Eight hundred years ago, Xie Lian was the Crown Prince of the Xian Le kingdom. He was beloved by his citizens and was considered the darling of the world. He ascended to the Heavens at a young age; however, due to unfortunate circumstances, was quickly banished back to the mortal realm. Years later, he ascends again–only to be banished again a few minutes after his ascension. Now, eight hundred years later, Xie Lian ascends to the Heavens for the third time as the laughing stock among all three realms. On his first task as a god thrice ascended, he meets a mysterious demon who rules the ghosts and terrifies the Heavens, yet, unbeknownst to Xie Lian, this demon king has been paying attention to him for a very, very long time.
Warnings: Extremely Graphic Violence, Self Harm/Suicide, some homophobic attitudes, horror
Heaven Official’s Blessing (Tiān Guān Cì Fú) is a Chinese xianxia novel by the same author as Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation and The Scum Villain’s Self Saving System. It’s a large scale epic complete with tragic figures, dieties and ghosts, and the fate of the world hanging in the balance. It follows the journey of the deposed god Xie Lian as he struggles to find his place in the world amongst the gods of the heavens and the mortals of earth. His powers have been suppressed with cursed shackles and he spends most of his spare time wandering around scrap collecting, but he finds himself employed in unearthing the skeletons in the closets of his fellow heavenly officials and bringing to light the nefarious deeds of heaven. Meanwhile he is being courted most sweetly by the Ghost King Hua Cheng, one of most infamous demons in the world, feared by gods and mortals alike.
The biggest contrast in the writing to the authors earlier works is in the tone, atmosphere and general humour/darkness balance. MXTX always demonstrates a penchant for a unique blend of humour and dark content, to varying degrees in each book, but while Scum Villain is predominantly comedic, Heaven Official’s Blessing is rather predominantly dark. It has it’s moments of humour and levity, but those moments are in very sharp contrast to it’s overwhelming angst and horror atmosphere. This could quite nicely fit into the category of being a tragedy.
The story is a sweeping epic through and through, involving the movements and politics of gods and the nature of morality. Like MXTX’s previous books, it encompasses themes of corruption and abuse of power, but it also has a lot of running themes of fate, destiny and the power of love and friendship. Mirrored fates is a recurring motif and you see various characters that echo each other in interesting ways. At 244 chapters long, it is a very big story and spans centuries worth of events and mysteries all coming together. It’s pacing can suffer from the sheer size of it however as it does span several story arcs, not all of which felt strictly necessary to the story at large and I think that overall, it’s not quite as well structured as some of her other works.
I haven’t read a book that moved me literally to tears in a very long time, but this one made me cry several times over the course of reading it. I was captivated by the characters, especially Xie Lian, and could not put it down. There’s so much tragedy that the experience of reading it can leave you feeling a little raw, a little vulnerable, but it’s such a beautifully emotional journey that I couldn’t possibly recommend it enough for those who like angst and the catharsis of a good tragedy. What is especially fantastic about Xie Lian is that Xie Lian is at first glance a pretty typical heroic boyscout good guy, which is a character type that can certainly run the risk of being boring. But the more you discover about him the more you learn that he is uncompromisingly good in ways that truly test him and hurt him, he wrestles with the fallout of always making the right choice, which gives him depth and complexity.
Each other character is also absolutely amazing, and Xie Lian and Hua Cheng have to be my absolute favourite of MXTX’s pairings. Hua Cheng is also the product of tragedy after tragedy and the way he came through it devoted to love and to justice is incredible. Even the side characters and villains are fantastic, fun to read, fun to follow and my personal favourite non main character is absolutely the Wind Master. There’s only one character that I think is a little less well fleshed out than I would like him to be and that’s the Heavenly Emperor Jun Wu. There is a lot of potential with him and the beginnings of incredibly interesting character dynamics but I wish MXTX had taken a bit more care with his inclusion and introduction.
The worldbuilding here is breathtaking. Even better than the author’s previous two novels, this one is rich and expansive. It has to be, to span the course of 800+ years of kingdoms, the rise and fall of dynasties, and the systems of heaven and hell, gods and demons. It’s so beautifully put together, and the world feels vibrant and alive as much as the characters do. There’s so much that went into this, and the attention to lore and mythological and religious detail is astounding. Xie Lian’s travels through different countries and eras really gives us a stunning glimpse into this world and it was a real joy to journey with him. Probably one of my favourite locales in the story is the Ghost City, especially it’s contrast with the Heavenly Realms and even with the Black Water domain of another ghost lord, all felt unique and dependant from each other.
The system of godhood and ghosthood is also incredibly well explored, establishing the rules by which the world operates and how the big players of the world move within it. Every question you could have about the world is answered by the end of the book, and I absolutely adored getting to know both the stories characters and settings.
My biggest complaint with this book is the absolute lack of any sort of explicit sexual content. MXTX’s other two books don’t exactly have a lot, but this one never observes it’s characters farther than a lot of kissing scenes which felt a little disappointing, especially given just how sexually charged their interactions in general are. There’s a certain amount of electricity between them, especially in the nature of Hua Cheng as an infamous Ghost King who is terrifying and ruthless towards anyone else and yet soft and sweet towards his star crossed lover Xie Lian. Xie Lian’s absolute befuddled cluelessness in the face of sexual come-ons was fantastic, but without any eventual consummation it felt like I was being left hanging. It does have a great many sexual situations that are never seen through to completion, but it ultimately ends up being a cocktease. This very well may not be due to MXTX not wishing to include any sex though, considering that both of her previous two books have been censored from their original publishing platform for explicit content, so I can’t be too mad about it. As it is we have some truly delicious power dynamics between a great many characters so the whole thing is terribly shippable, and I do so love the interactions that we do get between our main two.
This book was absolutely incredible. So far I have loved everything by this author, but this one might just be my favourite yet. It’s left me ruminating on it for days after finishing, it’s characters are some of the most memorable and engaging I have ever seen, and it throws around enough emotional weight to make me bawl. Do heed the warnings as it does get quite graphically violent and gruesome, but it is a stunning epic that will leave you breathless.
Have you read Heaven Official’s Blessing? Let me know what you thought by leaving me a comment!