“Mo Dao Zu Shi (MDZS)” by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu

If you are done watching “The Untamed” and suffering from withdrawal symptoms, then “Mo Dao Zu Shi (MDZS)” by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu” should be your next stop.

Interspersed with riveting characters, a rich story that rapidly shifts between two timelines; Mo Dao Zu Shi (MDZS) is one of the most popular Chinese BL novels in the current times. If you are a fan of author Mo Xiang Tong Xiu’s writing style, then it’s obvious that her stories are profoundly inspiring and relatable to our daily lives. Reading her books is like walking a tightrope; the end unexpected and shockingly retrospective. Each of her novels has the distinction of making you think; something that unheard of in the Chinese BL industry which is full of steampunk romances. As against the live-action adaptation (that was heavily censored), the book provides a bird’s-eye view of the unhindered relationship between the main protagonists, Lan Wangji & Wei Wuxian. The content is as sexually explicit, as much as it can get in a Mo Xiang Tong Xiu novel. For reasons unknown, I watched the adaptation before I started reading this book in my free time. I was in for a pleasant surprise because the novel explores Wei Wuxian’s sexuality and his blossoming relationship with Lan Wangji in vivid details. Despite that, I had recommend watching the drama before you start reading the book for the following reasons-

☆ the storyline has an extensive casting with numerous characters and sects. Some of the characters have multiple titles. Sect rules differ from place to place.

☆ the settings and storyline involving the secondary characters (specifically their pairings) can be confusing, if you aren’t well versed in the meta-universe.

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 archenemy. 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.

CW/TW: Violence, Gore, Blood, Incest (mentioned), Rape (mentioned), Murder, Suicide, Death, