Review | The Art of Prophecy – Wesley Chu

About the Book

An epic fantasy ode to martial arts and magic—the story of a spoiled hero, an exacting grandmaster, and an immortal god-king from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Lives of Tao.

It has been foretold: A child will rise to defeat the Eternal Khan, a cruel immortal god-king, and save the kingdom. 

The hero: Jian, who has been raised since birth in luxury and splendor, celebrated before he has won a single battle. 

But the prophecy was wrong. 

Because when Taishi, the greatest war artist of her generation, arrives to evaluate the prophesied hero, she finds a spoiled brat unprepared to face his destiny. 

But the only force more powerful than fate is Taishi herself. Possessed of an iron will, a sharp tongue—and an unexpectedly soft heart—Taishi will find a way to forge Jian into the weapon and leader he needs to be in order to fulfill his legend. 

What follows is a journey more wondrous than any prophecy can foresee: a story of master and student, assassin and revolutionary, of fallen gods and broken prophecies, and of a war between kingdoms, and love and friendship between deadly rivals.

528 pages (hardcover) 
Publishing on August 9, 2022
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Disclosure: This book was provided by the author. I am also working on this series. 

Ah, this year has been a thing that’s happened. I’m going to try to get in the habit of writing at least one review a week from now on, but I’ve been extremely busy and I just haven’t had time. So, here I am. 

Now, before I actually start the review, I need to be a bit honest about my relationship with this series. I’m actually editing these books. I did not edit this specific book, but I am editing books two (I’m almost done with it now and it’s un-freaking-believable) and three. Before I could work on book two, I had to read book one so very early on, Wesley Chu emailed me an early draft of The Art of Prophecy, and that’s what I’m going to be reviewing here. 

The Art of Prophecy was a book I knew less than nothing about before I started reading. I enjoy going into books ignorant. I read so much (and edit so much) that unless I do, I end up predicting most of the story before I even start to read, which diminishes my enjoyment. So, not knowing what this was about was really a benefit.

Soon, it became obvious that this was a book unlike any other. Here, we are introduced to Jian, the “chosen one” but instantly you’ll realize that this particular chosen one isn’t like any of the chosen ones you’ve probably come across in fantasy. Jian, the Champion of the Five Under Heaven, lives a lavish life where he is granted his every wish and has a bevy of servants and teachers whose job is to hang on his every whim and only challenge him just enough. 

Taishi (one of my favorite characters ever, full stop) arrives to evaluate Jian’s training and realizes that he’s woefully underprepared for what he is to face. Taishi sets about changing Jian’s life, his training, his… everything. As you can imagine, there are growing pains as Jian and Taishi seem to rub each other wrong for a good chunk of the book, but Taishi is determined, and her stubborn nature and fundamental belief in her task, and in Jian, keeps her going when most everyone else would have probably given up. (I also really love her wry wit, which tends to lift a scene exactly when it needs it most.)

Jian, however, is a character I wanted to hate but ended up loving almost instantly. He starts out the book spoiled, yes, but Chu works him in such a way that even his haughty nature is endearing, and when his life starts changing, his confusion and turmoil is genuine and heartfelt. The transformation he undergoes might be the most obvious in the book, but I’d venture to say The Art of Prophecy is, at its core, about people challenging the roles that have been thrust on them and while Jian might be the most obvious in that, he is far from the only one undergoing fundamental change.

Mixed into this is the Grass Sea, which is some of the most intense, incredible worldbuilding I’ve ever seen. Harkening unto elements of the Great Khan and reincarnation, it’s easy to see where some of the cultural and mythological backdrop was inspired from. Chu, however, makes it his own, transforming it in a way that could only exist in his mind, in these books. The Grass Sea, quite honestly, really does it for me. Here is where Chu flexed his creative muscle. You’ve got creatures the likes of which you’ve never seen before, cities, technology, cultural elements that frankly worked out so well, and in such unexpected ways, they kind of blew my mind.

Sali, our point of view character in the Grass Sea, is fantastic. With a very “takes-no-shit” attitude, Sali has a way with walking into a room and just owning it (she also has one of the coolest weapons I’ve ever read in fantasy). Sali is one of those characters I could sink into so easily, and yet while she has a hard edge and she’s prone to uh… hurting people who cross her, she has a spine crafted of loyalty and love to her people and those she cares about. She has her own moral core, and her raw humanity is what makes the Grass Sea, this incredible, strange place that Chu created, so intensely captivating and immersive. 

