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.

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.

Review of ‘A Hero Born’ & some thoughts on wuxia translation

A Hero Born. Hailed as the Chinese ‘Lord of the Rings’, 300 million copies of this series have been sold in Chinese since 1959. It was with great excitement and fanfare that this masterpiece received an official English translation in 2018.

It’s 2019. Why is this review coming out only now?

Straight off the bat, I must apologize. MacLehose Press was so gracious as to send me a review copy, and I never got around to doing it justice. I happen to be a Chinese fantasy translator myself, running around in a cohort of likeminded folks. We were naturally tremendously excited to see an emblematic work come out in our sphere, and I personally looked forward to putting the novel up on my shelves as a reference guide for my own work.

Then, one of my colleagues got his hands on a digital review copy before my physical one came and our happy expectations came crashing down. More on that later.

So as a forewarning, parts of this review will be highly critical, as evident in how long it took me to eventually get to it.

Off topic: I like the cover design very much so. Michael Salu marries well the Chinese elements with English reader appeal. Covers sell books, and I definitely would’ve stopped in the bookstore when seeing this. I also love the insert art within the pages. They’re the perfect touch to bring the scenes to life.

So what kinda punk am I to not see Mt. Tai?

I belong to a group of online wuxia/xianxia translators, and have been in this scene for almost four years, witnessing firsthand the rise of online Chinese pulp fiction around the world.

We’re a bunch of wuxia fans, bookaphiles, or drama addicts who started out just wanting to share these awesome stories with those who didn’t know Chinese. We grew up binging Jin Yong novels under the covers or cooing over male leads in wuxia drama. Some of us even take martial arts lessons, or tuned into the online Chinese literature scene when it took off more than two decades ago.

As the scene grew to a more developed, mature industry, some of us transitioned from hobbyists to full-time translators. I personally left behind a M&A consulting/corporate finance job to walk the jianghu full time.

Most translators work with web novels and churn through anywhere from 6,000 to 9,000 Chinese characters a day. While high literature and web novels aren’t typically mentioned in the same sentence, it’d be no hyperbole to say that those of us who’ve stayed in the scene have handled several hundreds of millions of characters in a few short years. To quote what a friend/colleague once said, at some point, quantity becomes quality through sheer force of volume.

In short, we’re some uber fans who live and breathe this material daily. Naturally, we’ve got some opinions on translation styles and principles, yours truly included.

You say tomato, I say tomahto. So what’s in a name?

So we come first to one of my primary gripes about the translation — the names. Names are an absolutely crucial part of a novel, if not part of its heart and soul. They can make or break the audience resonating with a character, or turn an awe-inspiring fight into one with the force of a limp noodle.

In ‘A Hero Born’, we have male lead Guo Jing, son of Skyfury Guo, and female lead Lotus Huang.

A simple one-liner about the cast was enough to send me into paroxysms of horror when I first picked up the book. Some readers might look at me blankly and go what’s up? It’s all pinyin and Chinesey, ergo it looks fine in a Chinese fantasy novel?

There is so much wrongness here, but let me raise Harry Potter as an example. Since it’s originally written in English, that make it more apparent just how jarring the naming scheme is.

We have Harry Potter, son of James Potter, and a student in house Gryffindor (but could’ve gone Slytherin). He eventually marries Ginny Weasley.

Or rather, what if we had Harry Potter, son of Potter Zhanmusi, a student in house Gelanfenduo (but could’ve gone Slythern). He eventually marries Weasley Ginny.

And that, right there, is my biggest beef with the translation of ‘A Hero Born’ and why I couldn’t bear to read it for the longest time. There’s a smattering of translated names in Western syntax. There’s pinyin names in Chinese syntax. There’s partially translated names in… an east-meets-west-and-they’re-still-fighting syntax.

To be clear, I’m not saying that translating the names into English is wrong. That’s a translator judgment call and reading about Skyfury Guo and Ironheart Yang is certainly much more intuitive and descriptive than Guo Xiaotian and Yang Tiexin.

However, consistency is key.

For non-Chinese speakers, is it readily apparent that Guo Jing and Skyfury Guo are related? I might just think they share a same name, like James Marshall and Marshall Lee, but they have nothing to do with each other. It’s an enormous cast to keep track of, and wouldn’t Guo Jing and Guo Skyfury be more intuitive that there’s some sort of familial connection?

Does that syntax feel weird? Sure, but these aren’t Western culture characters. It’d be stranger still if their names made perfect grammatical sense in English.

