by Wesley Chu
Measuring up to the first book of a series can be a daunting task, but Wesley Chu avoids the sophomore slump with The Art of Destiny, the second tale in his War Arts saga. When the story picks up, Wen Jian, the prophesied hero, has been training in secret with his mentor, Taishi. Hiding and on the run, they’re the most wanted people in the kingdom. Unfortunately, Taishi’s health is declining, and she feels the pressure to finish her protégé’s training.
In the kingdom, the ever-warring dukes are jostling for power, but might be on the verge of a truce — assuming they can trust each other. They’re involving everyone in their schemes, including Qisami, the shadowkill assassin, and her crew. When they’re hired to go undercover during peace negotiations at Duke Yanso’s palace, Qisami finds herself playing double agent. Her loyalties are tested.
Meanwhile, Salminde the viperstrike has traveled to the far north to seek a cure for the wasting disease she incurred when her khan died. She hopes to rid herself of the disease while securing the future of her outlawed tribe.
Chu deftly weaves these story threads together as tensions rise in the kingdom. Chafing under the restrictions of hiding out, Jian eventually goes to town and finds the religious order that formerly venerated him has now labeled him the Villain of the Tiandi. All goes spectacularly wrong when Jian, Taishi, and their war artist friends are captured, then sent to Duke Yanso’s palace, where the pulse-pounding climax plays out.
One thing that sets this story apart from similar fantasy tales is its wry sense of humor. The hero whines, the assassin worries she’s getting soft, and the war artists snipe and squabble amongst themselves like old married couples. That’s not to say Chu shortchanges the action — far from it. Those who like their fantasy served up with martial arts and a dash of wit will find much to love about The Art of Destiny.