Virtuous Sons: A Greco Roman Xianxia
by Ya Boy
The saying goes that when a man is born the Fates weave his destiny and swaddle him in it. Then one day the man dies, and the swaddle becomes a shroud. Heaven moves on.
It is audacity to question the Fates. Olympus is Olympus. The land of men is the land of men. To transgress that, to cross the line of divinity and scale Olympus Mons? To defy the Fates and cast off their threads?
That is hubris. It’s a mark that every philosopher bears plainly on their soul.
[participant in the Royal Road Writathon challenge]
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This is an inspired take on the xianxia genre. It reinterprets the setting through a Greco-Mediterranean lens instead of the typical Chinese setting, and I honestly find it quite refereshing. The author has clearly put in a lot of time and thought into merging the traditional xianxia system into the above aesthetic.
The style is evocative in an epic-fantasy feel that a lot of other stories lack. I also like how we're starting from a relatively grounded level instead of having mountains blowing up every other chapter, and it really makes the world feel more real (and only serves to make the epic more epic).
Grammar, spelling, and punctuation are flawless. The prose is smooth and is easy to read, no walls of text involved, and there is very little, if any, bloat. Each sentence is designed to impart something useful to the reader about the world, the plot, or the characters. Nothing here feels like my time is being wasted.
It's still very early on as I write this review, but already we're seeing hints of plot threads here that I'm really excited to see develop. What happened to Solus in the past? I imagine at some point we'll also be exposed to the wider world and that's going to be lit af, seeing how different city-states might have different cults (xianxia sects) forming. It is paced quite nicely, neither being too abrupt, but not meandering endlessly either.
Edit: Chapter 18, and the plot threads continue to intrigue!
The two main characters we see have a really nice dynamic between them. Both feel like fleshed out individuals. They've got some quippy lines, some interesting motivations, and a good back-and-forth. Really, what more is there to like in our leads?
Nothing makes my heterosexual heart throb like some hot, wet, male intimacy between bros. The premise seems fun, nothing wrong with a little Greco-Roman Xianxia buddy cop film. The author has a long history of writing that special kind of epic in other genres, so it's exciting to see his original work here on RoyalRoad.
The writing style is reminiscent of the kinds of epic flair that make your heart beat during action scenes. The author takes the time to introduce any new or foreign terms contextually, which is always nice to see considering the many stories that have to resort to a character and terminology page to keep things straight. A little early now, but I'm hopeful that the trend continues.
The grammar is near flawless, certainly nothing that detracts from the reading experience.
The very concept of a mediterranean Greco-Roman Xianxia is so kino that I can't believe nobody's done it yet. Whether it's more of a Greco-Roman setting with Xianxia skin, or a Xianxia story with a Greco-Roman skin is yet to be seen.
The characters introduced so far already have a dynamic that I can't wait to see more of. The slave Sol and young master Griffon seem like chads about to start romping about antiquity. What more could you want?
This story is quite entertaining. It's written in an engaging style with several humorous moments that had me literally laughing out loud. The worldbuilding is an intriguing mix of Classical Greek and Xianxia themes. The characters are interesting. Especially the two main characters, the Greek and the Roman. The other characters are interesting bit players at the moment, but it is understandable, given that the story is still at the prologue stage (albeit a rather long one).
Though this brings up what I feel is the main reason some people won't like it: it currently lacks an overarching plot. Its focus is more on the interaction between the two men. Their bromance takes centre-stage. And while the bromance and the worldbuilding are interesting, people who are more into epic adventure or power-levelling will not find anything to scratch those itches in the current 22 chapters. This might change in the future though, as more chapters are uploaded. And as I quite enjoy this story and plan to read its future chapters, I will update this review if it does.
Review initially written when Chapter 0.9 [The Rites Part 1] was the latest chapter. Updated when Chapter 0.22 was the latest chapter and officially ends the prologue.
PS: As officially required for an advanced review, some details on the spelling and grammar: it is good. There are a few errors, most of which have been mentioned in the comments and corrected by the author. Hope this helps.
