As promised, this is a review of Zheng Feng's Sword of Spirits (靈劍), her second published novel. There are some spoilers.
This is going to be a long-ish review, unlike what I have said earlier. I hope to be as objective as possible without being dishonest.
According to Zheng Feng's afterword, this novel was written before her first published novel, The Tian-guan Chivalric Duo. It went through a major rewrite and what is presented in my edition could be called a mixture of her first and second written novel.
To be honest, I find Sword of Spirits a novice work, as could be seen from its (quite serious) shortcomings. The plot is desultory at times, the primary and secondary threads of the story aren't clearly separated. Some episodes are far too short; others are far too long. The first 19 chapters, to me, is quite boring. According to Zheng Feng, she rewrote much of the first volume. The plot really picks up at around chapter 20.
The main story concerns an evil religious cult group called the Fire Cult (火教), based at the Dusheng Peak (獨聖峰), which promotes the worship of its leader, Duan Dusheng (段獨聖). For some reason the Cult managed to defeat the Shaolin Sect and becomes the most powerful sect in the entire jianghu fraternity. The protagonist is Ling Xiao (凌霄) who also learns medicine in addition to some superb sword technique. (Echoes of JY's Dragon Sword and Heaven Saber). He opposes Duan Dusheng who is a wicked man. Ling Xiao, like Duan, also has some mind reading abilities (which is lost midway in the novel). One major plotline is his relationship with a highly skilled swordswoman called Yanlong (燕龍), the love interest.
This novel cannot be recommended without major reservations. A problem is a proliferation of plotholes throughout the novel. There are more than you can count with both hands, i.e. dozens of them at least. I shall give a plothole to illustrate what I mean:
Beginning of the second volume, Ling Xiao escapes from the Dusheng Peak. He then stays at Tiger Hills (虎山) and becomes a famous doctor/warrior whom many people challenge. This doesn't make much sense... Ling Xiao is wanted by the leader of the Fire Cult and after escaping, he doesn't hide in a secluded place and live under a disguised name? After all, he has a younger sister whose martial arts is so-so and who frequents the town every other day. This is a major plothole... why doesn't Ling Xiao hide himself? Why doesn't Duan Dusheng kidnap his sister and/or threaten rape etc., but instead sends only third-rate assassins to kill Ling Xiao? I know I'm a wicked man, but I really don't believe anyone else won't think about doing this.
(Edit Note: I've reread parts of the novel and deleted plothole 2. It seems a mistake on my part.)
If it were only this, it would be bearable. Alas, such plotholes are all over the book...
Also, many parts of the plot can evolve into major set pieces. Zheng Feng doesn't develop them (e.g. how Fire Cult demolished Shaolin Sect). As a result, they aren't particularly convincing. I still don't understand how the Fire Cult can beat Shaolin Sect... even though there seems to be no good fighter in the Shaolin Sect except the abbot... has Shaolin Sect become a third-rate sect?...
The best part of the novel is, I think, the last three chapters. It ties up loose ends and makes an interesting and happy conclusion. The rest of the novel ought to be planned more carefully before being put to paper, I feel.
I find the afterword more interesting than the novel proper. In it, Zheng Feng outlines how and why she created various characters and her feelings towards them. It is most interesting... although the execution is a bit lacking.
However, just as many people like this novel as others dislike it. I happen to be one not particularly impressed, but if you are still interested, there's no reason not to try this 93-chapter novel.
Conclusion: Although I find Zheng Feng's Sword of Spirits a wuxia novel with many flaws, other readers might not be as bothered. The ending is well done and I believe some girls might be impressed with the main love relationship. It cannot be recommended though without serious reservations... although I would like others to challenge my view.