better than that!" or "people only like this because of its gimmick/because it's easy to read/because it's a litRPG/etc!"
Pith is the only story I've found where I instead feel envious of the sheer technical competence of the author. I wish I could put crap like this out with only a few days to write and edit. I don't know how she does it.
All of this is without even really going into the content of the story. As for that, probably the most I can say without spoilers is that it's dark and often depressing. It's extremely effective at evoking emotional responses in the reader - right at the start, the story grabs you by the throat with a painful scenario, then throws painful spanner-after-spanner in the works of it's resolution... And by the time it does get resolved, you've seen so many tragic things, been made to care about so many other people who are equal victims of the tragic complexity of the situation, that it's not even clear if it matters any more. It captures the same feel as the first half of Worm, in a lot of senses.
However, unlike Worm, there is a core of optimism and hope to Pith, a beating human-feeling heart to the characters and their desires to change the world for the better (as horribly misguided as their approach may be), that gives it a fundamentally different feeling. Most people I've heard of dropping the story I've heard of have done so because it's depressing. I did, too, when I first started.
To those people, I would say to try and stick it out. Pith is a story about systems of control and oppression, loss of identity both literal and otherwise, and how difficult it is to hold on to the things important to you in the face of the unspeakable cruelty and apathy of both others and the cosmos itself. But it is also one that vindicates holding on to idealism, to not losing yourself even in the face of ugly and imperfect reality. And ultimately, is a story about how friendship and genuine love can save even the most awful people, even if just a little bit. And we're only at the end of the first book.
It's not for everyone.
But for those who enjoy suffering, Pith is like an all you can eat buffet. It has painful diseases, slowly degenerating health, physical disfigurement, gory mutilation, painful deaths, and lots of paper cuts. Characters are insulted, humiliated, publicly shamed, forced to grovel, forced to hurt others and feel crushing guilt, forced to watch as loved ones die, exiled from their families, abused by parents, abandoned by lovers, betrayed by friends. Grimy clothes, hangovers, and BO are ever present. Psychic powers allow for mental torture, brainwashing, memory editing and erasure, mind control, sensory deprivation, transferal into gross bodies, and the total removal of one's ability to feel joy or positive emotions. A child's teddy bear is thrown in a river. The only things this story is missing are rape and a dog dying, because there has to be a line somewhere, right?
If that sounds like fun to you, you're in for a treat.
It's not for me.
As a reader, I can only take so much second hand torture before I stop caring about the characters and start wishing they would just fucking die already and get it over with. Every chapter is one in an unending drumbeat of abject misery. There is no respite or moment of goodness to make it all worth fighting for. With no contrasting rays of sunshine, the night feels less dark than it is dull.
When you add to that characters who freely toss around an idiot ball and have dumb morals, it makes it even harder to care. One of the MCs needs a new body. She kills people for money. But she refuses to steal a body from one of the many people she kills, because... it would be wrong? She has to earn it by buying a body with her murder money? When characters make decisions only to maximize their own suffering, I stop rooting for them.
I'm fine with pain and trauma and even some self destructive behavior in reasonable amounts, but not when they balloon out of all proportion. It reminds me of those extreme hot sauces they sell that advertise how amazingly spicy they are. And instead of being a condiment to make your food taste good, the lava sauce becomes some kind of rite of passage sundance for your mouth to prove how manly you are. This story is like that. There may be some amazing chili or salsa under there, but all I can taste is a mouthful of pepper spray.
Despite all my kvetching, I read up to the current chapter and even went to the website to finish it. So, clearly the other parts of the story managed to hook me despite its (for me) fatal flaw. Like Mother of Learning, and unlike many other webfics, this seems to have an end in mind, and so it has very good pace with no filler. The world building is murky, but presented well through a slow drip of details. The prose is clear and fluid. And, perhaps most importantly, it's a story about something, rather than just settling to be sheer fantasy entertainment.
So, I can't say I hated it, although I still harbor a lot of resentment which will have to be worked out in therapy.
I read a lot. A lot a lot. Thousands and thousands of pages every month. I say this because I want you to understand what I mean when I say this.
