[Updated] Impressions of “Legends of Ogre Gate” & why you should try it

It’s not everyday a Chinese wuxia/xianxia translator gets to publish their own writing.

It’s not everyday I know the translator doing so.

Thus is the big disclaimer for my post — I received a copy of this THICC novel (it really is satisfyingly thick) through some twisting of the arm, kidnapping of baby DB, tampering with soul lamps, robbing of sect foundations — er, let’s rephrase. Jeremy “Deathblade” Bai was very nice to send me a review copy. 😀 Since the novel was launched just in time for World Book Day, I wanted to get out a first impressions post after reading the first 100 pages.

WHO THE HECK IS THIS REVIEWER?

I’m a big fan of the cover art and wanted a physical copy of the novel because of it. It’s infinitely satisfying to hold in one’s hands. And for those who don’t know me, I’m etvolare, another translator of Chinese fantasy (wuxia/xianxia) and romance. The gobbledegook I sprouted above is common tropes in xianxia, and what I comment on may be colored by my experience.

As long time readers of web novels will know, online wuxia/xianxia tends to be heavily formulaic. After a while of reading, you always know what twist is coming. Most open with some shocking event — a battle, a relationship betrayal, the final lucidity of the last moments of life, or enemies at the door.

LOG is no different. A shocking battle, unexpected subterfuge, and a prophecy to be fulfilled. There was a comfortable amount of confusion — who is Hui? She’s not one of the names in the summary. Where did the artifact take her? Did she transmigrate? To ancient China or…? Was she reborn?

It all sounds rather typical of a fantasy novel, but it’s executed quite well. It’s most telling as opposed to showing, and neatly sidesteps a lot of the info-dump-repetition-filler-filler-filler potholes that a lot of web novels are littered with. DB’s years of experience show through in the deftness of how he sets the beginning of the novel.

WHAT’S THE NOVEL ABOUT?

We’re in a non-typical cultivation world, where qi is actually brought to the world by a… stranger? Demon? Alien? Ghosts of Christmas past? Combining it with traditional martial arts gives us our much beloved cultivation system. We get to explore the process with Sunan, and the way DB chooses to tackle this is really lovely.

Instead of an info dump, we follow a country boy’s journey of discovery of this mysterious new energy. We see through his unlearned eyes how his strength builds and experience how killing intent appears. A fresh twist is that he doesn’t start off as cultivation obsessed. In fact, his hilariously verbose friend Sun Mai is the one who encourages to explore more.

There’s an enormous villain on the scene, so naturally the ultimate goal is to take him down. The journey is the main premise of the novel, and I really wonder how two blank sheets of canvas will be able to rise up and contend with someone who seems to have already reached grand perfection in their cultivation.

Just when we really start to bond with Sunan — the boy’s basically using his knowledge to be an MMA fighter! — we’re left with a killer cliffhanger. Thanks DB, you really learned from the web novels.

The perspective pivots, and generally that’s accompanied by an amping down of the tension. Not so here. We meet the other MC, Bao, and it doesn’t take more than two pages before I’m baying for blood on her behalf. This was a gut-wrenching twist, and I’m purposefully being vague so I don’t spoil things. Five more pages in, and someone hand me a spear!

The action is fast and furious, and though she’s a noble girl, she’s the last thing from a helpless damsel distress there is. She fights, she kills instead of cries, and it seems that she… has a gift for prophecy? Whatever her hidden talents are, I love that she’s no wilting flower that Sunan will have to rescue over and over again.

Her story line seems rather different though, as she’s off in the wilderness, fighting ogres commanded by the Demon Emperor and running around with bandits. Sunan’s off in a city, dealing with the ‘mundane’ hardships of day to day living. I’m quite interested to see how the two will meet up, and where’s Hui?

I am also a fan of how realistic the novel is. We’re in a xianxia world with fantastical creatures, artifacts, and cultivation. But that suspension of belief doesn’t come with deus ex machina, plot armor thick enough to kill the reader, or two-dimensional characters. So while the setting itself may require a suspension of belief, what happens in the story and the characters is anything but.

In fact, how the characters and supporting cast are drawn out is possibly one of my favorite parts. I care about them, and I want to know more about them.

IS IT ALL SUGAR AND SPICE?

If I were to point at anything I didn’t like from my initial impressions, it’s that there’s too much pinyin in the names for my taste. Cities, mountains, deities, and of course the cast are all pinyin. Kong Zhi for Confucius (assuming that’s the reference), shan/mt./mountain for mountains, shen for god, etc.

Even as someone who’s very comfortable working with Chinese, I found my mind wandering and skipping over the names. As someone who doesn’t like to read with a map in hand, I already know the geography of LOG will remain somewhat obscure to me.

[addendum] The importance of reading afterwords is that we learn there the names are a result of the game that the novel is based on. I remembered that vaguely, but it didn’t register for me since the novel works wonderfully as a standalone piece of work. 

