I have heard great things about Will Wight’s books. If Unsouled was just a taste of what the Cradle series has to offer, I will say those praises are well-founded.
Cradle is an Eastern-inspired fantasy with complex worldbuilding and a cool magic system that reminds me of the Chinese martial art genres of wuxia (heroic) and xianxia (immortal). The narrative follows a young man, Wei Shi Lindon, an Unsouled who was not allowed to learn the sacred arts of his clan in the Sacred Valley. There are myriad paths that a sacred artist can follow, utilising the core of their soul to employ and control the vital aura; forces of the natural world. This power from the soul is called madra. Through various means of progression, which includes training, ingesting elixirs and spirit-fruits, a sacred artist can level up from different stages of madra mastery and strength from Copper to Iron, to Jade and then to Gold. There are also magical artefacts, or Treasures, which also range from those that can be wielded by the lower-ranked sacred artists to those that can only be powered by stronger madra.
Lindon was obviously not satisfied to be stuck at Foundation stage with the children and resolved to find a way to get himself on a Path to the sacred arts. Admittedly, I was not wholly taken in by Lindon – due to his weakness he needed to rely on being cunning and even resort to cheating to get what he wanted. I did appreciate his reasons for doing so because an Unsouled is treated in a most appalling manner. It is highly reminiscent of the Eastern cultures where strength as a matter of pride takes precedence over basic human courtesy or decency. For example, if Lindon were to unintentionally ‘disturb’ a group of Iron sacred artists because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, he will be punished for being a nuisance.
During a momentous event which determines whether Lindon succeeds in fulfilling his wish to learn a Path (through some rather devious manoeuvring), he was given a glimpse of an impending fate which portends the end of all things. Steeling himself with newfound resolve, and bolstered by the opportunity to gain even more than what he desired if he were to just remain with his family and clan, Lindon took an unexpected direction which defies the odds.
The story of the underdog defying the odds is nothing new. However, the magic system which takes its cue from a combination of Chinese spiritual and martial arts, and magical artefacts was exhilarating and refreshingly fun. I’ve also mentioned that there is an element of xianxia in this novel, as there are otherworldly entities of immense and immortal-like power which govern the cosmos. I was not expecting the narrative to take such a turn when I started reading this book, and admittedly, it was quite mind-blowing. With this additional aspect of the story, the series has a potential of epic proportions which I am absolutely looking forward to. Some of the action and fighting scenes, especially in the climactic section of this novel, can only be described as fantastically awesome (Avatar: The Last Airbender comes to mind).
I would describe Unsouled as a great introduction to a series which holds tremendous promise. I may not be fully invested in Lindon yet, but I am more than enamoured with the worldbuilding to keep on going.
Watch this space.
Review originally written on 26 December 2018.
You can purchase the book from Amazon US.