Pith is an amazing work of art and you owe it to yourself to read it.
The character writing and design is as good as it gets. Each character is a realistic living entity. There are no perfect heroes or villains. The world driven by them is so real it hurts.
Pith is an epic tale of magic, adventure, desperation, and humanity in all it's terrible glory.
Why I like Pith? What is there, that can't be found in most popular novels on RR? Here I will write my points, regarding this question.
The World of Pith is a very well thought one, with attention to details and complexity that isn't quite complicated as our reality, but very close. This simplicity allows reader to be immersed and enjoy every bit of information, at the same time not feeling overwhelmed by data. Every chapter somehow managing to contribute to the overall lore of the world. This ever expanding conglomerate of stories, facts and ideas is what breezes life into the characters, and their past.
No one likes edgyness - because the way we usually perceive edgyness is in a literature where it's used overextensively. Here, however, it's different. For at least 90% of suffering, personal issues and misery in this series, it's indeed substantial. I have my own complaints regarding some character development, but overall, the issues most readers have or will have with characters, are exclusively ideological in my opinion.
The next thing that is incorporated into this novel, is a thin weil of allusion, to our own world. It's still unique, yet it crafted in resemblance. Politics here not just a loud words and events, happening in the background of main plot. It's a main part of the plot, it's what influences our protagonists, it's what influences our antagonists too. Not only author managed to introduce and integrate politics to this world, he also showed how neither side of conflict in this story is right - because violence only breeds violence. Many ideas explored in this novel are as old as our world, and still very relevant, yet presented in a brilliant way, so that reader can make judgement himself. I think, this is what distinguishes a true literature, from a simple popular literature made with intention of entertainment.
Not once I felt that characters are not real here. Always, even at their lowest moments when I haven't seen any of their POWs in a long time, I still recognized them. Sometimes because of rapid POW transitions, it's easy to lose a gist of who is who, but those moments are few: for entire volume, it's very rare to encounter such problem. Even if it happened, I personally never lose understanding of what's happening in the story itself.
The Style used here is great, and contributes to a story's flow in a simple and working ways. It's not something made by genius, but well crafted to the point when it becomes perfect tool for it's purposes.
A word about inspiration and value
Many more people in reviews before me mentioned a similar Web-Serial called "Worm", created by Canadian author "Wildbow". I myself didn't read his work fully yet, but familiar with some concepts and plot points. This is why, it seemed to me that author found inspiration in "Wildbow"'s work. Some characters, and parts of the plot might remind "Wildbow"'s readers those from his work, in a good way. However, besides conceptual comparison, there is also one of value. When reader finishes book, he might ask himself, "what did I learn from it? did learn anything at all?"... I believe, this book can teach you something. It's a great take on superpowers genre, just like Wilbow's work. With time, I hope it will match it's quality with quantity.
Torture, depression and values
Nothing can be more depressive than death of your best friend; Nothing can be more depressive than Ousting;
Nothing can be more depressive, than Ousting because of your own ignorance. Those are main themes of this story. They strike reader with their brutality, yet as all problems and grief, they go away with time, leaving place to a bright future. Unlike Worm, Pith is more simple, more straight; Yes, it's still does not shy to talk about same issues, but it also gives us honest answer: every problem we can overcome by our own effort. And while our main heroes live in a deeply flawed system which they started to understand it only now, by the end of first volume. They still vulnerable to the old barbaric traditions of their society; To the interests of the wealthy; To the pleasures of the guilty; To the abuse of powerful many. Still, they endure all those influences, and go forward. Because "Pith" is not about ideals, it's about achieving them.
Pith is seemingly criminally underrated here on RR. It is superbly written. All of the characters are fantastic. Especially Nell who is a character you just love to loathe. A bottom of the barrel, completely selfish, alcoholic, who very occasionally has redeeming moments. Annabelle is a good underdog who was dealt a raw deal and struggles to find a way just to live. Hira and J are both interesting also. All amidst a backdrop of a dangerous global situation. With government actors ranging from totally amoral to extremingly bregudging officers who do what they think is the best option. Even though they hate themselves for it all the same. Lots of grey morality mixed with truly terrible things.