Qisami is a character I almost hesitate to say too much about because half the fun with her is the introduction. Suffice it to say, she’s a fantastic character, well-placed to show some other aspects of society readers won’t really pick up on in the other threads quite as clearly. She has an extremely unique voice, and a dry sarcasm that speaks to my soul and her arc in the second book is one of my absolute favorites. Lushly written, Qisami is the knife hidden in the pages of this story, and she slices whatever she touches. She is positively brilliant.

Now, the fighting. I’m not big on fighting, battles, weapons, etc. I can edit that stuff all day, every day but on a personal level, I tend to disengage.

Imagine my surprise when the fighting, training, and weapons ended up being some of my favorite parts of the book. Honestly, the fact that I loved the fighting so much was probably the most shocking aspect of this book for me. I went into this book thinking, “the fighting will be cool but I probably won’t care about it as much as the other parts of the story” and now I’m at the point where I crave these battle scenes, these moments of training, these stunning shows of martial prowess.

It’s hard for me to really explain why the fighting in this book works so well. Part of it is down to description. Chu knows exactly when to lean into a scene, and exactly when to pull out and let the reader fill in the gaps. He gives the reader enough information to be able to “see” all the parts of the battle and understand it without ever going overboard with too much information (which can be overwhelming), or not enough information (which can be confusing). He strikes a happy middle ground, giving enough to pull even those who don’t have a clue (me) effortlessly through the scene without losing any of the chaos and frenzy that make fights so compelling. More, these fights are pure magic and artistry, a choreographed dance and it’s absolutely stunning to behold. There are some moments where the silver screen unfurls in my mind and I can actually see it like I’m watching a movie. Sometimes it gets so acute when I’m editing, I get full-body goosebumps and have to pull away for a few minutes to catch my breath. These books would look incredible on a screen. Incredible. When they get optioned for television/film, I reserve the right to say, “I told you so.”

Now, I don’t know if I can really explain what a big deal this is. Other editors might be nodding along if they read this paragraph, but one of the biggest issues I run across when I edit fantasy is muddy battle scenes, and that’s probably why I sort of just turn off and mentally disengage when I read them now. Battle scenes take forever to edit, because there are so many pieces of them and so many ways to lose the clarity and intensity in a scene. A lot of writers get a bit lost in the details and as an editor, picking apart all the threads that create the knot that is an action scene can be… hard. But I never had an issue with any of that with Chu’s scenes, more, he managed to infuse them with magic and wonder that, while never losing track of what the scene actually is, turned it into something almost transcendent. It’s a physical battle, yes, but each of these characters is engaging in a similar internal battle as well, and Chu operates effortlessly on both planes. 

I tell a lot of my authors to remember “You have five senses and your characters do too. The more senses you engage in a scene, the more real it will be to your reader.” That’s another thing Chu excels at, and it’s part of what makes this book shine so bright. He engages all of the reader’s senses, and it makes this strange, dynamic, complex, vibrant world he’s crafted feel more real than real. This realism trickles through everything, from the characters to the plot itself. I genuinely cared, because Chu thrusts his readers into a world that is just as real and dynamic as their own, and engages all of their senses in so doing. I am invested in Taishi, Jian, Qisami, and Sali, because they are so real to me, and so is the world they live in. 

Perhaps my favorite part of the book lies in the core of the story told: the growth of the characters. At its heart, this is the kind of story I really, really enjoy. It’s about people thrust into certain roles and archetypes, and then defying them, outgrowing them, pushing themselves past the limits they’ve had imposed upon them. As events get rolling, everyone grows and changes. Everyone challenges the structure and norms of the life they’ve been living. I’d dare say, this is a coming of age story that spans all age groups. At the end of the book, no one is who they were at the start, and it’s that journey that Chu portrays so incredibly well. He not only created this dynamic, vibrant world but he filled it full of people who are messily growing and pushing beyond the roles they’ve been thrust into. Perhaps Jian’s evolution is the most obvious, but Sali, Qisami, and Taishi are powerful characters, whose growth throughout the book is masterfully worked and impressively executed. 

So, where does that leave us? 

The Art of Prophecy blew my mind. Every part of this book impressed me, from the worldbuilding to the character dynamics, to the fight scenes and the weapons (Reader, I think I fell in love with Sali’s weapon of choice. I’ll let you read the book to find out what it is, but it is the coolest weapon I’ve ever read in my life and I want one really, really bad). This is the kind of book that shows you what fantasy is capable of when written by an author who is a master of his craft.

I cannot wait for you to read it and love it as much as I did. 

5/5 stars