As legendary war artist Ling Taishi watches the teenage hero who prophesied about her nation, Wen Jianand, performing in a decorative wrestling arena, she quickly realizes that boy is the worst possible outcome. Misguided, over-indulgent, undertrained dirtbag teen. So much for being a child warrior Zhuun needed to defeat Eternal KhanTaishi thought. The boy could barely hold himself against undernourished foot soldiers without holding his hand.
Elsewhere, middle Border skirmishes Between Zhuun and Katuia, the Eternal Khan was killed as he roamed in a drunken stupor. Not by Jian, but by Zhuun’s standard army patrol, throwing the great hero’s prophecy into complete disarray. The nomadic Katuya nation was destroyed, its people forced into slavery by decades, and its armies disintegrated. But that doesn’t stop the legendary Salminde, Viperstrike, from searching for a new khan to unite Katuya and return them to their former glory.
This is how it begins The art of prophecy A new epic of fantasy martial arts from Wesley Choo. What follows is an astonishing feat of wuxia worldbuilding and the narrative fabric that intertwines to create an expansive and engaging story on par with series like Legends of Condor HeroesAnd the dandelion strainand the green bone epic. The narrative transcends many points of view The art of prophecy Part of trouble from the teacher and student and part of the mission of revenge for the conqueror. With crisp characters and a plot that doesn’t intersect much with the story at its major breaking points, this book is a great example of wuxia-style storytelling, which demands a legacy and generations expectations on great heroes and young children alike.
Wuxia, for those who don’t know, is a type of historical fiction that developed in East Asia, more specifically in China. Wuxia is an early form that, while speculative in nature, is usually more grounded, and focuses on martial artists who have pushed their abilities to the limits of human potential and beyond, displaying incredible strength and achieving miraculous feats through their training. Wuxia stories are usually set in tWarring States period in China, or some neighboring fictional places. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon It is a great example of wuxia. Xianxia, the companion genre, has much of the same style, but also brings in gods, demons, ghosts, reincarnations, or any number of mythical items. Xianxia is not very popular among Western audiences, but I may refer to Marvel’s shang chi And the legend of the ten episodes or a youth novel iron widow (by Xiran Jay Zhao) as powerful examples.
Because of the above media, as well as the growing Western popularity of hack Chinese programs like runaway And the word of honor (which were originally web novels), which can be streamed on Netflix and wuxia and xianxia both experience a cultural Moment For English speaking audiences. And for readers who haven’t even gotten on the train with Ken Liu or RF Kwang and Wesley Chu, The art of prophecy Here to convince you to try farming.
In this book, which is the first of a planned trilogy, standing tall amid standout narration are the characters. First is my favorite elder dirtbag, Ling Taishi. Taishi is a past-middle-aged, handicapped, once-in-a-generation war artist who does not fuck around and offers no excuses for who she is. It’s unusual in Western fiction to find an older lady taking on the role of consummate martial badass (there are a few out there! Just not as many as I’d like to see, personally), and Taishi has got to be one of my new favorite fantasy characters. She occupies the kind of constantly annoyed mentor space in this book that makes her similar to Luke Skywalker in The Last Skywalker, someone who knows they’re too old for this bullshit and takes it on anyway.
Then there’s her student (sort of). Our boy-hero, Jian, is such a heart-wrenching vision of innocence and indulgence that it’s hard not to feel bad for him. Talented, yes. Pathetic, also yes. He tries so hard, but he’s such an absolute dummy that you just want to tuck him into bed and tell him he can try again tomorrow. His development throughout the book is wonderfully nuanced and clear, and by the end of it all he’s really earned his place as Ling Taishi’s martial arts inheritor, making an incredibly satisfying ending to the first of what will be a fantastic series.
Lastly, we have Salminde, another character that I’m personally in love with. Her desire for vengeance is driven by a deep, personal sense of duty and a code of honor that makes her all the more dangerous because she has very little left to lose. Her need to create a safe place for her family and her people is so relatable that even though our main characters are arguably her nemesis, she never comes across as a villain. Every decision she makes is incredibly emotional, as she goes from a leader to a wanderer and then becomes a savior over the course of the book.
I’m waxing poetic about the characters, but it has to be emphasized that even for folks who don’t read wuxia, or usually pick up big doorstopper epic fantasies, these warriors are so well developed and have so much heart and fervor that they whip off the pages, ready to fight at a moment’s notice. It’s this incredible energy that drives the book forward as it weaves in and out of the plot, providing context and building up the structures of the massive epic before wartime brings it crashing down. It’s a remarkable feat to read through a book that merges so many tropes of eastern and western storytelling, giving readers the scope of modern epics like The Poppy War trilogy and the promise of the intimate intrigue of She Who Became the Sun.
This book was, for me, un-put-downable. Flitting in between fights and daring escapes, I wasn’t ever wondering when I would get to that character I really liked, or asking myself what happened in the last chapter. Chu is showing off in this book, and I’m here for it. There’s so much nuance, wonder, and excitement that I would chew off my own leg to get the whole trilogy right now. An absolutely fantastic start to a series that has (very deservedly) already been optioned for TV, so please imagine Michelle Yeoh as my absolute favorite murder momma and no-holds-barred badass Ling Taishi while reading.
There’s a lot of wonderful themes and through-lines that cross swords in this book. Acts of faith are undermined, overwritten, and proven correct across its pages. Ambition is rewarded and destroyed. Hope is found, shattered, remade. These are universal themes, made poignantly heart-breaking as families are found, made, and brought back to life. Ambitious is a delicate word for the enormity of The Art of Prophecy, but I think in the absence of something more sweeping, ‘ambitious’ is about as apt a descriptor as I’m going to find.
The world of The Art of Prophecy expands as Ling Taishi and Salminde travel across its breadth, and every part of the book becomes more and more clear, from the politics to the prophecy. Often in epic fantasy, the scope becomes blurry as you look at more of the surrounds, but in this book, distance becomes interwoven scales of armor, creating a legendary piece that ripples across every page, preparing the reader for the next desperate, incredible fight between martial arts masters.
The art of prophecy By Wesley Chu Going on sale August 9th.
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