The Way Spring Arrives and Others out now!

Some time in 2020, I had the honor and privilege of participating in a project written and translated by women and nonbinary members. I translated the second story in the anthology: The Tale of Wude’s Heavenly Tribulation.. The story follows a fox and his trials in cultivation, as well as the many unexpected mishaps along the way.

It was released in spring 2022 and is available in Barnes and Noble stores across the United States. You can also find it on Amazon and more!

From an award-winning team of authors, editors, and translators comes a groundbreaking short story collection that explores the expanse of Chinese science fiction and fantasy.

In The Way Spring Arrives and Other Stories, you can dine at a restaurant at the end of the universe, cultivate to immortality in the high mountains, watch roses perform Shakespeare, or arrive at the island of the gods on the backs of giant fish to ensure that the world can bloom. 

Written, edited, and translated by a female and nonbinary team, these stories have never before been published in English and represent both the richly complicated past and the vivid future of Chinese science fiction and fantasy. 

Time travel to a winter’s day on the West Lake, explore the very boundaries of death itself, and meet old gods and new heroes in this stunning new collection.

A Review of The Sun’s Blood from a non-cyberpunk fan

It’s heavy, it’s gritty, it’s one that will linger on in your mind long after you’ve turned the final page.

The Sun’s Blood is a cyberpunk fantasy page-turner and currently at #1 in military fantasy, of all categories, as I post this review a few days after its review. Congratulations to a respected peer and friend, Jeremy “DB” Bai!

I’m etvolare and translating Chinese fantasy is my usual forte. I’m the hugest fan of anything fantasy, sci-fi, and a lot of YA. I love Andre Norton, Garth Nix, Mercedes Lackey, Rick Riordan, Star Trek, and of course, wuxia and xianxia that is my bread and butter. However, I’m not very interested in tinkering with stuff, which is what steampunk is to me.

Honestly, my friend, I referred to your new series as steampunk for the longest time. It wasn’t until I checked your Twitter before I posted something about it that I realized it’s cyberpunk. Oh shit.

I have no idea what the various -punk categories are. Readers, if you’re anything like me, I speak from your perspective! The twists and turns are delicious, but I’ll speak more from the perspective of book one than anything to prevent some serious spoilers.

Just look at this street cred, DB was kind enough to send me the first book back when it was three books and called The Heretic Peacekeeper!

This section’s for readers who already picked up the OG: This is a good collector’s version to grab for the year end holidays. It’s an omnibus of all three and if you like pretty cover art on your bookshelves, the revamped cover packs a helluva punch.

I would like to specifically mention the new prologue. It really sets the stage well and I think it does a much better — and needed, job of transitioning into the world that DB’s created and setting expectations. If you’re a long time xianxia reader, there’s mentions of cultivation and sects, so it doesn’t all feel so foreign. But there’s also gunfire, nukes, and tantalizing names that greatly hint at a very different power system. It’s also not a once and done deal. I’m always a fan of details introduced early on that stays relevant throughout.

The prologue preps you properly for the rest of the story to come, the mental equivalent of settling into a cozy couch, bowl of popcorn at hand, and fire crackling in the fireplace. The first time I read the original, it was all very new, very fast, and I wasn’t fully in the proper frame of mind until later on.


cyberpunk: a genre of science fiction set in a lawless subculture of an oppressive society dominated by computer technology.

Despite not having the foggiest clue what cyberpunk was, it didn’t prevent me from being absolutely fascinated with the world DB’s built. To me, this is the strongest part of The Sun’s Blood. I can see the nods to real languages, history, and the world as we know it, but nothing’s done in a heavy handed manner. Long time web novel fans, you know that that inspiration often end up being. It’s all self contained and works just as well without digging deeper for references to reality.

I’m immediately trying to place if we’re in a post-apocalyptic world. Our main character’s ruined limb is made whole with technology, but scoffs at mentions of the ancients having computers so advanced they were intelligent. Smoking used to cause disease? Paper used to come from trees? Nahhhh. It’s a great dichotomy that plays on throughout the story. Or are we in the Glade or Ember? Perhaps none of that, and my guesses are as wild as children of gods walking the Earth.