In his Poetics, Aristotle claims the first principle of a work, its soul, is found in the plot -- the characters, he says, are secondary concerns.
Ya Boy's Greco-Roman spin on the xianxia genre, though, clearly demonstrates Aristotle had not cultivated his philosopher's soul enough to reach the divine truth; Virtuous Sons lives and dies by its characters and staggering style, and it is living well indeed. Get in folks, this story is going to go places.
I'm almost torn about reviewing now, since we are still so clearly in the early going, but I've been following this since the first piece of it dropped and it's good enough I needed to talk about it somewhere.
First, briefly, grammar -- I confess that for me, grammar is binary: either it is distracting poor and an impediment to enjoyment, or it is not. The grammar of Virtuous Sons is certainly not gratuitously poor. I've not noticed anything in the mechanical writing that was an issue, nothing to jar the reader from the work. A success, enough said.
Next, story -- the story section of the review was the one that took me the longest to mark, because I think it's the only one that admits of a possibility of less than five stars (as we stand at 0.17), so I'll spend the most time nattering on about it. Spoilers, though, I decided on 5 stars.
Let me talk through why.
The bit about Aristole at the start of the review was meant to be a bit of a memetic take on the genre and setting of Virtuous Sons, but it wasn't just a meme. There are (at least) two competing theses when it comes to writing a story. On the one hand, as Aristole suggests, one can write a compelling plot, then build a world and characters to see the plot fulfilled; on the other, one builds compelling characters and sticks them in an interesting and well-realized world, and the plot flows naturally from what has been built. From where I stand, Virtuous Sons appears to be written in the second style.
The issue, of course, is that this style of storytelling takes some time to "come online", so to speak, and this is still the early going. If Virtuous Sons has a meaningful weakness, it is in plot; as we stand as of today's update, not a ton has happened.
The seeds are clearly planted. The characters are inexorably moving towards conflicts that will necessitate proper plot developments, and the world clearly has plenty of mysteries and wrinkles to work out when the action inevitably moves from the cradle it is currently taking place in to other venues. The story is clearly coming.
The early pacing is the nature of what I've been calling the second style of writing -- for the plot developments to feeling meaningful to the all-important characters, for them to send plausible ripples through that well-realized world, time has to be taken to really establish the starting point. Unless I miss my guess, we're nearing the end of that phase now, and Ya Boy has earned my trust through his displays of skill elsewhere in this story that he will handle the oncoming plot adroitly as well. This isn't some bloated mess of a start with glacial pacing -- every update is pointed and deliberate -- these things just take a bit of time and wordcount.
Succinctly, what I've seen makes me more than happy to wait on him to finish setting up dominoes in the form of interesting story threads before knocking them down and setting the plot properly in motion.
On to style and character -- these together, because Ya Boy handles them together.
The virtuous sons at the heart of the story are well-realized and well-done, of course, but that flies off the page in a self-evident sort of way that makes my talking about it almost extraneous, I think; their character voices are snappy and clever and distinct, the characters are sympathetic but clearly flawed, the position they occupy is carefully balanced to expose them to all of the most interesting bits of the world, and so on.
I could write another 500 words easily enough on all the good things that Ya Boy does with his main characters, but I'll spare you -- suffice it to say that I think they are extremely well-written.
The other characters are a bit of a spectrum - the alternate perspective characters are all well-realized as well, though less than Lio and Sol, but some of the other cast are more bit characters than fully fleshed out people. This is a bit of a necessary evil, though, especially if the story does move on from the location it is currently occurring in. Even the characters that have been shallowly developed in the story feel plausibly real, if not deep, and I think that's the mark of strong character work. It's all very good.
But Typh, you say, what about the style? I thought that had to do with the characters?
The crowing achievement of Virtuous Sons, ignoring all of the gushing praise above, is that it is absolutely dripping with style. And sure, that makes it especially readable and does much to recommend the story.
But that's not the important bit of the style.
The important part of the style is what the writing style and the tone of each perspective tells us about the characters. I know as much about Lio from the words Ya Boy uses to write his sections and the way those parts are structured as I do from what Lio actually thinks or says -- more, probably, because Lio lies, but the style does not. It's a masterstroke, and it elevates good characters and worldbuilding into something spectacular.
