Having been expelled from one mountain, Xie Lian and Sang Lang find themselves on another one, this one covered in snow. It doesn’t take long to find Mu Qing and Feng Xin (they only had to follow the yelling), and soon the four men are reunited again. The avalanche helped. However, the cave they find themselves in this time is even stranger than the others.
This time there’s no ghost fire and capering cannibal ghosts, no frozen rows of ghost brides, no tunnels made by the Earth Master’s blade, and no living mountain around and above them. Instead, it’s a mountain filled with hundreds, if not thousands, of statues of gods. Well, of one god. Over and over, some carved with exquisite skill, some roughly hewn, but all done with love, are statues of Xie Lian. And murals, telling the story of his life and the life of the man who has followed him. From the child who fell to the wall, the youth who took shelter in his temple, the soldier who stood with him during the fall of Xielan, and the ghost general who answered his call, it’s been San Lang again and again, forever and always. San Lang who has carved these statues of him. His devotion, his love, his obsession is overwhelming. For 800 years, San Lang has been worshiping him.
Before Xie Lian can decide how he feels about this, a ghost — a literal ghost — from his past arrives: White No-Face, a figure clad in funeral white with a porcelain mask, one side laughing, one side crying. The ghost who unleashed the human faces disease that destroyed Xie Lian’s home, and so much more.
This story, the sixth installation in the Heaven Official’s Blessing series, shows what happened in the days and months after the fall of Xianle. With only his pride and his attendants, Mu Qing and Feng Xin, Xie Lian had to find some way to take care of and feed his parents. His mother, who had never worked a day in her life, now lives with no maids, no companions, and no comforts; his father, a king, didn’t just lose a kingdom. He failed his people, he failed his ancestors. He failed his wife and his son and now he’s fading away.
This is Xie Lian’s breaking point, carefully orchestrated by White No-Face. Stress, starvation, a loss of pride, and self-respect, all the pain and horror they’ve been through would be enough to test any friendship, but Xie Lian is … well, a bit of a brat. He was a pampered, spoiled prince, a darling of the heavens, a cherished light who could do no wrong. And he failed. His temper, his pride, his ego are all blades turned on his friends and — when they finally leave — on himself. And when he’s at his lowest, the white ghost comes with offers of friendship and comfort.
Be like me. Be a monster, like me. Take revenge on the people who hurt you. Xie Lian, to his credit, holds out as long as he can, but this book is about his fall from grace, the moment his spirit broke and all that was left was despair. If it weren’t for San Lang, if it weren’t for that devotion and love, White No-Face might have had what he truly wanted: A monster like no other with Xie Lian giving in. Giving up. Instead, despite what he goes through, despite all that is done to him, Xie Lian remains a truly good person. He falters, because everyone does, but he doesn’t give in. Xie Lian will meet cruelty with coolness and kindness with warm regard; it’s one of his best traits. And it’s best to remember that, despite everything, he is a martial god. His first and greatest strength will always be with a sword in his hand, not diplomacy.
This series is — in my opinion — the best written of the author’s works (and beautifully translated!) and has some wonderful side characters. The circular patterns of history repeating itself, the lovely tangles of relationships and interconnectedness of people and places, their histories and their futures all wrapped up with the emotions between them … I have always enjoyed the side characters in these books the best. And I’m truly enjoying the villain, too, who is suitably evil. I’m curious to see how the next entry in the story turns out.
A warning for sensitive readers, there are graphic moments of gore and torture and two characters die by suicide. If these are likely to upset you or discomfort you, there are many other books for you to enjoy.