Mo Dao Zu Shi, by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu (also known as The GrandMaster Of Demonic Cultivation – *I read the full unofficial translated novel on Exiled Rebels Scanlations*) is a phenomenal M/M led fantasy set in ancient China. With epic magic, supernatural creatures, excellent sword fights and brilliant characters, this story is complex and fantastic.
4.75 Stars (5 Stars in my heart though!)
Synopsis: Wei Wuxian, the founder of Demonic Cultivation, is hated by the world due to the chaos he caused. His chaotic ways lead to a terrible death at the hands of the most powerful Cultivation clans/sects. Just over a decade later, Wei WuXian is back, but this time he is in the body of a well known ‘lunatic’ who was abandoned by his Sect. Somehow he ends up by the side of Lan WangJi – the man he considers his enemy – and the two must investigate a series of murders and mysteries that all seemingly lead back to the YiLing Patriach, Wei WuXian, himself. As the two try to unravel this mystery, emotions rise and Wie WuXian realises there may be more beneath Lan WangJi’s cold exterior.
CW/TW: Violence, Gore, Blood, Incest (mentioned), Rape (mentioned), Murder, Suicide, Death, Sex – I may have missed some but any associated with adult supernatural fantasy may be present.
So this beautiful novel has many adaptations; The Netflix C-Drama ‘The Untamed’, A Donghua (animation), and A Manhua (comic). I actually watched ‘The Untamed’ before reading the novel for a couple of reasons; Firstly, watching the show allowed me to become familiar with the setting as it is based on Ancient China. Secondly, each character has multiple names and titles and the cast is huge so watching the show meant I was able to understand this a lot better and familiarise myself with the relationships, the pronunciation of the names and the locations before jumping into the fabulous chunky novel that has 1400+ pages. I highly recommend you check out all the adaptations and this novel because the story is fantastic. (Be aware that ‘The Untamed’ is a censored version of this story, both character and plot wise – but still magnificent in its own way!)
If you want to jump right into the book then I suggest checking out this post: https://localbeehuntersnook.home.blog/2019/09/27/mo-xiang-tong-xiu-names-guide-mdzs/ – E @ LocalBeeHuntersNook has created a brilliant visual guide to the characters names, relationships and sects it is incredibly useful if you are starting with the book or need to keep track of the characters!
Mo Dao Zu Shi is a BL Novel so there is a lot of angst and tension that drives the plot but this does not take away from the complex and astounding story that already runs through this book.
— Simple But Rich —
Writing Style. Mo Xiang Tong Xiu’s writing style is very easy to read, it is simple and direct but doesn’t shy away from beautiful metaphors and rich descriptions. It works well with the book due to its complexity, wide cast of characters and general length, it is surprisingly easy to get through this book, despite being wonderfully chunky, because the writing is simple but incredibly engaging. The story is told from one characters perspective and starts in the present time where Wei WuXian has come back, but there are long flashbacks that allow you to see the events that led to this. This worked incredibly well and allowed the story to maintain a consistent and decent pace – it also allowed us to see how all of the character relationships were formed and how they changed too and meant we got to know every character very well.
— Angst-Filled, Complex, And Dark —
Story/Plot. MDZS has a brilliant, complex, angsty, and dark story that is full of twists and turns – it constantly surprises you with its dark, supernatural storyline and compelling villains. We follow Wei WuXian as he and Lan WangJi try to uncover the identity of a dangerous murderer under the guide of a mysterious person who has released a deeply resentful spirit. Simultaneously we follow Wei WuXian in the past as he begins his journey to becoming the YiLing Patriarch, and the founder of Demonic Cultivation, hated by all.
The past and present storylines are equally interesting. The past storyline occurs when the main characters are still learning the ways of Cultivation as teenagers, and focuses on the Wen Sect growing in power and trying to control/dominate the other Sects. The teenage Cultivators are suddenly thrust into a Cultivation war and we see how this challenges them to make difficult decisions and watch as casualties cause devastating effects – primarily on Wei WuXian but with such a large cast we also see how this impacted them all.
