Rating: 5 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

 

As a young man, Xie Lian enjoyed a life of privilege and power. As a crown prince, his every whim was catered to by his parents, his people, and even his teachers. When he spoke, it was treated as wisdom; when he acted, it was treated as heroism; when he said yes, not even the world around him would dare to say no. Upon ascending to the heavens, even Jun Wu, the Heavenly Emperor, yielded to Xie Lian’s every desire, letting him get away with what no other god would even dare consider, let alone attempt. But three years after his ascendancy, when the kingdom of Xianle began to suffer, Xie Lian descended in righteous pride to save his people, to bring rain to drought stricken regions and humility to kings. But the little good he does somehow turns against him, and soon Xianle is wracked by civil war, scourged by plagues, and beset by demons.

Now, after 800 years have passed and Xie Lian — the laughingstock of the heavens, the god of misfortune — has a chance to do good again. His cousin, Qi Rong, also known as the Night-Touring Green Lantern (and considered one of the Four Great Calamities), has possessed the body of a human and Xie Lian has no idea how to get him out. He also has two children with him; one is the son of the body Qi Rong has taken, who dotes on the man he thinks of as his father; the other is Lan Ying, the burned boy Xie Lian saved.

The heavens must think fatherhood looks good on Xie Lian because a case involving a demonic fetus spirit lands, quite literally, in Xie Lian’s lap. Fortunately, Hua Cheng seems to have taken no offense to Xie Lian burning down his house earlier and is still willing to help … but after the Ghost King steals Xie Lian’s first kiss, he’s not certain how he feels about the other man.

This is the third volume in the Heaven Official’s Blessing, a serialized Chinese web novel translated to English, and is not meant to be read as a standalone. Previous adventures and familiar characters all make reappearances, and the story will make absolutely no sense if you haven’t read the previous books. This volume features stories for the Wind Master; his brother the Water Master; and the Wind Master’s best friend, the Earth Master (who might disagree with the ‘friend’ part of it). General Pei; General Pei’s libido, reputation, and scandals; as well as Pei the younger have another moment to, er, shine. More time is given to Mu Qing and Feng Xin, their rivalry, and their complex relationship with Xie Lian, Qi Rong, Xie Lian’s parents, and Hua Cheng.

Xie Lian is privileged in every sense of the word. He has never been contradicted. He has never known what it is like to suffer because of the power or position of someone else. When he wants to help someone, he does. His life has been one of ease and happiness and so, when he realizes that his kingdom is suffering, he not only wants to fix it, he wants to shame his father for not fixing it sooner. But a drought, a natural occurrence, isn’t something a king can fix with a wave of a hand. He can have water brought from far away lakes and rivers — at huge expense and inconvenience — but then you have two problems. The people who depended on those lakes and rivers are now suffering, and you still haven’t fixed the cause of the problem.

Xie Lian’s father raises a good point: If all these easy, idealistic ideas worked, why wouldn’t we have done them before? If making it rain solved a drought, then bring in the cultivators, bring in the gods! But life doesn’t work that way. Ideals are a good thing to have, but without intelligence and understanding, without taking the time to fully understand the problem, Xie Lian’s temporary efforts only serve to cause strife. Why does he help this village, but not that one? Why does a god need to try so hard? Why does the crown prince come down to save us? Does this mean the king can’t? Won’t?

Xie Lian means well. He always does. But an instant solution isn’t always the right one, and every attempt he makes at quick, easy, happy solutions only lead to more problems. As a warrior, as a martial god, Xie Lian knows how to kill demons. He’s never had to think before. And the more he struggles, the more his worshipers seem him fail, and the more they doubt, the less they pray. And the less they pray, the weaker Xie Lian becomes, which causes more struggles, and the circle keeps turning. Even his two best friends, his bodyguard and his personal attendant begin to doubt.

Feng Xin will always support Xie Lian to the bitter end. But watching the man he worships and idolizes fail, and suffer, and lower himself has him angry, guilty at his doubts and lashing out at Mu Qing more often. Mu Qing, who — as we saw in the second book — also cares about the common people, realizes that you can’t save everyone. That sometimes you have to make sacrifices. And when Xie Lian won’t, won’t choose to save as many as he can just because the price is judged as ‘wrong’, he can’t help but feel anger and rage. Xie Lian chose to save people in a small village over other. So why can’t he choose his own people, his own city over the attackers?

It’s pride and ego that have Xie Lian by the throat. He is powerful, he is a force of good, and he does mean well. But when he’s told by others that he has no idea what he’s doing, that he would have done better to have stayed in the heavens and not come down, he refuses to listen. And it’s admirable. And it will, ultimately, doom him. When told that his people were always meant to die and his kingdom fade away — as so many others have done throughout history — Xie Lian won’t listen. If they were meant to die, then there’s no reason to not give everything he has to save them. Every life he saves is a life, after all.

Back in the present, Xie Lian is now a man of no pride and no ego. And in its way, that’s just as problematic. He still cares nothing for the consequences, but now it’s simply that he’s no longer bound by any rules. He does what he sees as good, what he sees as right, with no one by his side. He is lonely, touch starved, and emotionally brittle. He has been mocked, jeered at, laughed at, and made mockery of by the people who once proclaimed to love him. Do their actions now negate the actions before? Are the people who stand with him now doing so because it’s funny, or because they’re taking pity on him? Wind Master is everyone’s friend, but when they come to Xie Lian for help, it’s not because everyone else said no, it’s because Xie Lian both might have a chance at helping them, and is the most expendable. After all, he can endure so much, so does it matter if he gets hurt? Hua Cheng has his own motives. His obsession over Xie Lian could well be sincere, but it could also just be another way of thumbing his nose at the heavens.

There are two moments that stood out to me for how effectively the scenes were written. The first,

Spoiler title
when Hua Cheng stole Xie Lian’s first kiss. Xie Lian, in order to cultivate his power, relies on a path of self denial. No wine, no drugs, no sex. He has been pure for 800 years, untouched, keeping everyone at arm’s length. But after all of this time of being tortured, ignored, humiliated, shunned … to have someone touch him? To have someone look at him with affection? He recoils in confusion, and it is honestly poignant in how close to breaking a small bit of kindness brings him.
The second moment is a moment of body horror where
Spoiler title
the human face disease (as the name implies, small, human faces start growing on the body) has spread so far on a man’s leg that these faces, which represent the souls of the starving dead, start tearing at and chewing grass as their victim lies in the quarantine camp. It’s horrifying,
and if you’re squeamish, it’s a scene you might want to avoid. And, as a warning, there are also mentions of abortion, miscarriage, and infanticide. If these are sensitive issues for you, you may want to avoid this book..

As I’ve mentioned, this is a Chinese work of fiction, written for a Chinese audience, and has a different writing style than a Western audience may be familiar with. Danmei (Chinese BL novels) are heavily telling over showing, Chinese mythology, and Chinese tropes. But please don’t let that turn you away from this book, which has some of Mo Xiang Tong Xiu’s best writing. Xie Lian is a complex and flawed character, and there are times I honestly found myself amused by this book the point of finding myself snorting at a few places. I hope you’re willing to give this series a try, and I really hope you enjoy it.

%d bloggers like this: