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.
ON WITH THE STORY! …BUT SERIOUSLY, WHERE ARE WE?
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?
SO WE’RE DEFINITELY NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE…
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.
SHOULD I TRY IT?
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.