Cultivators are definitely criminals, but I’m not so definite about anything else. We’re introduced to locales such as the Third Heaven, Third Earth and Dark Earths in short order, which left me briefly wondering if we were a galactic civilization as well. My biggest question in the beginning was, are cockroaches spacefaring in this series? If so, I was putting it down forever.

Spoiler alert: they’re not, and DB fleshes out these locations to much more than just being interchangeable numbers.

We’re regaled with Glorious Peacekeepers, Black Corpses (love the names, and the names I end up completely not being able to pronounce), hovercars and zont-rails, medicine and Eightfold Restoration Pills. It’s a glorious mix of cultivation in a modernesque world with technology supplements. There’s so much to be explored, it all fits together, and nothing is jarringly out of place, even the interludes that bridge different parts of the story.

Oftentimes, flashbacks or scene changes are an obvious dampener on the plot and serves more to irritate readers than to advance the narrative. Not so at all with The Sun’s Blood. The interludes were some of my favorite parts as they neatly tied in plenty of details behind the scenes and offered us peeks into character backgrounds that we would’ve have had otherwise, thereby explaining some more of what we’d just read.

The truth is constantly changing and with it, who’s good and who’s bad. An Eldress we’ve met for only a few chapters has just as much staying power as a young master-esque villain who I stopped wanting to kick in the ass finally around chapter 60. What now indeed, if the grand solution ends up helping the enemy?


And in fact, we seem to be in a world set in the book 1984, amongst others. It only takes until chapter 3 for the dawning realization that certain parts of Wang Fan’s worldview, as he knows it, could be heavily misrepresented. In my opinion, the posters against cultivation were a dead ringer and I was half expecting a “we have always hated the Eurosynth” at any point in time. Of course there is no war in Ba Sing Se.

There are also some more overt religious overtones throughout, such as naming those who’ve run afoul of the law as heretics, Hellscape and the Curse, Wang Fan’s visceral reaction to feeling unclean because he’d been healed by a cultivation pill (reminiscent of Salem witch burnings), shrines and sacrifices…

I understand why it’s done in The Sun’s Blood and it works very well. It is, after all, the main premise of the plot and highlights some of Wang Fan’s inner struggles later on.

However, I have to say that this kind of governmental doublespeak, population control through religious construct, societal revolution is quickly becoming my least favorite theme in any genre. Our creative endeavors surely do reflect our reality, and the world is indeed a tough and scary place these days. But, this theme is also fast becoming overdone in much of the media produced in recent times.

I would be entirely remiss if I didn’t touch on the level of writing in the novel. DB’s writing has progressed greatly from his Legends of Ogre Gate days and I’m such a fan. Scenes are gripping, dialogue is natural and it never feels forced. Everything just flows very smoothly. Action to character development to conflict to action beat again. There’s just enough hints of exposition to keep readers from floundering, but we’re never drowning in information that we’ll forget two chapters later.


And now for the usual of who might like this novel, and who might not.

If you are remotely interested in Chinese culture or have been enthralled by the plethora of fantastical dramas coming out of China these days, this is both a great introduction to all of that subject material in book format and a superb crossover into another genre of rich lore. Bonus, DB’s written a guide on common literature tropes you find in this space, and I definitely smirked quite a few times going through the book.

If you are a tried and true fan of cultivation web novels, I’d caution you to steer away. As DB puts it, this is a cyberpunk world with cultivation elements, so there won’t be any sudden transmigrations to ancient China with flowing architecture and detailed passages on treasure refinement/cultivation breakthroughs.

Additionally, published works are another beast entirely; these novels are not made for skimming, instant gratification, and enjoying an invincible MC halo. They can be a frustrating exercise in character progression, setbacks and trials, and confusion given the lack of info dump exposition.

