Rating: 5 stars
Buy Link:
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Length: Novel

 

We begin with a flashback. Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng are in Lotus Pier, wiling away their time and goofing off as boys do — shooting kites, practicing their skills, sleeping and sneaking around, but with Wei Wuxian grounded and unable to leave Lotus Pier, he can’t get into too much trouble. Right? A surprise summons by the Wen Sect puts an end to all of that.

The Wen Sect is demanding that every other sect send to the Nightless City a collection of disciples, including representatives of the main clans (ie – heirs and members of the main family). Or, as Madam Yu says, hostages. Wei Wuxian and Jiang Cheng, and many other young men and women — including Lan Wangji and Jin Xixuan — end up fighting for their lives against not just yao and spirits, but the Wen Clan itself, and soon the cultivation world is caught up in the chaos that will become the Sunshot Campaign.

These are the defining moments of Wei Wuxian’s life, the rise and the fall of the Wen Sect, the fall of Lotus Pier. This is where he gains his reputation as the infamous necromancer, calling the bodies of the fallen to rise and attack the Wen. This is where the legends come from. and yet, when the story moves to the present again, we see the man behind the monster. The man who lost his family, who lost his hope and his faith in the cultivation world. The man abandoned and betrayed and yet who still manages to keep a smile on his face, letting insults and cruelty slide off of him like water off a duck’s back.

At his side, as ever, is Lan Wangji, the Lightbearing Lord, whose reputation as a man of honor, a cultivator of power and honor is suddenly under scrutiny by the world because, again and again, he stands beside Wei Wuxian, supporting him and protecting him. But will even Lan Wangji’s skill and strength be enough to protect them when every sword in the jianghu is against them?

This is the third installment of the Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation series, an English translation of the serialized web novel broken up into five books with the story taking place over four volumes, and book five filled with the “extras,” small snippets that didn’t make it into the book, happy little side stories, or just anything the author wanted to add in for the reader’s enjoyment. This series is good. It’s a mystery, a character study, a scathing take down of mob mentality and peer pressure, of the difference between what is honorable and what is right. It’s also a Chinese story written by a Chinese author for a Chinese audience, so the mythology — the ghosts, monsters, and demons — and morals are based in the Chinese culture. It’s also just a wonderful love story that I could (and will) gush about given half the chance.

In this book we are introduced to Madam Yu and Jiang Fengmian, Jiang Cheng’s parents and the family who took Wei Wuxian in. Theirs is a toxic marriage, one that has deep and long-lasting effects on their children as Madam Yu continues to drive a wedge between her husband and son, knowing that her husband favors Wei Wuxian — who is a confident, capable, genius of a child — over her own son, Jiang Cheng, who is not as strong, not as clever, and (thanks in part to his mother’s constant pitting of the two of them against each other) not as confident. But, for all that, Wei Wuxian loves his brother, enough to sacrifice everything for him.

Jiang Cheng is a young man who knows his place, who knows that he has a duty to his family and to his sect. He was born to be his father’s heir, raised by a mother jealous of his position who never let him forget what he was owed by others. Long before Jiang Cheng had the chance to hold up his head, his mother had her hands on his chin, holding it for him. He’s an excellent foil for Wei Wuxian, who chooses to stand against evil in all its forms, putting himself between innocents and victims again and again, no matter the cost to himself. Or to anyone else. Jiang Cheng is always worried about what people will think of him; Wei Wuxian isn’t.

It’s easy to see how the angry young man, who had his father and mother and home so violently taken from him, who endured a brutal war and a devastating betrayal, turned into the adult from earlier books. The ten years where Wei Wuxian was dead left their mark on him, but for Wei Wuxian, this version, this young man is the man he knows his brother to be, not the stranger who can’t even look him in the eyes.

Like Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian, Lan Wangji, too, suffered at the hands of the Wen. When he was roped into the Indoctrination Camp (the farcical name the Wen dressed up the kidnapping and torment of the heirs of other sects), Lan Wangji’s home had just been put to the torch. His clan’s library — the culmination of their life’s work of study and art — went up in flames. His father was left near death, and his brother vanished into the wind with no knowing if he was dead or alive. Lan Wangji, whose life was one of rules and order, orthodoxy and ritual, is thrown into chaos. And just when he needs it most, he is refused even a moment to rest and mourn and heal.

Wei Wuxian is a bright light, a memory of better times, and the young man Lan Wangji is already infatuated with. Raised to be perfect, to be forever an example of his sects’ teaching, Lan Wangji has only ever known restraint, obedience, and repression. Repression of the feelings that are running through him — both the good and the bad — and Wei Wuxian becomes his focus. Lan Wangji can no more look away than he can defy his uncle, and even as Wei Wuxian follows a dark path, falling further and further away from everything right and proper, Lan Wangji reaches out his hand again and again. “Come with me to Gusu,” he begs.

Lan Wangji, over a decade older, who has endured Wei Wuxian’s death — and now endures his rebirth — is a changed man. He has found himself in his grief, found the strength to be the man he wants to be. Lan Wangji, the adult, is able to see the meaning of the words behind what’s written. He has, after all, spent much of his years reflecting on them.

This book is a slow burn, as Lan Wangji struggles with his feelings, with how to act upon them, or even if he should. (And that’s not counting the years since Wei Wuxian’s death). Wei Wuxian sees Lan Wangji as the one person who can understand him, the pillar he can rest his back against for support when the rest of the world is falling apart. Lan Wangji, who does not like to be touched, will allow himself to be grabbed and dragged along by Wei Wuxian, who has yet to understand, well, anything.

There is, perhaps, the most emotional part of the book. Moments of grief, of young men — teenagers, really — coming face-to-face with grievous loss and pain. A generation going to war, of people having to put aside who they thought they were, who they dreamed they might be, to face the brutal reality of who they now need to be. Wei Wuxian has gone through life with a smile on his face. Whether it was beatings and punishments from Madam Yu or insults from other sects, he has never let the world know how much it hurts him. And he never will.

I love these characters and I love this story. And I really want you to love it, too.

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