The loss of the Windmaster, the betrayal of Ling Wen, and the escape of a handful of dangerous prisoners from Heaven’s prison were bad enough. Ling Wen was in charge of organizing the Heavenly Realm, keeping everything orderly and tidy. Now there’s no communications array, and no one knows where to put any of the prayers or what to do with the merits, let alone how to handle the dozen and a half jobs Jing Wen had a hand in juggling. Even Jun Wu, the Heavenly Emperor, is at his wit’s end! And yet, somehow, with Xie Lian involved, it just gets worse.
Feng Xin and Mu Qing were Xie Lian’s friends and guardians. They were, in life and in his first rise to godhood, his left and right hand. Now, in his third ascension, they won’t even speak to him. However, now Mu Qing is accused of setting free the fetus spirit who has claimed that Mu Qing sacrificed it’s still living soul in order to ascend to godhood himself, and Feng Xin is accused of being its father! While both of the generals are off handling their own problems, Jun Wu comes to Xie Lian with something even more horrifying.
The ghosts are gathering at Mount Tonglu and preparing for the rise of a new ghost king. Hua Cheng — Crimson Rain Sought Flower, called San Lang by Xie Lian — was strong enough to defeat 33 military gods and outsmart 33 civil gods. Blackwater Sinks Ships has killed both the Water Master and Earth Master, two of the most powerful Heavenly Officials. How powerful, and how depraved, would a new king be?
Jun Wu has a plan. He shall venture to Mount Tonglu to slaughter the ghosts as they gather and try to keep a new king from being created. While he does this, he wants Xie Lian to return to the heavens and manage affairs there. Xie Lian has two words for that: No thanks! So it’s XIe Lian and Hua Cheng headed into the fray. And then things get worse.
Book five picks up right after the fourth book of the Heaven Official’s Blessing series. The Windmaster is still missing, Ling Wen has escaped with the Brocade Demon, and the monks who want to kill Hua Cheng are racing after Xie Lian and San Lang. But, circles within circles, old friends appear and old stories are told, shedding light on fights won and friendships lost. In the first book in the series, Banyue and Pei Xiu — the now mortal descendant of the martial god Pei Ming — found themselves in Mount Tonglu, and in this book we learn more about Pei Ming himself. His life, and his death.
The story is an old one, of two rival kingdoms at war. Yushi on one side, Xuli on the other. Generals, princesses, treachery, and honor… All of it is in a complicated knot, but it’s a knot that’s wrapping Xie Lian up in its coils at a time he can’t afford to be distracted. Because there’s another kingdom out there, another prince, that has his attention.
Xie Lian, through his 800 years, has endured a great deal. Hints have been made before about his endurance, his willingness to eat anything knowing it can’t kill him … but it’s stated more baldly here than it has before. Xie Lian can’t die, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t starved, hasn’t wished for death. Hasn’t felt pain so brutal it stole away his hope as well as his breath. There are hints of his relationship with the Heavenly Emperor, Jun Wu, but — as ever — Xie Lian brushes past anything unpleasant, more interested in learning about all the things he’s missed. (He may claim not to be a gossip, but he does love listening to Hua Cheng spill the secrets and stories of everyone else.)
Hua Cheng, shows more here in his teeth gritted declaration that he has to be strong. He has to be the strongest; every time Xie Lian laughs off a hurt or a pain, turns away and ignores an insult, Hua Cheng burns with the cold, lethal desire to avenge him. When Xie Lian is delighted in finding a pot (he’s not called the Scrap Collecting god for nothing), Hua Cheng informs him he has thousands of antiques at his home; Xie Lian has only to ask. A new ghost king isn’t anything to Hua Cheng, but if Xie Lian wants to take a walk and see Mount Tonglu, Hua Cheng will be right there with him to make certain every ghost he comes across bows in proper obeisance.
Mo Xian Tong Xiu is generous with the world building in this part of the book — and do remember, this is a serialized web novel; while it’s been broken up into 8 books, it’s all one very long, very good, epic story. We get not only more of a look at the Heavenly Officials, especially the ones falling out of favor, but ghost society and how it works. There are mountain spirits, the mystery of the ancient Kingdom of Wyuong and it’s crown prince, a crown prince whose story seems step in step with Xie Lian’s own fate, and mysterious rumblings of what befell that lost prince.
Honestly, the mystery of the story, the convoluted connections and associations between all of the myriad of characters — ghost, human, and deity — are my favorite parts of the book. The storytelling is drawn out, but each character introduced has a role to play, a past that ties in, somehow, with everyone else, and I’m enjoying every minute of reading it. The romance is shown in glimpses, sidelong looks between the characters, moments of indulgence and generosity, shared smiles, and a red string connecting their fingers — something Xie Lian certainly can’t miss, even if he’s trying very, very hard to. His cultivation path is one of purity, no matter how many butterflies Hua Cheng sets fluttering in his stomach.
Now it’s time to for me to wait for the next book.