But if you’re a tried and true fan who’s also gotten absolutely tired of the regular web novels, this is a fantastic bridge to an entirely brand new world of reading. I called DB’s first original as cultivation done right and felt that it’s an exploration of how xianxia could’ve properly worked in a traditional publishing setting. This just continues the very promising trend.

It’s a spooky NECROversary!! Win an Oculus Quest, latest Pokemon for Switch, or cash equivalent!

Post-apocalyptic xianxia Necropolis Immortal has exceeded one thousand chapters!

In grand fashion (or the usual etvolare party), I’m delighted to host a writing contest with Moonquill!

To win either an Oculus Quest (VR set), Pokemon Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl, a series of light novels (Lord of Goblins, World Without God), or have your story professionally narrated, please write a short story related to NECRO. Additionally, I’ll be sending the winners one of my Astral White Tiger pins!

Maybe someone will finally tell the story of that bean soldier being the scapegoat of 36 tribulations, or might we have the legends of the Flying Head Sect? Or the files of Feinie’s therapist, AKA the girl who can’t stop blowing herself up.

Whatever you decide on, it has to be faithful to the NECRO universe, e.g. the fox goddess that everyone yeets can’t suddenly be a bear, or the MC is from Saturn.

Bonus: Make it horror themed to place your entry in Moonquill’s writing prompt for a shot at two prize pools! Moonquill also has a general horror prompt, winners will have their story professionally narrated and receive copies of their published works!

Submit your work and find more details here. Submission deadline is Halloween (10/31)!

About the series: Post-apocalyptic Chinese fantasy reigns in Necropolis Immortal! The world, civilization, and cultivation is in tatters while many hands pull many different strings from the shadows. History, the cultivation system, and the kingdom is a mess — and that’s exactly what the enemies want. Everyone seems to have a different understanding of everything in the world, so… best of luck. Overwhelmingly recommended on WW.

Sovereign of the Three Realms is now on Amazon!

4.5 stars across the board! OG xianxia classic Sovereign of the Three Realms is now on Amazon!

Face slapping, talking dragons, and an old men harem abound in SOTR. This is the one that started it all, the one that saw etvo pivot from a career in finance to translating full time. 4.5 years, 7M characters, and 5M+ views a month.

Need a new read to wind down your Sunday? Come relive your xianxia childhood!

Lightheartedness and warm vibes to be found in ‘The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water’

Unrepentantly riotous and recommended by numerous notables including Ken Liu, ‘The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water‘ is written by Zen Cho and the perfect weekend light reading.

Full disclosure: Zen ran a giveaway and sent me a copy of the book in early 2020, upon which I decided to write a review for it. Then 2020 was cancelled, but still, I do deeply apologize for taking such an unholy amount of time to get to things. In the jianghu, one’s word is one’s bond, so fulfilling it late rather sucks. Onwards ho to the book!

Zen describes Pure Moon as ‘a found family wuxia fantasy novella featuring bandits and nuns and lots of dumb jokes’, and it really delivers on the humor and relationships between characters. These two highlights are the greatest standouts for me after putting down the book.

A quick word, caveats, and all that

A quick note on who I am and therefore where my comments come from. I’m a wuxia/xianxia/period drama translator and have been in this translation scene for almost five years. I focus mostly on web serials, which results in me handling 8+ million Chinese characters throughout my tenure. Hence, my reviews might be slightly more technical than most. You’re more than welcome to throw down the gauntlet and pick at my works here.

Special shout out to the gorgeous cover art by Sija Hong — seriously, covers sell books and I’d definitely pick this up in a bookstore. And the lettering by Sarah J. Coleman! Having weighed in on covers for my own translations… it’s devilishly hard to put together something to represents the book, catches eyeballs, and have it all come together in a cohesive final product. What a fantastic presentation.

