The Art of Destiny was one of my most anticipated reads for 2023. Only a year has passed since the War Arts saga began, but I still needed a refresher. I easily fell back into the series thanks to not only a detailed character list that refreshed my memory but also because Wesley Chu’s dynamic characters felt like old friends that I was excitedly catching up with. Book two has a much different vibe and takes a more wandering path to set the stage for the rest of the series. It has a slow pace and branches off to many different subplots, so it lacks a lot of the punchiness and excitement in book one, but I still found myself unable to put the book down. Spoilers below for book one in the series, The Art of Prophecy.
The world erupts into chaos now that the prophecy is good and broken. The Tiandi religion has abandoned its prophesied hero, and the dukes amass armies to push at their borders. Unrest, droughts, and all sorts of drama unfold throughout the Enlightened States, but the country’s problems have not yet reached the mysterious peaks of the Cloud Pillars. In this remote area, Wen Jian continues to train under Taishi, the Grandmaster of the Windshipering School of the Zhang Lineage. While Jian struggles under the weight of his destiny, he is granted a small reprieve as his enemies turn their attention elsewhere. Qisami and her Shadowkill cell failed their mission and are now licking their wounds by taking on bad, low-paying contracts. In Katuia, the Pull of the Khan is destroying Sali’s body, and the famed Viperstrike is but a shadow of herself as she attempts to create freedom and safety for her clan.
The story structure changes a lot in The Art of Destiny. At its foundation, the same incredible characters are at the helm, ready to carry out immersive fight sequences and deliver quippy lines so we don’t take ourselves too seriously. But the story is evolving, and book two gives us a totally different flavor. The characters in book one are either focused on surviving or hunting, and the story weaves together into a satisfying culmination of events where all the characters meet head-on in a final showdown. In the sequel, the paths have diverged and the pieces of the story become scattered on different winds as the characters take on side quests. Jian trains more freely to prepare for the prophecy, Qisami goes back to the Shadowkill grind, and Sali searches for a cure. The story spends a lot of time building and putting the pieces into the proper position for book three, so it felt like I was treading water a lot of the time. I still enjoyed the book very much, but it definitely lulls in places and has a slower pace in comparison to its explosive predecessor.
One of my favorite parts about this series is that the chosen one is nowhere near ready to fulfill his prophecy. It’s this realization that kicks off the events of book one, and Jian’s lack of discipline, training, and youthful whims were qualities that served him well in that story. But when Destiny picks up three years later, it seems that the young man has regressed. Jian has become a bumbling himbo barely aware of himself and the world around him. Now, I like that Jian is naive and that there are gaps in his training. He is young and untested, and I fully expected him to continue his evolution in this book. However, his shortcomings are magnified so much more in this book that Jian feels unrecognizable. This can be explained by the focus of the story, which zooms in on Jian’s training in a way that was absent in book one. Jian’s struggles also make the prophecy feel impossible which plays into the everpresent foreboding feeling that the world is going to shit. Additionally, Jian’s regression does support the story’s development overall because it allows Chu to grow the cast all the while digging in his heels to make the reader comfortable with a hero who is not going to meet expectations. Ultimately, Jian’s failures continue to support the theme of our unqualified hero, but it was jarring to re-acquaint myself with him in this book.
I am thrilled that Chu introduces new characters to build Jian’s support group for his hero’s journey in this book. Taishi may be the Windwhispering Grandmaster, but there is only so much she can teach Jian. Recognizing this flaw provides Jian opportunities to work with other trusted war masters and their heirs to round out his abilities. Bringing in these new characters builds out the world further, exposes us to different fighting styles, and gives us a peek into Taishi’s history. While Jian’s story does lull, part of it is kept fresh by the many new personalities that hurt and help him along his path. Qisami and Sali also provide the reader with avenues to meet new characters and explore other areas of the world. Although their stories feel detached and separate from Jian’s, they both serve to keep tabs on the world while Jian is hidden away. Qisami has a pulse on the Enlightened States and provides us a window into the very real issues brewing amongst the dukes. Sali continues to be our eyes into the feared Katuia clans as the failed prophecy disrupts their long-held belief system.
Overall, I found The Art of Destiny to be a good but largely underwhelming story. I’m giving it a higher rating simply because Wesley Chu has created a fantastic cast of characters that I want to read about even on their worst days. I am hopeful that these hard-earned pieces of the story are setting up for an epic conclusion to the series.
Rating: The Art of Destiny – 7.5/10
I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. The thoughts on this story are my own.