The world is quite vague at first and the author takes the approach of letting the story itself explain the world through context rather than any exposition on why things are the way they are. Vaguely the world is partly flooded with some foreboding Lovecraftian horror vibes on the ruins of a previous civilization. The remaining nations are, again vaguely, Victorian british but with modern technology, militant Chinese (Shenten), exotic sounding Japan (Neke), and the somewhat Middle Eastern Harmonious Flock.
After reading here the story has many more chapters on its official website pithserial.com so no need to stop when you finish here! The last arc was very rewarding and I will follow this one very closely for as long as it goes on.
Minor cons for generic style and story. Even if both are still interesting.
Pith is about deeply flawed people living in a deeply flawed world.
The world of Pith is unmaking itself, the oceans are rising, desperation and gloom are smothering. But in the darkness there's light, the promise of friendship, broken people leaning on each other, standing up for what they believe in. Pith is about trying until you can't try anymore, pushing yourself to the limit, and then further.
What makes Pith so great is the characters. Every character is fleshed out and sympathetic. They're real people with flaws and hopes and dreams. Pith characters don't feel like characters, they feel like people.
Each chapter is action-packed and dense, fight scenes are vivid, character powers and interactions are complex and interesting.
Give it a shot, you won't be disappointed.
Just finished the first book and overall it's pretty darn good. There are definitely issues as mentioned in some other reviews but they're relatively minor. On the other hand this has some of the most innovative fantasy worldbuilding I've read in a long time, it's not perfect but I was a big fan. The writing is solid, and the characters are varied and have distinct voices (something that is often missing from webfiction).
It's exciting too, a good mix of action and plot. The plot itself is solid too, some good twists and turns, it feels a lot more planned than most web fiction. Although it does occasional have to work a little too hard to get that plot to happen.
Basically, read it, it's good. My only caveat to that is that it's not a barrel of laughs, the story is pretty grim and if that's not your cup of tea then maybe skip it. However, for me, despite being grim it feels earned by the world and doesn't feel gratuitous and torture porny (YMMV).
Among the best novels on RR, and one which doesn't rely on random level ups to fuel the dopamine surge in readers.
Complex characters, excellent world building (I actually want more side POVs since those chapters are so compelling), subtle foreshadowing which really shows the extent of the author's planning, and a high magic system which is quite intriguing.
The fight scenes are very well written as well. Given the unique nature of each Pith, as well as the underlying ability to switch bodies, the possible interactions are amazing and are delivered in full by the author
I haven't noticed a single grammatical error (perhaps I was too engrossed in actually reading), and the flow of the story is quite smooth. It is much faster paced than a lot of novels on the site, each arc containing multiple plot elements which build on each other. Some come to a close but those that remain have sufficient foundation that you can see the massive implications and possibilities to come.
As I referenced in the title of the review, I got some strong Worm vibes while reading Pith, not that such a comparability is a detractor at all. For those who have read The Legend of Randidly Ghosthound and The New World, I would say that Pith and Worm have an even looser connection than those series, but along the same lines.
This story is an exceptional piece of writing full of fantastic characters. The world and writing are of excellent quality and the magic system is compelling and well thought out. I can't begin to recommend it enough. I can't describe it any better than the synopsis already does. Do yourself a favor and get started on it already.
(Possible minor spoilers)
The premise sounds cliché, but the execution is anything but. Esentially the story has telekentic people, each having a unique spin on their abilities. The power of their mind lets them create illusions, manipulate anything that they understand, even transfer their consciousness over to a new body. This idea is taken to extreme detail. There is unwanted gender swapping, being scammed with poorly made bodies with disesases, forcibly taking over someone's identity, and I'm sure the author will throw in even more twists on their powers.
Again to prove that it isn't another setup to a cliché slice of life academy story, there is a lot of tension. In the short run there are battles that involve a lot of strategy and blood. Overall, some comes from things like criminals, warring countries, civil unrest from class disparity and mysticism of powers.
The writing style and world building is good. There is a prestigious academy that trains students to protect the nation from. The main character and others have a fantastical and hopeful view of it, but they're always kicked away from their dream. I would reccomend it.