Dawn of the Broken Sword Review

Review: Dawn of the Broken Sword by Kit Sun Cheah

Dawn of the Broken Sword is a steady cultivation novel with unique sci-fi elements. This first story in the Saga of the Swordbreaker features swarms of monsters, magical and technological weapons, and diligent work towards a perfect ideal.

Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed Dawn of the Broken Sword. I encourage you to check it out!

This review contains minor spoilers.

Dawn of the Broken Sword Publisher Description:

Li Ming is a small-town boy with big dreams.

In the era of the Five States and Ten Corporations, the immortals of the jianghu stand head and shoulders above the masses. Li Ming aspires to join their ranks.

But the world of the rivers and lakes is fraught with peril. Deception and danger lurk in the shadows. Bloodthirsty beasts roam the wilds. Martial cultivators constantly battle for wealth, glory and status.

Armed with his ancestral swordbreaker, Li Ming enters the jianghu as a biaohang, eager to deliver justice with steel and magic—and to chase the dream of immortality.

But first, he must prove himself worthy.

Author’s Note: This series is not a power fantasy. There are no LitRPG / GameLit elements, no unconventional relationships, and no sexual content. It is, quite simply, a cultivation story—in the actual sense of the term.

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Traditional and Futuristic

Dawn of the Broken Sword is a cultivation novel (wuxia / xianxia) in the traditional sense, a progression fantasy wholly separate from the LitRPG scene. The usual setting within the jianghu (“rivers and lakes,” although sometimes translated “martial arts world”) is upheld, and both the Chinese-inspired elements and the cultivation is ardently described.

But the world of The Swordbreaker Saga also explores what a futuristic cultivation society would look like, with advanced technology, corporate influences, and infinity guns working alongside the usual magic, medicines, and customary weapons.

Cheah makes all of these different elements feel natural together, and the city that they exist in feels fresh and intriguing as a result.

Upright Character

This is not a “fast cultivation” story, where the main character skyrockets into power early on to pummel enemies for the rest of the story. Instead, the reader is exposed to the rigorous physical and mental training Li Ming undertakes in his quest for cultivation. Each confrontation and victory is made believable by this continual effort.

Furthermore, Li Ming’s character is also developed during these scenes. The values of the biaohang – modesty, respect, righteousness, trustworthiness, loyalty, determination, endurance, willpower, perseverance, courage – are more than mere platitudes to him. He is committed to diligently advancing his skills.

The action sequences, then, further build upon his character by showing his resolution to do the right thing and protect people. Cheah treats Li Ming’s idealism with approval, and our honorable protagonist finds himself rewarded for his courage often, regardless of his humble protests that he was merely doing his duty.

Personal Responsibility

I’ve reviewed a number of stories with themes of personal responsibility, often with the particular contributing value of diligence. Heroism does not spring from nothing, after all. Dawn of the Broken Sword certainly follows in this vein, but it goes a step further.

Li Ming is not merely diligent in his training, enabling him to win victories in battle. He also demonstrates the value of self-control. Self-control gets him up in the early morning after a hard battle. It empowers him to diffuse tense interpersonal situations and to take courageous actions during overwhelming battles by breathing through volatile emotions. 

His self-control allows him to apply his diligent training and follow through on his convictions in the heat of the moment.

This is a unique trait and made for an enjoyable character who was believable without subjecting the reader to cringe outbursts. It makes sense that the romantic lead is similarly appreciative of this maturity.

Heroism

I’ve recently noticed a thematic trend of disillusionment and disappointment with the military as a vehicle of heroism. I mentioned it briefly in my review of In Darkness Cast, but it is more pronounced in Dawn of the Broken Sword

Li Ming has some feelings of having been exploited or used particularly by the influence of corporate money on military movements. He believes he can better serve and protect others under his own direction, which indicates that there is a sense in which he was prevented from doing so or had to actively work against his principles while under military authority. 

There is an important distinction in this thematic trend, however, between the indie scene and traditionally published books with similar character backstories. The disillusionment is never with the concept of heroism, itself. Li Ming is not bitter towards the Corporations. He has course-corrected to better reach his goal; it is unfortunate that it was not possible within an organization that ought to be working towards the same ideal.