If you're still with me nearly 1000 words later, you don't need a summary to know what I think, but here's your tl;dr anyway:
This story is good. Like really, genuinely, good. If you read one thing today, read this. I don't even like xianxia and I've been looking forward to each days updates since the story began.
If you enjoy good writing, you'll enjoy Virtuous Sons, full-stop -- from my virtuous lips to your virtuous ears.
(updated as of chapter 1.1, the first chapter of the main story and 24th total chapter. The old version was from 0.9 of the prologue)
You probably know that most xianxia stories are very similar. Arrogant Young Masters everywhere, "muh face!" here and "muh Qi stronk!" there, cultivating all night and defying the heavens all day. Ya Boy is giving us something different: For a start, it's all Greek instead of Chinese, e.g. pneuma (literally "breath" in Greek, but also something like "spirit"/"soul" in philosophical context) instead of Qi, Olympus Mons instead of Mount Tai... But even when you can clearly recognize the standard xianxia equivalents to almost everything, it's not just a change of names. There is also a transfer of cultural and philosophical stuff into their Mediterranean counterparts, like the sect's, er, cult's layout fitting Ancient Greek style (with the training taking place by doing pankration in a gymnasium). That alone would make this story stand out from the rest, and I haven't even talked about the story itself. That's next.
Griffon/Lio (MC 1 and the main narrator so far) is already a successful young cultivator, but he's annoyed by the small-mindedness of his fellow disciples and even the elders. Then he meets the other MC, Solus, a Roman slave who stands out, and it kindles a new fire in him (not that kind of fire, I'm talking about platonic interest here). I'm sensing a powerful duo in the making.
Style/Story/Grammar: Most of the story so far is told in first-person style by Lio/Griffon. Some chapters are done in third-person internal style from the POV of other people from the cult. At the end of the prologue we finally get a chapter from Solus' POV; it's also in first-person style, reinforcing the "two MCs on equal footing" structure. The descriptions are vivid and vibrant, giving the reader a nice feel for the scenery. Word choice is very rich and the flow of the sentences is incredibly smooth. The casual inclusion of tiny glimpses into Ancient Greece (both historic and mythical) is very successful in drawing the reader into the story. We also learn that there is a whole big world out there and it seems that the author is giving the different cultures distinguishing characteristics. Many things are still mysterious and often feel like they are being deliberately left vague. A little comedy is included as well. Grammar is excellent with good sentence structure and there are only very few tiny typos. Pacing is very good, so far we had enough introductory scenes to have a clear idea about both the setting and the people; at the same time, lots of things have already happened, both important stuff and enjoyable smaller tidbits. All that was presented as a well-rounded whole. And the story is just getting started, after a huge prologue of 22 chapters, almost 50 000 words!
Characters: Griffon is a young but very strong cultivator and while he is a bit arrogant as fits his culture and status, he's not a bully; he has a rather wise and forward-looking streak for someone his age. At the same time, we soon learn how trapped he feels in the cult's confines. Solus we only have an outside view of for most of the prologue, which makes him very mysterious; he's very capable as well and he does not let his status as a slave push him down, showing integrity and aptitude. Only in his internal POV do we finally learn about his past and what is going on deep in his soul (I can't spoil it here, but it's both very impressive and depressing). From their interactions they fit very well together, creating moments both funny and awesome for the readers to enjoy. At the same time, the combination of these two personalities is a classic literary (or cinematic) recipe for success: the stoic Solus' fate is to suffer Griffon's wild craziness. The side characters are a varied bunch, from the standard AYMs over promising youths to believable normal people.
In short, this story has many classical xianxia tropes but creatively converts them to a Classic Mediterranean setting which becomes the playground for a great duo of MCs. I'm eagerly waiting to read their exciting adventures. In my reviews, I'm very strict with giving 5 stars, but I just couldn't justify deducting any half stars here.
This is the first time i've reviewd something with so few chapters but i believe it warrents it.