Wuxia can oftentimes be grandiose and epic, full of suffering and personal growth that span through an overarching theme of revenge and justice. Lovers are brutally separated, family members die in front of each other, and nations are ripped asunder. …but sometimes, we just want to turn off the spigot of angst (perhaps especially so in 2020), and talk about how nice someone’s ass is. (Could we possibly get insert art featuring Ah Kheng and his marvelous backside?)

The humor jumps off the pages and quite frankly, I enjoyed all of it. Everything runs together smoothly enough to keep the pages turning. Characters really come to life — whether through obvious, slapstick moments, or sarcastic twists at the end that keep readers on the edge of their seats. Will she, won’t she? Oh wait, she was serious this time?

Apart from cracking a good joke, I also really enjoy Zen’s descriptive prose. Instead of a bland cast of cohorts with the same recycled personality traits, I could easily recall names of the supporting characters, and for the visual learners among us, it was easy to imagine how scenes of banter would play out on the small screen.

If the first bandit was a porcelain vase, this one was an everyday clay vessel, suitable for holding water or budu or rice wine, as the occasion demanded.

“You can choose to stop fighting, I can stop you. It’s up to you.” [said the clay-vessel bandit]

“Eat shit, bastard!”

As is often the case with novellas, I wished the book was longer. Since it had limited real estate to work with, we barely got enough hints of world-building and a silent war that would’ve fleshed Pure Moon out into a full-fledged wuxia. I’m never a fan of telling over showing, but the web of connections between various factions before and after the war might’ve benefitted from a bit more telling if space hadn’t been an issue.

One thing that was surprising not emphasized on the book synopsis was the fact that this is a solid offering for queer fiction. Or perhaps this was a purposeful marketing decision, with the emphasis placed on where Zen wished it to be. It’s quite refreshing to see LGBT+ relationships treated matter-of-factly and to not see universal condemnation or prosecution. Lovers of period drama danmei will be absolutely delighted by some of the relationships in the book.

For my book reviews, I generally try to find one aspect I disliked so as to not sound like an advertorial for all of them. What I liked about Pure Moon was ironically, also what I disliked about it.

Zen is Malaysian and as such, her works reflect that influence. Fantastic, brilliant, and we need more cultural representation in literature.

I was also very confused at times :D.

I’m not entirely sure what soya bean is, but figured it was probably something like soy milk. Definitely didn’t know what umbra juice or mata was, so by the time jampi rolled around, I also mentally skipped over it, then quickly backtracked when the next few pages indicated it was relevant to the plot.

In fact, “what time period are we in?” was the dominant question on my mind during the first twenty or so pages. Wuxia tends to be set in romanticized/stylized ancient China, which was what I initially thought was the time period, but the use of ‘coffeeshop’ and the appearance of guns made me wonder if we were more modern than not. Then I recalled the mention of Tang people, but was tugged back to modern times when the usage of ‘contractor’ cropped up. I Googled ‘jampi’, which put a certain image in my mind, but the use of ‘hexing’ sent me to the west and wart-nosed witches cackling over bubbling cauldrons.

Sometimes, my mental voice was tripped up by the abrupt transitions between Malay English and conventional English. Formal English with no contractions could be found in the beginning of the book, characters then adopted contractions, and ultimately burst out with Malay English in charged moments. For readers that really care about period relevancy and consistency, this might be an adjustment to make to expectations before plunging in.

I generally end my reviews with a recommendation to the appropriate audiences, but wasn’t sure how I’d tackle that question this time. Apart from those looking for action-packed queer fiction, a perfect target audience wasn’t immediately forthcoming. Someone familiar with Malay English or culture? Or someone completely new to the genre since they’d treat all unfamiliar concepts the same as just something to do with this foreign genre? But then, wouldn’t it be such a shame if folks just glossed over the new terms they encountered?

I wouldn’t recommend Pure Moon to those looking for clashes in the wulin or wandering around with the xia spirit, however. You’ll find yourselves tantalized, but ultimately the novella veered more on the slice-of-life side with a very healthy dose of adventuring.