Training and Battles

Dawn of the Broken Sword has a lot of action sequences. Many of these, especially early in the story, are dominated by descriptions of training exercises and tests that lack a true antagonist to drive the tension. They serve well to emphasize the diligence and preparation needed for true cultivation, while simultaneously weaving in exposition to explain the mechanics and culture.

However, the monster battles are where Cheah’s skill as a writer really shines through. These are fast-paced and brimming with tension. His descriptions of the choreography flow faster and paint a wider picture than the introspective forms and sets. They also develop and showcase Li Ming’s character, as previously noted, to great effect. 

The monsters themselves are fantastic. The descriptions are engaging; the threat is believable. I look forward to more of these as the series progresses!

The Metaphysical

The concept of cultivation draws heavily from Taoism / Buddhism and many Chinese cultural elements. The Swordbreaker Saga embraces this tradition, so it should be noted that there are detailed descriptions of the religious component.

While I have some theological objections and thematic frustrations with the results, I feel that these descriptions contribute to keeping the overall feel of a traditional setting, especially considering the futuristic spin. Many sci-fi novels suffer from the assumption that atheism prevails in advanced societies by default, and it was nice to see something a bit different.

(You can read about our approach to religion in fiction on our Content Concerns page.)

Check Out Dawn of the Broken Sword

Dawn of the Broken Sword is an excellent example of a true cultivation novel that leans into the traditions of the genre while crafting a unique science fantasy experience. I look forward to the rest of the Saga of the Swordbreaker!

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7 Replies to “Dawn of the Broken Sword Review”

  1. Loved the book as my entry into cultivation! I imagine this will leave me pretty spoiled for wholesomeness, if not quality too.

    Endorsed!

  2. Let me start out by saying that I have enjoyed a number of books by Kit Sun Cheah, so I went into this expecting to be entertained, and I was.

    Most important takeaways: What is right and good is more important than what is powerful, and it is good to have a complete and loving family.

    We meet our protagonist getting ready to leave the farm and head to the city to be a warrior. Why? Why leave his family on the farm? It is something he can do, and he follows in his father’s footsteps–his father had dome the same thing before retiring to the farm. And the most important thing is…we already see he’s not the best. His father is much better, so he as an ideal to aspire to.

    He’s offered a weapon, any weapon, from the armory as a gift, and yet this also is a test. He claims the one weapon which belongs to the family and yet will not set the defense of the village back, and so chooses the titular swordbreaker.

    We transition to the city after seeing combat against wildlife using sub-par equipment, getting used to the city and partial culture shock, and introduction to the world of martial cultivators: power is (almost) everything, but there are rules and rituals to follow to keep bloodshed and combat to a minimum outside of official duels. But there are always those on the edges and beyond who will ignore the rules or twist them for benefit.

    And there are wonderful contrasts.
    Military: Order is everything. Obedience to superiors, even if that means atrocities. This is why he got out, so that he could pursue what is right instead of being constrained to orders.
    “Professional” cultivation: Like professional boxing mixed with wrestling, a combination of showmanship and actual fighting, and celebrities at the top looking down on others who are merely in security.
    Professional/security cultivation: Do the job hired to do, but this company is prestigious enough it can choose contracts rather than having to acquiesce to pressure from the Government and the Ten Corporations all the time.
    Criminal cultivators: Less constrained than others, but seeking to shift the reality of power without being showy about it–for now.

    We see mistakes made, lessons learned and applied. The swordbreaker turns out to be an incredible gift, hidden at the time, exposing how much more he needs to learn. And, at the end, we see betrayal and the rise not just of a criminal secret society that has infiltrated one of the Ten Corps (causing severe legal troubles which weaken it and thus the current order of society), but also a cultivation manual with a powerful technique that an ambitious cultivator could use for great and terrible deeds. I am sure that both of these conflicts will bloom in future installments.

    There is also a possible romance, the inherent caste differences of so-called immortals (those rich enough to afford rejuvenation treatments) and the rest. Different philosophies and styles of cultivation (5 elements, 12 beasts, yin/yang, and more). Enough to have a richly layered, real-feeling world.

    As a math person, one thing that tickled me early on was a fighting style that unified straight lines and circles. Why does this tickle me? In Möbius geometry (geometry on the complex plane), circles and lines are, essentially, the same and are transformed into each other with ease.

    Anyhow, I recommend. Pick up, read, and enjoy. I certainly have.

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