Tao Wong's A Thousand Li Series
Good premise ruined with incredibly slow pacing.
I had heard great things about this series, and A Thousand Li is a staple on the cultivation and progression fantasy reading lists. So take this review with a grain of salt, that obviously my take here may not be reflective of the wider community.
The premise of the books follows similar wuxia and xianxia novels - disadvantaged youth Wu Ying gains favour of powerful but mostly absent benefactor, gets to join a powerful Sect to study and grow, but is seen as an outsider and has many external and internal struggles.
Fair enough. It’s the execution that counts.
So what do I look for in my progression novels? Generally:
- Interesting magic / powers and a character learning to use them to their advantage.
- Character growth and relationship development outside of ‘power’.
- An interesting world to inhabit that I want to learn more about.
The third item is a definite check for this series. Tao Wong creates an authentic world based off ancient China, even leaning into the proper terminology and historical systems in place and explaining them with annotations in the work. I appreciate this, because I felt both like I was learning something new, and because it showed a researched depth and history to the world.
But for the other two points, this is where I think the main problems lie. In terms of interesting powers, by the time I put down the forth book, the main character has finished their Body cultivation phase and is progressing through their Energy cultivation phase, but is still fairly new to it. The end result is that his power is effectively being stronger and sturdier than a normal person, just like every other cultivator at his sect.
And in terms of relationships, whilst there were some genuine interactions I enjoyed (the wrestling Elder, for example), many seemed glossed over. At some point around the third book, the main character, during the plot to steal a book from a city (this is effectively the plot of The First War, the third book in the series), has a relationship. His girlfriend he barely speaks to, things fade away, and then when we start book four we find out that things just fell apart.
True to life in many cases, sure, but its hard to be invested in relationships which happen tangientally or mostly off screen.
At the end of the day, even if I found A Thousand Li a bit too slow for me, Tao Wong is a prolific author and many of his other works do have that extra bit of pacing and grab that I’m looking for. Go check out his System Apocalypse series if you haven’t seen it yet either.