As the grandmaster who founded the Demonic Sect, Wei WuXian roamed the world in his wanton ways, hated by millions for the chaos he created. In the end, he was backstabbed by his dearest shidi, and killed by powerful clans that combined to overpower him. He incarnates into the body of a lunatic who was abandoned by his clan and is later, unwillingly, taken away by a famous cultivator among the clans—Lan WangJi, his former classmate.
The time changes to 13 years in the past. Wei WuXian is introduced as an innocent, talented young master. This marks the start of a thrilling yet hilarious journey of attacking monsters, solving mysteries, and raising children. From the mutual flirtation along the way, Wei WuXian slowly realizes that Lan WangJi, a seemingly haughty and indifferent poker-face, holds more feelings for Wei WuXian than he is letting on.
Warnings: Violence, Graphic Imagery, Self Harm/Suicide, some homophobic attitudes
Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation (Mo Dao Zu Shi) is a Chinese xianxia webnovel. It’s a high fantasy political epic full of action, angst, and betrayal, that deals heavily with both Chinese religion and mythology, and with narrative themes of abuse of power, corruption, and the traumas that follow. It follows Wei WuXian, a defeated necromancer of sorts, that is summoned back to life to enact vengeance for his host’s grievances, and finds himself once again swept up in the political schemes and machinations that he was involved in previously, including the pining arms of his would-be lover. It involves magic, sect leaders, ghosts and sinister secrets! It’s a whirlwind read, and I am not at all surprised that it has an incredibly large following for the original novel as well as the manhua, donghua, and audio and live action drama adaptations.
This story is amazingly well written. It timeskips a lot, beginning after Wei WuXian’s reincarnation and working it’s way backwards through the timeline via flashbacks and memory sequences, gradually revealing it’s plot piece by piece. There are so many twists, so many secrets lying in wait for their reveal, so many details that are carefully coaxed out of the narrative, that it really feels like an organic story rich in nuance and character study. The political stage is set with delicate intra-sect relationships and various people vying for power. And apart from the schemes and skeletons in the closets of various characters, there is a lot of exciting action as the characters fight ghouls and ghosts and spirits in the process of investigating a decade old murder mystery.
It also has a lot of moments of humour and levity, despite the often dark and gruesome nature of it’s content. There were a lot of times that the story made me laugh a chapter after it made me shudder in horror; it’s a dark narrative at times but the author knows how to balance the darkness well with comedy and moments of light heartedness. It ends up being part murder mystery, part buddy cop comedy, part dark fantasy, part slow burn romance and part political drama, which is a mix that winds up being incredibly engaging, fun, and unique.
These characters are incredibly fun to follow, and easy to become invested in. What makes them especially interesting is how they continually defy your expectations of them. Wei WuXian is, for instance, a dark lord of sinister magic that was apparently killed for being a tyrant and an evil sorcerer. His crimes, according to many, are numerous, slaughtering thousands of people and torturing the innocent. The actual reality that is uncovered is, of course, quite a bit more complicated than that. The reader spends a fair amount of time confused with how to associate the Wei WuXian that people talk about with the Wei WuXian that the reader is privy to, but it becomes apparent the deeper into the story you go that none of the characters are what they seem. It creates a very interesting character study on a very many of the characters involved, and I grew to love and feel for all of them, even the most evil ones of the bunch. And Lan WangJi, the main love interest of the story, is the most amazingly steadfast figure, playing the cool and collected foil to chaos of the narrative and I adored him.
The author takes great care to build the ancient China setting of this story, from the inclusion of Chinese fantasy and mythology, to the political workings of cultivation sects and clans, to the ways in which the stories themes influence the magic and the spirituality of the setting. It’s a grand, sweeping kind of fantastical world filled with restless spirits and ghosts, and powerful people using their studies in magic arts to protect the common folk. I very much enjoyed the world this was set in, it was immersive and fascinating to explore.
This is, in every sense of the word, a slow burn, and it well lives up to that status. Although the narrative is jam packed full of sexual tension, it isn’t until well near the end that we get to see a sex scene. Minus a few instances of almost-there and kissing, the book is almost not adult content at all, which is fine! It’s more of a romance than an erotica, but I absolutely wished for more smut. The extra bonus chapters notwithstanding, there were many moments in the story that could have given us some really juicy sex scenes, either between the main two characters or between other characters and I would have appreciated it. When we finally get to see the characters come together and consummate their very long time developing relationship, it’s very beautiful and sweet and emotional. I really enjoyed reading these passages, and really liked how teasingly bratty Wei WuXian is even when being fucked. As they become more in sync with each other he even begins to spout some pretty kinky fantasies about being tied up and ravished which was just icing on the cake.
This book was a truly amazing read from start to finish. It’s fairly long, but well worth every moment spent at the edge of your seat engaged with it. I cannot possibly recommend it enough, if you like big sweeping epic fantasy stories filled with political upheaval, magic, action, and gay romance. It’s smart, it’s funny, it’s heavy, it’s beautiful. Absolute props as well to the fans who took the time to translate it into English, they did a stunning job on the translation, putting together translation notes at the ends of each chapters as well as sect and character guides.