Things are starting to come together. To go along with the right arm, Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji now have two legs and a torso and are well on their way to discovering the identity of the corpse. Finding the head would help, though. But while on their wanderings, the two men find themselves at the gates of Yi City, where the streets are thick with poisoned fog and walking corpses.
Inside the city, the pair run into a handful of juniors from a variety of sects, all of whom have gruesome stories about being led hither and yon until they, too, came to Yi City. And it’s here, in a city filled with ghosts, that Wei Wuxian meets the demonic cultivator, Xue Yang. He also learns what befell his uncle, Xiao Xingchen, and his Daoist companion, Song Lang, all told to him by the ghost girl, A-Qing.
Leaving Yi City and its horrors behind, Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji venture to Lanling and the Golden Carp Tower, home of the Jin sect and the Chief Cultivator, Jin Guangyao. And it’s here they learn the identity of the dead man. Now all that’s left is to find out who killed him, and why.
Welcome to the next installment of the Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation series! This is not the second book in the way a western series might be published; however, this is not a separate book, but is instead the continuation of Wei Wuxian’s story, and in order to best enjoy it, you really should read the first book. This volume contains more lovely illustrations from Marina Privalova, and I personally find the translation to be smoother in this book than the first.
Wei Wuxian has given up, in large part, his affectation of being a crazy cut-sleeve trailing longingly after the glorious Lan Wangji and is acting more like himself. Irreverent, clever, as curious as a cat, and as cool as jade, he has already moved past the confusion of having been dead for over a decade. It’s time to find his footing in this new life, and to test the limits of what his new body can and cannot do. And even if the body doesn’t have as strong a golden core (the power source that allows a cultivator to perform amazing physical and magical feats), his mind is as sharp as it ever was. And Yi City is almost designed to draw him out. The mystery, the danger, the challenge of it …
But the most striking part of Yi City isn’t the mystery or the ghost story, though it’s there. It’s instead the interactions between Wei Wuxian and the juniors. These are young men ranging in ages from 15ish to 20 who are looking to any adult figure to tell them what to do, to protect them, and to save them. And, like baby birds, they have imprinted on Wei Wuxian who … who blooms. Showing off, teaching, forging a greater connection with his sister’s son, with the Lan boys Lan Jingyi and Sizhui, and, as always, putting himself between others and danger — and make no mistake, Xue Yang is dangerous — is what makes him who he is.
Jin Ling is the (quite literally) golden child of the Jin sect. Grandson of the last sect leader and nephew of the current sect leader, Jin Guanyao, he is also Wei Wuxian’s beloved sister’s son. He is brash and bold and good hearted, eager to learn and eager to prove himself in stark contrast to Lan Sizhui’s sweet earnestness and Lan Jingyi’s enthusiastic loyalty. And because he is his sister’s son, Wei Wuxian takes special care with Jin Ling, which is only made more heartbreaking by the fact that, if he knew who he was, Jin Ling would have nothing to do with the Yling Laozu who is responsible for the death of both of his parents.
In Golden Carp Tower, the identity of the body is revealed as Wei Wuxian finds the head of Nie Mingjue, older brother of Nie Huaisang, Wei Wuxian’s childhood friend. His head has been kept as a trophy in one of Jin Guangyao’s secret treasure rooms, and, performing the spell of Empathy, Wei Wuxian is able to see the last living memories of the man: how he lived and how he died. But in so doing, he himself is also unmasked. No more able to hide behind face paint and anonymity, in less than a moment Wei Wuxian goes from being part of the cultivation world to, once more, being its number one enemy with everyone’s sword turned against him … all save Lan Wangji’s.
Lan Wangji is stoic, preferring to avoid speaking, especially when a single, cutting glance can be just as eloquent. He is a hero of the Sunshot campaign, deemed as close to perfection as any mortal man can be with his constant destroying of evil Even his own sect hold him in reverence, with only his brother, Lan Xichen, able to guess at the emotions hidden behind his mask. And yet here he stands at Wei Wuxian’s side, unmovable and eternal..
We are now halfway through the Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation and all of the players have been introduced. Wei Wuxian’s past speaks against him — his actions as the Yling Laozu are things of legend and nightmare, while Lan Wanji is a revered hero. Even Jin Guangyao, his rise to power seen through the eyes of the dead Nie Minjue, has become a pillar of the cultivation world whose virtues are many and whose influence is great. And now that all the pieces have been placed on the board, it’s time for the players to take sides.
I love this book. The intricate plotting, the themes of blind faith, mob justice, of how a man’s reputation can chain him to a past even if he has made efforts to change. Wei Wuxian, his brother, and his friends all grew up in a time of war. The lessons they learned of violence and sacrifice of self to the greater good of the many were valuable then. But now, in a time of peace, do those same lessons still hold true? This book was written by a Chinese author for a Chinese audience, so some of the tropes and themes will hit differently then what a western reader may be used to, but there’s still no denying the skill of storytelling, plotting, and characterization in these books.
Please, read them! Give them a chance to introduce you to a whole new world of stories and characters that I hope you will fall in love with.