Eventually, the opener for the review came to me: in my opinion, The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water is the perfect light read for a stroll in the park or a socially distanced visit. Let us sprinkle some notes of warmth, unexpected relationship twists, and attempts at reforming bandits into the end of 2020.

Don’t forget, grab your copy here.


HOLY GUACAMOLE there are some major spoilers ahead for the novel Necropolis Immortal. Please come check this Spark Notes version out only after you finish a tomb arc and find yourself still confused as all hell.

Seriously, a lot of NECRO is built on mystery and intrigue, you’d be killing so much of the fun for yourself if you read ahead to everything.

There are INSANE SPOILERS in the summaries ahead.


Third time’s the charm, there are spoilers spoilers spoilers ahead. This summary is to enhance reading enjoyment of NECRO. I will delete it if it turns out to be detrimental instead.

You can also find a spoiler-free version of the cultivation system + geography of NECRO here, or a full version with massive spoilers here.


Mount Carmine Dusk (chapters 4-12)

Mountain contains a Crouching Black Tortoise feng shui layout. False entrance in the south (Black Tortoise’s rear). Lu Yun digs a thieves’ tunnel in the north to the real entrance, sees through a fake tomb facade.

First run-in with the Exalted Immortal Sect who are trying to take the Panorama of Clarity. First encounter with taboo art of soul sacrifice.

Undead encountered: Zombies, corpse flies, stone sculpture
Treasure obtained: Panorama of Clarity
Servant obtained: Pill Fairy Yuying (envoy), Ge Long (not an envoy)


Myriad Formation Summit (chapters 20-55)

The formations outside the mountain are a distraction, the real entrance is to be found after a maze. Inside the tomb, they encounter the bronze outer-coffin, a Ninefilia Specter Fostering formation (Yueshen), the entire ancient city that the mountain landed on, a layout of certain death that reveals Qing Han’s gender, realize they’re in a corpse coffin, bump into Miao who leads them past the living layout of the Duality of Tiger and Dragon, and finally, they run into Feinie’s resting place when trying to escape the undead hag.

LY realizes that the mountain is actually a huge burial mound (ch 22). A burial mound is much more humble than a tomb, it’s basically a pile of dirt. A tomb is a fancy underground palace (ch 23). It’s a very big insult to the dead if they’re buried in a mound when they deserve a tomb.

They bump into Yueshen (ch 30), the bloodcorpse (ch 33), and realize they’ve been inside a huge body all along (ch 32). LY realizes that the size ratio of dead:burial mound is off (ch 38) — the burial mound needs to be bigger to properly house the body they’re walking in.

Tying it all together: Yueshen was killed so that her corpse could be made into the coffin for a rando, and a tomb was built around the dead + corpse coffin. Seeking revenge, her friends and family destroy the tomb, downgrade it into a burial mound to insult the rando, and set up the Duality of Dragon and Tiger layout so the rando would never find peace. Their actions cause rando’s resentment and fury to fester so that it expands Yueshen’s body so massively that Lu Yun can walk around in it.  

Yueshen’s friends also lovingly set up a resurrection layout to bring her soul soul back to life, and set up a formation (ch 33) to create a new body for her. However, another rando came in and messed up the resurrection layout, turning Yueshen into a ghost and the new body into the bloodcorpse.

Undead encountered: Bloodcorpses, corpsefish, ghostface maggots, corpse flies, undead hag
Treasure obtained: Portrait of Emptiness, Formation Orb, bronze outer-coffin
Servant obtained: Yueshen (immortal ghost), Dragon Prince and Tiger Prince (layout manifestations), Miao (fox spirit), Feinie – former Dusk city lord and formation master (envoy)

Tomb for the Living (chapters 62-91)

Lu Yun rushes to stop the Dusk River Sacrament to save Wanfeng. Setting foot into the river activates a formation, which brings forth an island. Upon completion of the ritual, the island sinks into the river, bringing them into an abyss littered with corpses of ancient divines.