Despite being friends with DB for a while, I have to admit I’ve never really read his original novel. …in fact, I may not have clicked on a single chapter. Oops, don’t hate me man. Still buds?

SHOULD I TRY IT?

There were always too many interesting Chinese translations to get to, that I never felt this way or that about originals. After this first peek, it’s definitely vaulted to the top of the reading list for me. 

This is novel for those who are tired of the same old in cultivation. This is one for those who want a twist on xianxia. If you’ve ever been on the fence about originals, want a novel with legit dual MCs, or simply fare that sidesteps filler and wordcount padding… grab a copy by clicking me. 😀

[UPDATE] COMPLETION OF READING

Bottom line is, I liked it. The plot moves at a fast pace, there’s a good mix of action and philosophical introspection. Betrayal, intrigue, mystery, and romance all play good parts. The romance doesn’t factor in as heavily, which could be a pro or con depending on what folks are looking for. 

I would read it again, and I do recommend LOG to everyone. It’s a wonderful twist on an origin story for long-running, hardcore xianxia fans, and a perfect intro for those just dipping a toe into Chinese fantasy.

DO THE GOOD VIBES CONTINUE?

We left the first impression with me recommending the novel after 100 pages, and it’s a good ride all the way to the end. The writing doesn’t fall off, and while I feel that some of the villains fall in a rather anti-climatic way — e.g. Bao’s personal demon seriously needed to die in a more gory manner. More humiliation. Or maybe my appetite has been much too enlarged thanks to typical xianxia web novels. Overall, the ending and loose ends are wrapped up in a very solid manner.
 
Apart from the pinyin, there was also one point about the novel that I wasn’t the biggest fan of, and I left it for the full readthrough to see if it would still be an issue. While DB sidesteps the plot holes, filler, and nonsensical developments, the slightly choppy, web novel way of writing actually crops up for the initial chapters. Granted, it’ll be more apparent to me because I’m a fellow translator, and I’m constantly analyzing other people’s writing styles on the path of improvement.
 
When I brought it up to him, he mentioned it was a conscious stylistic choice, and that he switches out of it. My personal speculations are that maybe he did so to ease the transition for web novel readers, to bridge the typical web novel style for something much well-written and logical, in a more traditional publishing style.
 
Things do clear up around chapter 18, where I noticed my mental voice stopped getting tripped up by sentence structure. It’s a really nice read from that point onwards. 
 
LOG is based off of the board game, Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate, screenshot below.
 

FAVORITE PART OF THE NOVEL?

To be honest, I hadn’t expected to enjoy the process of building a cultivation system as much as I did. I touched on it briefly in my first impressions above, but this part really played hugely into why I like LOG.

Experienced xianxia readers will be very familiar with the cultivation system, with levels, realms, breaking through, and heavenly tribulation. Mystic treasures, spirit creatures, inter-dimension travel, gods, and souls are par for the course. 

But none of that structure is present in the LOG world. A lot of trial of error is present — how to meditate most effectively? How to recover energy? How to use energy in fights? How to develop techniques? And the notion of breakthroughs isn’t even quantified until Sunan and his friend Sun Mai achieve several of them. The reader really grows with them, and it’s a very fresh twist and neat avoidance of several chapters of world description.

It also leads to some hilarious moments, as how one character defines the system might not match up to another character defines it. One man’s cultivation system is another man’s gibberish. We also get to see how cultivators would appear to regular folk.

“What did you just say?” she asked.
“Huh?”
“You just yelled something. What was it?”
“Um… Dragon Cleaves the Clouds?”
“Yes, that was it. Dragon Cleaves the clouds? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Uh, that’s the name of the move. The technique I just used.”
“You name your moves?”
“You don’t name your moves? But… doesn’t everybody do that?”
Bao chuckled. “You name your moves? What are you, a child?”

I can totally hear the internal voice scream, chuuuuuni!! Weirdo. Lol.

KEY TAKEAWAY?

Honestly, I’m really looking forward to more books from this world. The huge spoiler is that good eventually triumphs in the end, but there is a lot more material that we can explore. The barebones of cultivation are established in the end, and we see the rise of martial heroes with the budding formation of a wulin, but there’s also a lot of room left to establish mature factions, a regular tourneys, the formation of secret realms, etc.

There’s also a god/demon trapped in the crown and some vague references to other ancient Chinese gods. I’d love, love to see more of them and see from their perspective how they view the arrival of qi and development of cultivation in the mortal world. The underworld is also mentioned, and some of their creatures are seen. There’s definitely a societal structure there that we haven’t fully seen yet.

There are some loose ends left that don’t impact enjoyment of the story, as well as a whole load of new names and slight gibberish that the main villain voices at one point. I definitely want to see that developed more, and also see more of where Sunan and Bao journey to. 

Grab your copy of LOG by clicking me. 😀