Rating: 5 stars
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Length: Novel

 

Xie Lian may have thought the events of Banyue Pass were done and over, but he is quite mistaken. Called back to the heavens, he is commanded to appear before the Heavenly Emperor himself, Jun Wu. At court, Xie Lian is once again an outcast. No one will walk with him — going out of their way to be either so far behind or so far ahead no one can mistake them for associating with him — and no one will talk with him. Even Mu Qing and Feng Xin, who were once his friends, still refuse to look at him. And when General Pei, the ancestor and blood kin of Pei Xiu, the man who caused the tragedy of Banyue Pass, tries to turn the whole thing around and put the blame on Xie Lian, one has to laugh.

It’s that or cry.

If it weren’t for the Wind Master, a capricious, friendly, and flighty god standing up for Xie Lian (or maybe just poking at General Pei), the situation might have turned ugly. But with their help and the Emperor’s forbearance, the matter is settled. But not without a price. Jun Wu wants Xie Lian to descend into the Ghost Realm and look for a missing heavenly official. Going with him are the Wind Master and Lang Qianqiu, a young man with whom Xie Lian has a delicate past.

Down in the Ghost Realm, Xie Lian once again comes face to face with San Lang, also known as Hua Cheng, the powerful Ghost King. In the gambler’s den, Xie Lian gambles for the life of Lang Qianqui, placing his wretchedly poor luck against the Ghost King’s own dice.

This is the second part of the eight-volume series of Xie Lian, Tian Guan Ci Fu (or Heaven Official’s Blessing series). This isn’t, strictly speaking, a series. Instead it’s one giant story broken up into eight books for ease of reading and publishing, and really ought to be read in order. Translated from Chinese by Suika and Pengie, it has what, at first, can seem to be an overwhelming amount of names, titles, and concepts, but at its heart, it is a love story between Xie Lian and Hua Cheng.

Xie Lian was a mortal prince, beloved and beautiful, born to wealth and privilege, who ascended to the heavens due to great ability and superior cultivation skills. But he chose to forsake the heavens to return to the mortal world and save his people, and has been living with that decision ever since. For 800 years he has been living with the memories of his people, the ruin of his kingdom, and the weight of failure upon his shoulders. His luck is awful — if he rolls the dice, it’s always snake eyes. When the Wind Master suggests he try to gamble using his bad luck, wagering on the lowest number winning, he rolls double sixes — and his honesty and determination to walk his path no matter the pain have cost him his friends.

Xie Lian has learned to smile through it all. He can’t die. Stab him a thousand times and he’ll feel every pain, never knowing the peace of death. Starve him, beat him, burn him, poison him, he still can’t die. It lends him a bitter sort of calm, and he works hard to be unruffled. Let the world judge him. He knows who he is and what he’s done. He has always tried to do what is right even when society says it’s wrong. He’d rather save one child from falling than please the gods in their heavenly palaces.

Hua Cheng, the mysterious Crimson Rain Sought Flower, is a figure of fear and fascination. Stronger than the martial heavenly gods, smarter than the civil gods, he is the king of the ghost realm. His scimitar, Eming, is cursed. One blow from it will kill even the strongest of the heavenly officials, but he lets Xie Lian stroke it like a cat. His treasury of spiritual weapons, items both glorious and deadly, he offers to Xie LIan if he wants them. No ghost in the world would dare cast so much as a look at Xie Lian if Hua Cheng does not wish it, and when Jun Wu places Xie Lian under house arrest, no force can stop Hua Cheng from reaching him. But for all that he seems to care very much for Xie Lian’s good opinion of him, Hua Cheng is still flagrantly thumbing his nose at the Heavenly Emperor. The two men are obviously at odds, and both of them seem to have taken an interest in Xie Lian.

This book has a great deal to say about public perception, and how easily one can go from hero to villain — or villain to hero — with a well spun story or a sudden reversal of fortune. In this world, one martial god went from being a strong and vigorous hero to a god known for the size of his endowment, so much so that now more women pray to him for virile husbands and healthy sons than men do. And the Wind Master, who ascended along with his brother (almost unheard of for a family to have two ascended gods, let alone two in the same generation!), is more often represented in his temples as a woman. People didn’t like praying to two male gods, so they made them brother and sister or, to the amusement of the Wind Master and the horror of his brother, husband and wife. Thus the Wind Master switches from male to female forms at will, and has greater powers while being a woman.

Xie Lian, a god with no worshipers, has no one to decide who or what he must be. He is not bound by the fickle whims of humans anymore, only by his own heart. Xie Lian is well aware that gods can be wrong, can fail their people — as he failed his — and refuses to live by anyone’s rules but his own. Every man (or god) must walk their own path, and having sacrificed so much for the right to walk his, he will not turn away from it now.

While this book has a great deal of plot and politics, the characters are the true stars of the story. Xie Lian is wonderful, all too aware of how the world works. Hua Cheng and Jun Wu are two powerful men, each with their own designs on Xie Lian who is not unaware … just somewhat uninterested. Wind Master is a darling, and I cannot wait for the third book to get here.

Joyfully Jay