The Dusk River Palace is at the bottom of the river bed, where a false river god resides. The corpse of the previous river god is also there (Xuanxi), and its lingering will comes back to life to protect the party. After being made an envoy, Xuanxi reveals that her mistress, the dragon princess, is the resident of the bronze outer-coffin.

Wayfarer shows up to save them from a divine obsession, but the group then encounters Eyefarer bound on the Walter Alter. They manage to leave him still trapped on the alter and return to the surface.

Undead encountered: corpsefish, zombie king, ghouls, zombies
Treasure obtained: Yin Formation Orb, Path of Ingress (imitation)
Servant obtained: Diexi (ally, not a servant), Xuanxi – previous Dusk river god (envoy)




Lu Yun’s envoys as of chapter 800, in order of chronology.

  • Yuying – Pill Fairy and favors white robes. Wields the Emerald Mistfire (green), Lucent Voidfire (blue), Daevic Skyfire (bright yellow). Lovers with Wayfarer in life.
  • Feinie – Formation King and former Duskwater City Lord. Favors black robes and often blows herself up in service to Lu Yun.
  • Xuanxi – former Dusk River God, mermaid. Crystal-blue energy and specializes in talismans.
  • Aoxue – blood dragon adept at close-body combat.
  • Huangqing – blood phoenix skilled at refining items.
  • Cangyin – patriarch of the water qilins. Later made into a blood qilin through experimentation from Su Xiaoxiao and Xingzi.
  • Su Xiaoxiao – Doctor Poison, Qi Hai’s (banished) disciple. Inky-green energy.
  • Xingzi – shaman princess of the Star Shaman Tribe.
  • Luli – blood turtle. Fully melded with her blood turtle self in her past life and wreaked untold destruction.
  • Zhaoqing – daughter of the immortal emperor, found in the lineal tomb at the end of the Path of the Dead

Lu Yun’s envoy lineup is complete at 10 envoys, whereupon they turn into the 10 Yama Kings.

[SPOILERS] Necropolis Immortal Updated Cultivation System

There are some SERIOUS SPOILERS in this infographic.

Remember, the cultivation path was severed after the great immortal war. If you have not read past the 200s, please do not proceed further. Instead, click here for the cultivation system as it is.

There are some INSANE SPOILERS in the infographic ahead.

If you have not already read to the 200s, please do not look at this infographic. Don’t do yourself this disservice and spoil a major point of enjoyment for yourself.

Please do not share this graphic either, don’t spoil this for others.

Third time’s the charm, there are spoilers spoilers spoilers ahead. This infographic is to enhance reading enjoyment of NECRO. I will delete it if it turns out to be detrimental instead.

The Cultivation System of the Great Wilderness

etvo and The Translated Chinese Fiction Podcast!

In the thirty fifth episode of The Translated Chinese Fiction Podcast, we are looking at Necropolis Immortal, written by Immortal Amidst Snow in July. Our guest is the novel’s irrepressible translator, Etvolare.

Necropolis Immortal blends two particularly Chinese genres: xianxia, and tomb raiding. It’s not quite the tomb raiding one associates with Indiana Jones and Lara Croft, as Etvo explains in our interview.

Listen to the podcast here!

Return of the Swallow 500 Chapterversary ART CONTEST!

Fellow barbarians, we are closing in on the midway point of ROS! Let. us. celebrate with ROS’ first major event: art contest!

There will be a scene and a character category in which people are free to draw any of their favorite scenes and characters. Perhaps it’s when Pang Xiao first stole over the roof to peek on Qin Yining, or when the trampress got what she deserved. Maybe you’re a fan of best dad Qin Huaiyuan, or you think there’s some redeeming factors in Qin Huining. Whatever it is, show off your talents to the world and make ROS come to life!

Submissions are open here and prizes will be given for the first, second, and third places decided by moi and others, as well as a community fan favorite through voting. First place wins $100, second wins $75, third wins $50, and community vote wins $25.

I’m really excited to see what everyone comes up with! Happy birthday ROS! <<novel link here.