The present storyline shows the outcome of Wei WuXian’s meltdown on the Cultivation world as the two main characters try to figure out who is using the YiLing Patriarch’s own techniques to commit murder and who released this deadly spirit that is leading them towards the truth. The entire plot is filled with deceptions, secrets and villains and is phenomenal from the fights and battles to the personal growth. The risks throughout this story are high, there are casualties and consequences which makes it a thrilling read where you actually fear for characters when in a life or death situations.
The story also has a romance that runs through it, obviously since it is a BL novel, and it is full of the yearning and longing that we all love. I loved the relationship built up between Lan WangJi and Wei WuXian, it adds to the story and is a key part of it but also doesn’t overpower the phenomenal and complex plot that runs through it. The relationship has an ‘enemies to lovers’ feel to it but also doesn’t fit into that trope entirely, it is messy, adorable and hilarious but also heart-wrenching and devastating. Most of the novel is pretty soft in terms of their relationship though how they care for each other is obvious (at least to us Wei WuXian is painfully oblivious) but the last 1/4 of the novel (including the extra scenes/afterstory) does have a couple of more graphic/explicit scenes.
The only reason I didn’t give this a full 5 stars is that we are told things a little too frequently and there is a lack of good female characters, most are either evil and cruel or die to further the plot – this is a novel made to focus on the male characters so it wasn’t too much of an issue but it did prevent me from giving it a full 5 stars.
Overall the story is very successful because it is full of morally grey characters and choices, has compelling, clever and powerful villains, has a phenomenal world with excellent settings, an epic romance that runs through it, and some brilliant battles and magic.
— Epic And Impressive —
The WorldBuilding/Magic. This book is based in Ancient China and the author has crafted an amazing world. The world consists of Cultivators and ordinary people, the Cutivators have the most power as they have the ability to use swords and fight demons/spirits/ghosts etc… The Cultivators are split into different Sects with the top most powerful having the most control; The Jin Sect, Wen Sect, Jiang Sect, Nie Sect, Lan Sect – each of these sects have their own Domains over which they are responsible. The weaker or smaller Cultivators usually only form Clans – a small group made up of blood relations.
Each Sect has its own internal hierarchy with the blood relatives being at the top. This was fascinating as each Sect has different values, rules and proficiencies and some Sects are closer than others with their leaders being ‘Brothers’ (symbolic not blood related). I adored this dynamic as it added a lot of depth to this world as each Sect was intriguing and had internal conflicts as well as inter-Sect conflicts – there was so much to this aspect it was brilliant.
The actual world was very impressive as we get to explore populated cities and more isolated areas. From mountainous areas to lake filled towns this world was epic and detailed with the environment impacting which evil beings will likely appear – this was rich and realistic and I loved every minute of it.
The ‘magic’ is based around Cultivation, and Cultivators practice Swords – they channel and use their spiritual energy through their swords in order to deal with spirits, monsters and ghosts. This was very interesting and unique they way the magic worked and where it stems from, moreover there are stigmas and expectations within the Cultivation community surrounding spiritual power and how it is formed/used – all of these elements come together to create something spectacular but is also realistic and complex. Wei WuXian is considered evil because of his deviation from this method of Cultivation as he instead founds a Demonic form that is seen as wicked an unnatural, despite this he came up with many inventions that were useful and effective.
Cultivation is based around spiritual energy but also has many branches in how it can be practiced (the sword is a necessity but there are also secondary ways or supporting ways to use it). For example, there are talismans, flags and musical instruments that are used to help Cultivate. I loved that there were multiple ways to do/support the magic system, it added a lot of layers to the world and the systems within it.
I adored this world, the magic, the scenes, the setting the structure, the hierarchies and the story – it was clever, thrilling, tense and complex!
