When he was alive, Wei Wuxian, the Yiling Laozu, was the most feared man in the cultivation world with his army of undead. The sounds of his flute brought fear into the hearts of the strong and weak. His death, at the hands of the four great sects, was a matter of great rejoicing. It’s been thirteen years of peace and quiet. In those thirteen years, the brilliant prodigy of the Jiang Clan, the handsome man with the quicksilver laugh, has has become nothing more than a boogeyman in a story to frighten children.
Wei Wuxian opens his eyes to kicks and blows, unfamiliar voices laughing and taunting him. The room smells of blood and in the mirror he sees a face that is not his own. The body, now his body, belongs — er, belonged — to a wretched young man named Mo Xanyu who has cast out his own soul to call Wei Wuxian back from the dead. All he has to do to keep this body is gain revenge on four people. If he doesn’t, his soul and Mo Xanyu’s will both be torn apart by the spell Mo Xanyu poorly copied from a book with missing pages.
Well, that shouldn’t be hard.
Before Wei Wuxian can do more than make sport of the Mo family, people start dying. And, for once, he had nothing to do with it! Instead, it’s a cursed arm causing the havoc, and if it weren’t for the timely intervention of Lan Wangji, even Wei Wuxian — the mighty Yiling Laozu — might not have been able to stop it. But who set the arm on Mo Mannor, and why? And why now? The arm is full of resentful energy, desperate to either find the person who killed it or reunite with its body, and Lan Wangji, the most respected and honorable cultivator of this lifetime or the next, is set to find the answers. And so will Wei Wuxian, who could never leave either a mystery, or Lan Wangji alone.
Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji were both prodigies from powerful sects, Wei Wuxian from the Jiang Clan and Lan Wangji from the Lan Sect. Both are driven to be not just good, but to be the best. Wei Wuxian is quick-witted and charming, loving the sound of his own voice and the reactions he inspires from others. Lan Wangji is quiet and thoughtful, unwilling to waste words to no purpose. When they met as young men, it was … something at first sight. In Lan Wangji, Wei Wuxian found someone who could match him in swordsmanship, in intelligence, in the raw power of his cultivation. In Lan Wangji he also found his favorite toy, someone so easy to rile up that he couldn’t help but do it again, and again, and again. But now, thirteen years later, all of his old tricks fail.
Mo Xanyu was a cutsleeve, and — playing up the part, both to hide his identity and in hopes of driving Lan Wangji away — Wei Wuxian plays it up. He snuggles close, he wears makeup, he flutters his eyelashes and clowns about, but … Lan Wangji doesn’t flinch. He meets each outrageous statement with a grave expression. When Wei Wuxian climbs into his bed, Lan Wangji makes room, using acupuncture points to paralyze him, leaving him unable to do anything but sleep. When Wei Wuxian reaches his hands up Lan Wangji’s sleeves to get his money pouch, he allows it. Everything, anything, he allows it. And Wei Wuxian, not getting the reaction he wants, is torn between frustration … and the urge to push farther.
Lan Wangji is an honorable man. When people need help, he will offer it. Monsters to fight, natural disasters, illnesses or injustice, he will uphold his clan’s honor and do what is right. They say he arrives where chaos is, and they’re right, because he’s right there with Wei Wuxian. Somehow, despite the paint and the new body, Lan Wangji knew it was Wei Wuxian in Mo Xanyu’s body, and he hasn’t let the other man leave his side, since. It’s been thirteen years, and even if Wei Wuxian doesn’t remember, he does.
This is the first book in a four-book Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation (Mo Dau Zu Shi) series (with the fifth book comprising extra scenes, both fluffy and filthy), and much of the relationship that exists between Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian is doled out, bit by bit, like breadcrumbs. Wei Wuxian’s memory has always been a flighty thing, as he only remembers what he finds important and rarely anything else. But Lan Wangj remembers. He remembers all of it. Wei Wuxian, while trying to solve the mystery of the arm, is also coming face to face with past, the good and the bad, and the people in his life, such as Jiang Cheng, his martial brother, and Nie Huaisang, a childhood friend. Who they were, who they are, and who he was. Choosing not to remember what you’ve done doesn’t relieve you of the responsibility.
Wei Wuxian has a decided voice. He was a young man when he died in his early twenties, and is now in the body of a young man not yet twenty. He is used to being powerful and feared, used to being untouchable. Before, if he was in a room and no one was speaking his name, he couldn’t help but be offended. Now, he’s trying to hide since, well, everyone hates him. It took the gathering of all the cultivation clans to kill him before, but in this weak body, he wouldn’t be able to stand against even one of them. Hence, the need to hide behind Lan Wangji. Even so, his greatest weapons have always been his mind and his heart; his ability to out-think and improvise; and his honest desire to do good and befriend the world.
This is the English adaptation of the book Mo Dao Zu Shi, translated by Suika — with beautiful illustrations by Marina Privalova — and it’s such a good book. Wei Wuxian is chaotic good trickster spirit bound inextricably to the lawful good Lan Wangji who will follow him through fire and back. It’s also one of my favorite books and I am absolutely delighted to be able to share it and recommend it. It has inspired a drama (The Untamed, available on Netflix, with absolutely perfect casting), an animated series, and a web comic (both are a little more faithful to the book than the drama), all of which I also recommend. This first book opens up the world of cultivation clans, their politics and squabbles, their power struggles, and their responsibility to the people who look to them for protection.
There is a detailed character list and glossary in the back of the book to help with unfamiliar terms, such as golden core — think of it like a magic user’s power source — sentient swords, talismans, and daoist magic. It is well worth the read. And just wait until I review the final book …