PS. Why am I calling 500 chapters the midway point? Because etvo wanted to make a play on $500 for 500, submissions opening from 7/7, voting on 8/8, and event ending on 9/9! XD

Hocus Pocus? Weird names? What is Feng Shui?

This article is inspired by the use of feng shui in Necropolis Immortal, in which a tomb raider transmigrates from Earth to a world of immortals. A broken cultivation system in a broken world that’s literally forested with tombs. What could possibly go wrong?

Detailed shot of a luopan, a feng shui compass.

Feng shui: Chinese geomancy, or the philosophy of striking a balance between the natural world and one’s living spaces and work environment. It’s a pseudo-science originating from ancient China and is classified as physiognomy—observation of appearances through formulas and calculations. The characters translate literally to wind-water.

Please note that this article is a very generic primer meant for readers of Chinese fantasy. It is in no way exhaustive or comprehensive in scope. Thank you Wikipedia for compiling all this information!

Foundational Concepts

The Yangshao (5000-3000 BC) and Hongshan (4700-2900 BC) cultures in ancient China record the earliest use of feng shui. Until the magnetic compass was invented 3,500 years after this use of this system, feng shui relied on astronomy to find correlations between humans and the universe. It’s widely used to orient buildings—often spiritually significant structures such as tombs, but also residences and other buildings—in an auspicious manner.

Starting with the Erlitou culture in the early Bronze age, all Chinese capital cities follow the rules of feng shui for their design and layout.

Similar belief systems: Vastu Shastra—a traditional Indian architecture system, Kaso—ancient Japanese simplicity and minimalism, geomancy—earth divination popular in the Middle Ages throughout Africa and Europe.

Instruments and Techniques

The astronomical history of feng shui is evident in the development of its instruments and techniques. Chinese used circumpolar stars to determine the north–south axis of settlements, and would use angles of the setting and rising sun to determine north.

Ancient Chinese astrolabe

The oldest examples of feng shui instruments are liuren astrolabes, also called shi. These are lacquered, two-sided boards with astronomical sight lines. The earliest examples of liuren astrolabes were found in tombs that date between 278 BC and 209 BC. 

A modern day luopan.

Traditional feng shui instruments now are the luopan compass and the feng shui ruler. Since the luopan‘s invention, its use has been required in direction finding. Feng shui formulas are embedded in ~40 concentric rings on the surface, which is known as the heaven dial. The circular metal or wooden heaven dial typically sits on a wooden base known as the earth plate. The heaven dial rotates freely on the earth plate. Red wires that crosses the earth plate and heaven dial at 90-degree angles is the Heaven Center Cross Line, or Red Cross Grid Line. This line is used to find the direction and note position on the rings.

Qi, Polarity, and the Bagua

Qi is a positive or negative life force that plays an essential role in feng shui. When it comes to tombs, the goal of feng shui is to take advantage of vital qi by appropriate layouts of graves and buildings. Some people destroyed the graveyards of enemies to weaken their qi.

Polarity is what wuxia/xianxia readers will know as yin and yang. The two forces balance and counter each other; one pushes and the other pulls. The polarity theory and the five elements (metal, wood, earth, fire, water) are also linked to astronomical observation of sunspots.

While the goal of Chinese medicine is to balance yin and yang in the body, the goal of feng shui is described as aligning a city, site, building, or object with yin-yang force fields.

The Eight Trigrams and yin-yang in the center.

Bagua is known as the Eight Trigrams and are a significant part of feng shui. Each trigram is a symbol used in Taoist cosmology represent the fundamental principles of reality and consists of either broken or unbroken lines. The trigrams are also related to the five elements.

There are many schools of thought in feng shui, also known as ‘branches’. The two main branches are the Form Branch and Compass Branch.

The Form Branch is the oldest branch of feng shui and originally concerned with the location and orientation of tombs (yin houses), then progressed to the consideration of homes (yang houses). The “form” in Form branch refers to the shape of the environment, such as mountains, rivers, plateaus, buildings, and general surroundings. It analyzes the shape of the land and flow of wind and water to find a place with ideal qi.