— Dynamic And Memorable —
The Characters. This book has a huge cast of characters all of which are incredibly well developed an multi-layered. This book does a incredible job at creating dynamic and memorable side-characters (as well as main characters), every single character is memorable, flawed and fleshed out. The villains are compelling, the morally grey characters are true to the grey area, and good versus evil is not clear cut. Due to the extremely large cast I’ll only focus on a few characters who are essential and won’t spoil the plot!
Wei Ying (Wei WuXian –courtesy name/ YiLing Patriarch –Title) — reincarnates into the body of Mo XuanYu. Wei Ying is the embodiment of chaotic energy and is one of the best morally grey characters with a good heart ever. Wei Ying is incredibly loyal but can’t help himself when it comes to helping or saving others and he does so continuously. He is determined, clever, quick witted and observant with the skill of talking his way out of situations. Wei Ying is clever but can act before he thinks but always has seemingly just goals. He is flawed character who is too arrogant for his own good but he loves and protects people fiercely.
Wei Ying has a lot of friends before he becomes the YiLing Patriarch but in the present he has no-one but Lan Zhan (and even then he thinks Lan Zhan harbours a hatred for him – at least for a while – he is incredibly oblivious). I loved the relationship between these two and the confession scene has to be among my top favourites!
Lan Zhan (Lan WangJi -Courtesy name/ HanGuang-Jun – Title). Lan Zhan is Wei Ying’s opposite he is calm, collected, logical and stern – he is righteous and deemed noble and respectful. Lan Zhan is incredibly observant and clever, but hesitates to jump to conclusions until he has all the evidence. He is loyal and feels things deeply, though he doesn’t show it, and is among the strongest and most capable of the Cultivators. Lan Zhan is a man of few words, speaking only when necessary and his words hold weight.
Lan Zhan is so protective of Wei Ying in the present and cares so deeply but never shows it but he is not perfect either and will refuse to speak of things if he deems them insignificant or unnecessary. He is a fantastic character.
I loved the relationship between these two characters because they are so different yet so compatible. They perfectly compliment each other and are an incredible team when they work together.
Jiang Cheng (Jiang WanYin –Courtesy name/ Sandu ShengShou –Title). Jiang Cheng’s family adopted Wei WuXian so the two consider themselves brothers. In the past storyline they are close, though they bicker like siblings do as Jiang Cheng is not as impulsive as Wei WuXian. Jiang Cheng is well mannered and polite but also emotional and hot headed, he will protect those he loves but can be quick to threats. He is a complex character that, in the present, despises his brother and his ways of Cultivating. I liked his character and found him to be very engaging. He can come of as unlikeable but he has suffered too.
Lan Huan (Lan Xichen – Courtesy name/ Zewu Jun – Title) Lan Xichen is Lan WangJi’s older brother. He is calm, logical and collected like the majority of the Lan Clan but is warmer than his brother, quicker to kindness and friendship. He is incredibly loyal and trusting to those he deems worth it and is polite and respectful to all of those around him and never jumps to conclusions without first looking at the evidence. Lan Xichen is a sweet character who loves his family and has strong bonds with his friends and sworn brothers – he feels deeply but is strategic and reasonable. I loved this character.
There are a lot of notable characters I haven’t discussed including Wen Ning, The Nie brothers, Jin GuangYao, Jin Ling, Lan Sizhui (who is a sweetheart) and many many more but I am trying to avoid too many spoilers. You will be surprised at how many characters you meet and end up knowing really well as they are just all incredibly well crafted and full of personality.
Overall. This novel is truly a brilliant read that deals with good and evil, the greyness of morality, justice and war, love and family, loss and grief, as well as including some epic battles, magic and characters – not to mention this book is hilarious. This book is chunky but it is truly worth it with so many well defined and complex characters, twisty dark plots and epic deceptions and dangers this book has it all, not to mention the tense and angsty love between the two main characters. There is so much more I could say about this book, it is epic in its proportions and highly comical but for now I’ll leave the review here!