The 36th book I read this year was Heaven Officials Blessing by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu, a translated Chinese fiction that was recommend to me by a friend. I don’t read a lot of translated fiction, mostly because my tbr of western fiction is so long but my friend was so excited about this book, I bumped it up the list to read sooner.
A vague summary
The novel opens with the backstory of our main character, Xie Lien, describing his ascension to Godhood at a very young age and then his consequential fall from the Heavenly Realm. Followed by his second ascension and fall. The story then begins properly with his third ascension to the Heavenly Realm. The other God’s choose to shun Xie Lien upon his return, which he takes on in his good natured stride, as he quickly asigned his first task as a Heavenly Official; brides in a small town are being taken during their Bridal procession by a mysterious spirit. During his investigation, Xie Lien encounters another mysterious spirit, who is accompanied by silver butterflies and blood rain, he appears and simply guides Xie Lien through the mountain, breaking the magic cast by the spirit he is investigating and allowing Xie Lien to solve the mystery.
After his success in the investigation Xie Lien returns to the heavenly realm and continues to try to repair his relationships with the other heaven officials but he comes up against how much older he is than most of them and how little respect they have for him after his three ascensions. This is when he also learns who the mysterious, powerful ghost who helped him really is, a powerful Ghost king, called Hua Chang or ‘Crimson Rain Sought Flower’
He decides to try to boost his status, which can only be achieved by having temples where offerings are given in worship, by setting up his own temple on earth and trying to regain his reputation. On his travels he meets a handsome, young, rich man, who seems down on his luck so Xie Lien takes him in, to join him at his temple. He quickly discovers this young man may not be quite what he seems as they are drawn into the ghosts of Xie Lien’s long life in the human realm, with another mystery to solve.
I’ve done my best to summarise because honestly, a lot happens for a book that isn’t particularly long, plus Xie Lien has lived such a long life, where so much happens, there are lots of side stories and back stories that get introduced through the narrative. The style is very different to what I usually read and because I haven’t read a lot of translated fiction, I can’t really say if this a cultural difference or just the style of the book but it put me in the mind of the way the stories are told in mythological stories like Norse Mythology or Song of Archillies. The sense of humour in this book is amazing, the world is incredibly rich and obviously deeply routed in Chinese culture, which is so exciting to experience as a Western reader but within the context of my favourite genre, it’s definitely the way I’d prefer to learn about other cultures in future, just give add some magic in and I’m golden! Wherever a joke or part of the narrative relies on something specific to the culture or language, there are helpful little *’s with an explanation. The relationships in this book is great, especially the romantic one you see beginning to build between Xie Lien and the young gentleman (no spoilers about who he is, although I accidentally spoiled it on my podcast!).
As a bonus, these are really beautiful books with the gorgeous illustrations in them and I can’t wait to read the rest! Sadly my bank account can’t afford the rest yet but I definitely plan to get them eventually, especially as the fifth book is about to come out. So, in conclusion, definitely worth a read! I know there’s also loads of beautiful fan art online but my friend has warned me they are full of spoilers, so I haven’t looked that up just yet.
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