The Compass branch is a collection of more recent feng shui techniques based on the eight cardinal directions, each of which is said to have unique qi. It uses the luopan to determine direction.

There is no contemporary agreement which of the traditional branches is most correct. Therefore, modern practitioners of feng shui generally draw from multiple branches.

Feng Shui in Day-to-Day Life

For normal, everyday folk who aren’t practitioners, feng shui exhibits itself as a list of do’s and don’t’s for setting up your home and workspace. Personally, I call it fancy common sense, or rules that help people get into a good mental space. From stuff like placement of certain objects to not installing the stove right next to the sink, there’s varying degrees of intensity that one can take this to.

For instance, when looking for a new apartment rental, I skipped over any units with front doors directly in front of another door. In feng shui, having doors open directly into each other means good fortune will flow out of your house. Or, in practical usage, it’s really annoying to have a major egress such as the elevator right in front of your front door. Apartment living doesn’t exactly have great soundproofing or smell-blocking for trash.

One shouldn’t have a mirror facing the bed—sound familiar from one of NECRO’s layouts in chapter one? Not only is it bad feng shui, but honestly, I might just scare the bejeezus out of myself when getting up at night.

Feng shui at work.

The spot at a 45 degree angle to the front door is where fortune gathers in the house, so generally we place something that collects wealth in that spot. Or, who wants to see a load of trash/dirty laundry as soon as they come in the front door? Best first impression ever. Though, I’d probably want to leave cookies and milk there if I were in the west. Santa would maybe skip the coal and give me presents instead?

Feng shui can also factor into naming—people might go to a feng shui master to get a second opinion on what name will best further their career. Celebrities do this a lot, as having an appropriate name is very important to building name recognition. Similar to how immigrants might change their names upon arrival in their new country, folks want to change their relationship with their surroundings.

But really, these are nice guidelines and a belief system that only impacts you if you buy into it, much like religion or the Tooth Fairy. As I once saw on a talk show, “City apartments are only yea-big! If you want to have good feng shui in everything, then go pitch a tent in a field because nothing’s ever going to be perfect.”

Honestly, there’s probably a feng shui master out there who will somehow identify bad feng shui in a field as well.

Back to NECRO and Comparisons to Western Culture

In modern days, feng shui is something that permeates many aspects of Chinese culture, just like avoidance of black cats and the number 13 in American culture. Or when it comes to nuptials, bridal/baby showers/gender reveal parties or the wedding tradition of “something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue”. It seems a common refrain that all cultures have something that just makes sense to people living and breathing it, but quite foreign to those not a part of it.

If feng shui still seems hokey to you, that’s perfectly fine too! For our purposes, it’s one of them cultural things that’s been turned into a power system in a fantasy novel. And really, that’s what it is in NECRO.

As Lu Yun says in chapter 12, formations and feng shui are two sides of the same coin. Formations are the yang side, and feng shui the yin. To utilize the full potential of a formation, imbuing it with the qi of heaven and earth is necessary. However, there’s no such qi on Earth. That’s why layouts there can only demonstrate the feng shui side of things, but not the power of a formation.

Brilliant graphic summing up “Is Feng Shui Real?” by Li Mei Ang.

TL;DR Frankly, this article was inspired by numerous instances of feng shui being called bullshit/crap/crazy in NECRO comments, reviews, and elsewhere. This write-up first originated as the most massive translator thought I’ve ever had at the end of a chapter, and continued reaction gave birth to this article. I hope it peels back some of the mysticism!

In NECRO’s world of immortals, formations and feng shui are two sides of the same coin. Formations are the yang side, and feng shui the yin. To tap into the full potential of a formation, the qi of heaven and earth is required. However, there’s no qi on Earth. Therefore, we’re left with only the trappings of formations and the theory principles behind it. Hence, feng shui.

Btw, I am a link to NECRO’s geography and cultivation system! (no spoilers)