Rating: 5 stars
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Length: Novel

 

Shen Qingqiu, having been whisked away by Luo Binghe, the half-demon protagonist of Shen Qingqiu’s favorite novel (the one he’s currently living in) is yet one more nail in the coffin of Shen Qingqiu’s fate. Not only has he inadvertently turned Luo Binghe, a stallion protagonist who had a harem of hundreds of women in the original book gay, he’s also somehow managed to find himself cast in the role of Love Interest! All he needs now is to be chained to the bed and bullied into submission.

Instead, he’s kidnapped! Again! If ever there was a damsel in distress, it’s Shen Qingqiu, who is now back in his original body and at the mercy of Tianglang-Jun. And who is this Tianglang-Jun, beyond being a demon? Apparently he is none other than Luo Binhe’s mysterious father, a demon so powerful that Airplane Shooting Towards the Sky (the author of the book, also transmigrated into this world and now known as Shen Qinghua) didn’t actually know what to do with him. In fact, he wasn’t in the original Proud Immortal Demon Way at all. And now Shen Qingqiu is his prisoner because Zhuzi-Lang, the snake demon, still believes that he owes Shen Qingqiu a life debt, and doesn’t want him to die with all the other humans when Tianglang-Jun destroys the mortal world.

Why is it always up to Shen Qingqiu to fix the problems?

This is the rousing conclusion to the Scum Villain’s Self Saving System series, a Chinese Web serial translated into English. It isn’t really possible to follow the events of this book — or to truly appreciate and understand the characters — without having read the earlier entries in the series. Mo Xiang Tong Xiu’s loving satire of the transmigration novel is full of humor and irreverence, with no real heroes and no real villains. This book also has a sex scene involving highly dubious consent between the two main characters. It is, as most danmei sex scenes are, not that graphic, with the primary focus being on the emotions and thoughts of the characters rather than the physical act. Still, if you’re sensitive to such scenes, you may want to either avoid this book, or avoid that chapter.

Shen Qingqiu began as a snarky millennial, concerned with his reputation, afraid of being found to be a fraud, and fascinated at getting to watch his favorite book being played out in front of him. Since then, he’s realized that these people — his martial brothers and sisters, his disciples, even Luo Binghe and Shen Qinghua — are real. They laugh and cry, they care for him, worry about him, vex him and frighten him. And, in some cases … they die. Coming to terms with reality isn’t Shen Qingqiu’s strong point; he’d rather act than think, and emotions don’t come easily to him. But here he has to face them.

When Shen Yuan transmigrated into the book, he took the role of the character Shen Qingqiu and it never occurred to him to wonder about the man he replaced. The original Shen Qingqiu was a villain. Cruel, abusive, monstrous to his disciples — especially Luo Binghe — aloof and distant to his martial brothers and sister. But that man didn’t start out that way; when he was a child, didn’t he have the same hopes as any other child? A kind gesture from Shen Qingqiu changed Luo Binghe’s life, his gift of the mushroom to the snake demon, Zhuzi- Lang is giving him a chance to save humanity. What would a moment of kindness done to the boy Shen Jiu once was?

When Luo Binghe was a character in a book, Shen Qingqiu thought he was cool. When he first came into the book and saw the fifteen-year-old Luo Binghe as a young man, dutiful and earnest, he thought he was precious, and wanted to protect him. Watching him grow up, Shen Qingqiu has been tormented by his feelings for his disciple, uncertain if it was just the holdover hero worship of his favorite character, or something else. And now that Luo Binghe has made it clear how he feels … Shen Qingqiu is even more conflicted. He’s certain that he’s straight. But he’s in love with Luo Binghe. Not because he’s the protagonist, but because he’s the young man who stared up at Shen Qingqiu as though he was something special; because, again and again, he has come to stand at his shizun’s side, fought for his body, defended him against anything and everything. Because Luo Binghe wants him, needs him, can’t and won’t let him go. And for Shen Qingqiu, that devotion, that constancy, that open devotion humbles him and flatters him in equal measure. (Yes, he’s that vain. Yes, he’s that blind. And yes, he’s that in love.)

