A review by JC Kang
The Monkey King meets Up.
For a novel entitled Unsouled, Will Wight’s prototypical story has a lot of soul. I’d picked it up a couple of years ago, but each time I’d tried to start, like many books buried on the slopes of Mount TBR, I never made it past the first two pages. Not because it wasn’t interesting, but rather because I have a short atte– Oh, look! The Priory of the Orange Tree! (Note: didn’t get past the first two pages of that one, either.)
Then, book five of the series, Ghostwater, launched into Amazon’s Top 100 and stayed there for weeks. Book six, Underlord, peaked at an eye-popping #5, and as of this writing, half a year after launch, is still in the Top 5000. It has received over 800 reviews with a staggering 4.9 average rating!
After seeing the enormous success of book six, as well as receiving enthusiastic recommendations about the series from friends, and finally meeting the author where we discussed the Cultivation genre (among other things; darts were involved, and maybe some beer), I hunkered down and committed to read through chapter one.
Turns out, it only took the third page to hook me, and I finished the book in two days. If you’ve ever been underestimated, you cannot help but to root for the main character, sixteen-year-old Lindon. In an isolated valley where everyone has supernatural martial skills, he is Unsouled—someone who has no affinity to one of the many paths of magic. This, despite being the son of two accomplished Jade practitioners—the second-highest rank after Golds—with a sister on the verge of reaching Iron. With everyone wearing badges of their rank’s material, and everyone his age already at least Copper, Lindon bears a wooden hexagon emblazoned with the character for “Empty” like his own Scarlet Letter.
With only the most basic martial skill, he relies on his own resourcefulness. In my original draft of this review, I compared him to MacGyver; but because of his age and backpack, I considered Dora. In the end, I settled on Russell from Up, because even though he is always way out of league he is always prepared and driven to succeed.
The worldbuilding is stupendous. It has clear allusions to Daoist theory, with circulating Madra (and allusion to Qi) stored in a Core (Dantian/Sea of Qi) as a basis, but a myriad of schools, clans, and techniques. Lindon embarks on his quest to achieve Copper, but his life is changed by a chance meeting during a tournament among the valley’s clans. It turns out there is more much to this world than what a reader expects, and what starts as a straightforward plot, twists and turns into a web of arcs behind the scenes.
On top of the marvelous cast of characters, exquisite worldbuilding, and fascinating plot, the story is told with a compelling narrative voice. Snarky at times, self-effacing at others, it carries a comedic undertone similar to that of Sufficiently Advanced Magic or Orconomics.
With that in mind, it is the perfect introduction to immerse an English speaker into the Xianxia genre. I rate it 9.9 out 10.
NOTE: I partially listened to the audiobook, narrated by Travis Baldree. He really captures the narrative voice well.
*This review was originally published on Fantasy Faction and has been republished here with the reviewer’s permission.