Sunday, March 5, 2023

REVIEW: Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation: Mo Dao Zu Shi, Vol. 1 (book) by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu, translated by Suika & Pengie, interior illustrations by Marina Privalova

Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation is a danmei (Chinese m/m) series. I bought my copy of this volume new.


At the time of his death Wei Wuxian was widely known as the Yiling Patriarch, the feared and skilled commander of a vast undead army. Thirteen years after his death, Wei Wuxian reawakens in the body of Mo Xuanyu, a young man who was expelled from the Jin cultivation sect for being gay. After a bit of investigation, Wei Wuxian figures out that Mo Xuanyu was abused to such a degree by his family that he turned to demonic cultivation, freely offering his body in exchange for revenge. 

This essentially means that Wei Wuxian is being given a second chance at life, but it's not long before he's once again drawn into the orbits of those he knew during his first life. The Yiling Patriarch burned a lot of bridges, and Wei Wuxian figures most of these people would want to kill him if they knew who he really was. Unfortunately, for some reason Lan Wangji, a cultivator who was his polar opposite when they were growing up, seems determined not to let him out of his sight.

I've made multiple efforts to get into this story. I watched some of the animated adaptation, got several episodes into the live action adaptation, and tried a fan translation of the original novel. In all cases, I eventually gave up. The live action and animated adaptations both started at the same spot (Wei Wuxian waking up in Mo Xuanyu's body) but then went in their own direction. I lasted longer with the live action version, which took what I assume were originally a series of flashbacks and stitched them together into one giant and seemingly unending flashback. I eventually couldn't stand all the death and tragedy and ended up quitting.

I was a bit nervous about reading this. The fan translation I'd previously tried was rough and difficult to follow. It didn't help that many of the characters were referred to by multiple names - bless Seven Seas for including a detailed name guide and glossary at the end of the book, because it was very helpful. Now that I've read the whole thing, I can say that, so far, this isn't my favorite MXTX story or couple, but I'm definitely itching to read Book 2.

I love the supernatural aspects of this series. Wei Wuxian comes across a rage-filled severed arm that seems determined to get itself a body by force, if necessary. He and Lan Wangji gradually find more body parts, but the mystery of who the body is, why all these body parts are scattered around, and who's involved in it all is still unsolved by the end of this first book. I want to know! Especially if it involves more messed up discoveries like the Nie Sect's doomed existence.

Wei Wuxian is another fun aspect of this series. He's mischievous, a quick thinker, and loves getting a rise out of anyone he views as "too serious" (prime example: Lan Wangji). We don't see much of his evil Yiling Patriarch self in this volume - while it's clear that he did some genuinely horrible things, there are also indications that there's more to the story. Even at 15, Wei Wuxian was the sort of person to constantly think outside the box - because it was fun, because there were easier or more efficient solutions, etc. At least some of his ideas took him down what would be considered blasphemous routes, which I'm sure we'll hear about in more detail later.

As far as the potential romance aspects go, there isn't much yet, just moments here and there that stand out if you've got your m/m romance glasses on. Although Wei Wuxian is completely oblivious, there are indications that Lan Wangji has spent at least the last 13 years nursing some feelings for him. How that happened despite Wei Wuxian's Yiling Patriarch period (during which Wei Wuxian very definitely killed some of Lan Wangji's fellow sect members) should be interesting to find out. The one thing I'm not wild about so far: Lan Wangji appears to have an enormous jealous streak. At one point Wei Wuxian notes that a severed torso has great abs (which is weird in and of itself), and Lan Wangji does his best to take the torso back and wrap it up, presumably to keep Wei Wuxian from admiring the abs.

This first volume only has one extended flashback - about 100 pages long, showing us how Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian met. I'm still nervous that the series will plunge into an enormous tragedy-filled flashback the way the live action series did, but I'm more hopeful that the novels will at least give me a chance to wallow in some more enjoyable story moments first, similar to Heaven Official's Blessing (which also has some long and awful flashbacks that I somehow tolerated better).

And now that I've reviewed Book 1, I can finally start Book 2 without worry that I'll mix up or confuse events even more than I already am. My prior exposure to the live action TV series is almost certainly the reason I cheer every time Wen Ning makes an on-page appearance, because he hasn't had a chance to do much of anything in the books yet.


Black and white illustrations throughout, two full-color illustrations (one of them is used for the volume's cover art), occasional footnotes, and a lengthy character & name guide and glossary.

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