Luo Binghe — seen through Shen Qingqiu’s eyes — is sweet, innocent, and childish. And make no mistake, Shen Qingqiui s an absolutely unreliable narrator. Seen through his own words and actions, Luo Binghe is far from the innocent victim his shizun thinks he is. Luo Binghe has made it clear, again and again, that he will lie and manipulate to get Shen Qingqiu to look at him and only him. If he has to kidnap him and chain him to a bed, he will. If he has to kill every one of shen Qingqiu’s disciples so that he can be the favorite, he will. If Shen Qingqiu wanted a thousand demons to kneel at his feet and sing k-pop songs, Luo Binghe would have them kneeling. He will do anything: Hide in the shadows so no one knows he’s there, break into the Holy Mausoleum alone, to face down the most powerful demon in the world to save Shen Qingqiu? Done.

He will force his way beneath his shizun’s skin. Anything, all of it — a yell, a look, a command — is attention. Attention focused on him and only him. He’s been in love with Shen Qingqiu since he was a child, when the beautiful immortal picked him to be a disciple. That love was betrayed when his shizun turned into a cruel man and ordered him beaten and locked in a woodshed, but when Shen Qingqiu started to treat him kindly, noticed him, praised him, turned him into the person he is now … Shen Qingqiu is the only person, other than the washerwoman he called his mother, who ever wanted him. Who chose him, even if just for that one moment, who protected him when he was weak. And, like the demons of this world, he has fixated on Shen Qingqiu, and has no intention of sharing him with anyone else.

This is a novel filled with the tropes of transmigration novels and stallion novels, which means there’s going to be a sex scene. Fuck or die is a popular trope — this poison can only be cured with dual cultivation, that poison can only be cured with dual cultivation, so on and so forth — and so, of course, it’s here. But as with all of the other tropes, this one has been turned sideways and involves dubious consent on the part of both parties. The sex isn’t just titillation. It’s very clear that Shen Qingqiu is not enjoying the event, even though he is a willing participant. The person who isn’t willing is Luo Binghe, who is drugged and is acting with no knowledge or choice. It is plot relevant, showing how a lack of communication, a lack of willingness on the part of both parties isn’t a good thing. That the romance and fictionalized version of aphrodisiac plants, poisons, and magic artifacts is fun in its place, but when you’re the person going through it — as Shen Qingqiu and Luo Binghe are — it can be devastating.

The themes of this book range from mob violence, personal sacrifice, the wrongness of seeing other people as things to be used and discarded, the trauma of abandonment and abuse, and self discovery. Shen Qingqiu spends so much of these books marveling at the beauty of the men around him, falling madly in love with Luo Binghe while being utterly oblivious, seeing the women as future harem members for Luo Binghe that he doesn’t see them as people. He’s even angry at people — especially the harem members — for not seeing how great Luo Binghe is, ranting at them in his head for not falling at his feet in breathless adoration. There is also the idea that kindness, Shen Qingqiu’s kindness not just to Luo Binghe but to everyone, is and can be a greater strength than violence.

The translation done by Faelicy and Lily is so easy to read, and the illustrations by Xiao Tong Kong are both lovely and amusing. I am so glad to be able to read the official English translation of this book, and sad to see it end. There is, however, one book yet to come! Volume 4 is filled with the extras — moments that didn’t make it into the book, epilogues for Luo Binghe and Shen Qingqiu (as well as the infamous ass wine scene), and the story of Shen Qinghua, the author of this book, and his adventures with the demon Mobei Jun.

If you enjoy humor and snark, adventure and world building, strong alpha heroes who melt for their one true love — and obediently lower their heads to their one true love can thwap them with a fan — then you will enjoy this book. It really is such a good story.

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