And why on earth do the two main leads have different name syntaxes? Guo Jing vs Lotus Huang. Was Lotus adopted by a Western family or raised in an English speaking world to justify the mish-mash of syntaxes?

This is often a judgment call to be made in wuxia translation. We’re dealing with a ton of pinyin, which is absolutely exhausting to keep track of in an epic-length novel. ‘Forefather Qianye’ makes much less of an impact than ‘Forefather Thousandleaf’. I chalk up the use of pinyin in names and honorifics as a stylistic choice, but the principle underpinning it all has to be consistency. The syntax and style must remain consistent.

For further reading on pinyin in translations, please refer to a semi-diatribe I once wrote.

Setting aside the fact that I don’t like Huang Rong being English-fied, interactions between characters that wasn’t present in the original had to be added in the translation to illustrate the use of ‘Lotus’. If a step like that had to be taken to explain a translator decision, doesn’t that hearken to the notion that this might not be a good idea?

I understand that Anna needed to indicate that the ‘Rong’ was a character used only in girl’s names, but alternatives would’ve been a footnote or (what I usually do) clarification of the character within the dialogue. The ‘rong’ character is also generally understood as a reference to the hibiscus flower…

Y’all need to get off your high horses!

But perhaps me and my colleagues are a bunch of purist translation snobs. Just as food doesn’t have to be prepared by a Michelin chef to be delicious, neither does a translation have to be the most accurate one in the universe for a novel to be enjoyable. We are hardly the authoritative experts when it comes to translation.

Ready to eat humble pie, I introduced the book to bookaphile and Chinese drama friends when it came out. I especially pointed it out to ABC friends with enthusiasm. These are folks who grew up watching the dramas with their parents and couldn’t fully read the originals due to the language barrier. They were absolutely perfect target audiences who would respond favorably to this masterpiece finally getting translated.

I ran into similar feedback, and noted the same in other online reviews. How the names are handled throw so many people off. I was bombarded with complaints from those I’d recommended the book to, with some going more in-depth in saying that the writing lacked a certain je ne sais quoi. To which, I wonder if Anna Holmwood’s background factors into it.

Anna Holmwood is a wonderful writer — despite my immense gripe about the names, the prose itself was lovely to read. Given her work with the Emerging Translators’ Network and previously as editor-in-chief for Books from Taiwan, her expertise and abilities are not to be doubted in the least.

However, I don’t see many wuxia, xianxia, or xuanhuan works on her resume. For all we characterize wuxia as Chinese fantasy, it’s very much a genre and world of its own. Notions like the jianghu and wulin are completely absent in other genres and fantasy at large. It’d be similar to having a romance author write a litRPG novel. The end result would still read smoothly, and it’d be a great story, but the tone just wouldn’t be quite right.

…this all further reinforced my inertia to crack open the book.

You really are just a snob, etvo. Fite me with your kung fu.

What does wuxia experience matter? Literature is literature is literature.

Alright. Wuxia knowledge is imperative when it comes to naming martial moves and referring to quintessentially wuxia concepts.

Martial methods, weapons, and treasures are the bones of a wuxia novel and critical for the story’s structure. I found the translations in ‘A Hero Born’ to be very literal. ‘Bare Hand Seizes Blade’ or ‘Open the Window and Push Back the Moon’.

The Nine Yin Skeleton Claw, though I personally might’ve replaced Skeleton Claw with ‘Bonecrusher’ or reworked the name entirely.

While those can work, something like ‘Twice Foul Dark Wind’ is off the mark. It’s a reference to a couple who practices the famed move Nine Yin Skeleton Claw, and the translation places the focus on the entirely wrong subject.

I’m really, really sorry, but a dark wind that’s twice foul… makes me think someone is letting loose with one helluva fart due to the ‘breaking wind’ idiom. More accurately, the translation should’ve been something like ‘Twin Devils of the Dark Wind’ or something like that. Tweak as one will for style and preference.

Whenever qinggong is mentioned, it’s done as ‘lightness qinggong kung fu’. I understand the struggle to translate this, I hate doing this term as well and opt for levitation skills (with a footnote) or immense leaps/jumps or qinggong. Using so many words to describe one martial concept illustrates the ongoing struggle throughout the novel to accurately define the notion. In the end, the reader gets bogged down in the redundancy.

Being literal VS localizing more in the target language is a translation debate that will likely rage forever on. I fall on the latter side of that argument, and feel that it’s part of the translator’s job to translate the essence and meaning behind a phrase, rather than just parse a singular Chinese character into an English word.