This is an absolute gorgeous piece of work, a Complete change of setting and pace and everything from any Cultivation novel i've ever seen, and it does it in just the right way to inspire you to want to write your own novel based in a similar world.
The style is perfect, everything is well fleshed out, beautifully done, takes a POV that most wouldn't expect and is just beautiful.
The grammar is great, haven't noticed any major or minor errors while reading. 95% sure he runs it through grammerly then re-reads it.
Story. If this site had a 10 star rating instead it would easily get a 10 star story rating. The entire world is unique, vast, and well thought out. For being in a Stuffy Sect you can see the personality in it, In the way it interacts in the way everything comes together, it's just so unique and good i can't rave about it enough.
All of the Characters are absoultely phenominal. The way that the world, and people on the actual path of cultivation view it and approach it are out standing, and shows how people would really see it. The mistakes that people make in regards to it and how they handle it, and also how character flaws can cause the failure and bottle necks. It really feels like becoming an Enlightened Immortal God causes you to become a better person, almost requires you to be not only strong, but also wise. Unlike most other novels in the Xian type universes where some asshole gets strong by running over everyone and just being lucky.
Overall, perfect 5/5, i Definitley see this getting on the most popular list right up there with, oh god i haven't even checked that list last i saw it Threadbare and Boxxy were on the top, i know it's moved around a lot since then though lol; aslong as the author continues to post and avoids burnout i see this being one of the greats honestly.
There's a lot that's very good to say about this story, but sadly I don't have the time or energy to go into them all at the moment.
The individual elements, from prose, to grammar, to the story are all absolutely fantastic, but what really shines are the characters, who possess a truly extraordinary depth and human quality, able to masterfully provoke empathy, sympathy, and understanding from the reader. While the story is still in its early days, what's there is frankly amazing.
I've read quite a lot of stories on Royal Road. Yet while I've enjoyed many of them, they've often been something of a guilty pleasure, and that is particularly true for the genre of xianxia, both on and off the site, with hugely variable quality. However, this is something that I would genuinely be happy to pay for were it ever formally published, and to recommend to others in real life, not merely online.
It's just absolutely fantastic, and I can't wait for more.
The characters in this story are fully realised. Some cultivation stories lose the characters, while in this one they are filled with complexity and imperfection.
I found it and got up to date in one day. So far it is a glorious tale in a different setting to the usual cultivation novel.
I don't read much Xianxia but this is tons of fun, the world feels unique and vibrant, and so far we have a fun bromance forming between our two leads.
That dynamic is what's really driving the story right now, since so far things have been pretty slice-of-lifey (with some big events looming in the horizon), but the dialogue and situations are extremely well-crafted, even straightforward scenes have surprising twists and fun moments.
The only downsides I can think of is that our MC (who is the primary narrator) is pretty unlikeable: he is arrogant and closeminded, and is prone to toy with others simply out of boredom. Thankfully he is beginning to change, and I am looking forward to watching the MC slowly develop and mature as a character.
The other criticism is that some of the alternate perspectives/interludes feel disconnected from the overall story. These chapters usually just show how a minor character sees the MCs, but outside of these interludes they rarely appear or do much of interest. Hopefully as the story continues these characters will become more important or active.
Overall a really good story! Well-written and clever, with a fun dynamic between two bros being dudes.
Adding a couple things to make this review A D V A N C E D:
Style: Hella stylish, great world building
Story: Chill for now but it's marvelous build-up
Character: The lack of story in the first 20 chapters doesn't matter because the prologue is strongly character-driven, in preparation for whatever lies ahead.
Grammas: Nothing serious
The first few chapters left me in confusion, almost nothing is explained, and with many blank spots in my knowledge the story also wasn't all that enjoyable. Then chapter 5, the turning point. A relationship is established, over the chapters until the arcs end we get to enjoy that relationship, as well as the side characters, their povs and a bit of background. Even if the prologue was the only thing this story had, it still would be a wonderful read.
But, it isn't the end, only the beginning, and hopefully we'll be able to enjoy this story until the end.