Literal interpretations breaks immersion into the story and at the very least cut into the flow of a fight, and at worst we get something that sounds kind of right, but isn’t. This is when knowledge of wuxia plays a role, especially in the world of xianxia that I play more in, where golden cores, nascent souls, and internal manors play a role in cultivation levels and pursuit of the dao.

For example, the ‘Supernova Point’ is a move that comes up in one of my own novels. Translated literally, it would be ‘Explode Star Finger’. Using that in a fight would be almost hysterically comical, not to mention the localized translation paints a more vivid picture on what the move actually does.

And this, this right here, is the bones of a wuxia novel. Treasured weapons clanging against each other in the pursuit of justice and revenge. Magnificent moves with immense schools of thought behind them being executed in their refined glory.

And in the midst of all that, an incredible farting villain dashing in and out of it all. Oh dear.

Incidentally, why is the Wades-Gilles spelling of Taoist used in the novel, but hanyu pinyin for all other Chinese words?

Here comes the rest of the kitchen sink…

Speaking of fights, some of the sound effects in them are straight up pinyin. I’m curious as to why ‘sha, sha, sha‘ was chosen over ‘whoosh, whoosh, whoosh’ in some aspects, but not all. Additionally, I might’ve missed the definition of wulin when it first comes up, but this critical wuxia term is referred to over and over again without immediate explanation. There’s a nod to the metaphor of ‘martial forest’ in the intro — who reads those though?

The moves in general are often referred to as kung fu in the novel. Though Anna gives the technical definition of kung fu as anything that takes dedicated practice or time to study (possibly to head off the exact point I’ll make, heh!), it’s hard to get away from the popular culture conception of the term.

Whether it be Jackie Chan, breaking bricks with one’s head, or high pitched screeching while bouncing on the balls on one’s feet, it seems to me that the term has moved slightly away from the notion that’s being referred to in ‘A Hero Born’. Language is a moving, breathing concept and it’s important to factor in its changes.

Translating the measurement units of jin, li, etc would’ve enhanced understanding of the novel without taking away from its authenticity.

I’m also not a fan of how all the titles were capitalized. “Only bad Emperors keep bad Chancellors.”

Suppose that the bad Emperor only became bad because he lost his Sword to the bad Chancellor, who took it because his Teacher was secretly a Spy from another Nation? The Emperor was a good Emperor before!

When everything is capitalized, nothing is special. These are just little nits that would’ve gone a surprising distance to making the novel more accessible and digestible.

PS. The irresistible urge to giggle visits whenever I read ‘devilnuts’ flying around. Was there really no better alternative? Perhaps Chinese caltrops? That would’ve been a perfect subject for an illustration.

This Jin Yong guy seems kinda famous huh?

At the end of the day, why should one pick up a 400+ page book when there are so many adaptations, reboots, remakes, and remakes of the remakes, each with their own delectable cast and increasingly lavish sets to choose from?

And that brings me to a tangent. The dramas.

I’m not joking when I say that even the remakes have remakes. Jin Yong is SO beloved and SO iconic that there are nine versions of the Legends of the Condor Heroes drama alone. The last one was greenlit in 2019. There’s three movies, an animation, manhua (comics), computer games, musical theater, even broadcast theater. This is all for just one of Jin Yong’s series.

There is so much history established with this series that it’s baffling for ~50 years of precedence to be bucked when it comes to naming. Surely it was foreseen ahead of time that the backlash would be enormous, yet the editors still decided to go with the executive decision of an inconsistent naming scheme. For being most concerned about the reactions of Chinese diaspora and Jin Yong fans, as Anna expressed in a CNA interview, this just seems odd.

Plus, this also comes across a missed marketing opportunity. Generations of Jin Yong readers are already out there, setting the stage for success from day one for the English series.

We get it, you obviously hate the novel.

At the end of the day, it’s a very well written novel. I thoroughly enjoyed the prose, especially compared to the web novels I usually have to wade through. Anna’s writing flows smoothly, and I really became vested in the pacing of the scenes.

If one is going into it without much knowledge of wuxia and is looking for a solid introduction to a Chinese classic, this is a solid pick.

If one wants to first read up on the Legends of the Condor Heroes before diving into one of the billion adaptations, this is also a solid pick. If one wants to revisit childhood nostalgia, this is fantastic.

If one is an opinionated bilinguist who counts themselves a ‘xia fan, this would not be the novel for you. You’d be spending too much time nitpicking over name translations and wuxia concepts to enjoy the work, and you’d still be unhappy at the end of the day. This here grouch is going to get off her soap box now, thank you for tuning in.

[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.


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 mostly 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.


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.


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?


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. 😀


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.


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.  


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.
“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.


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. 😀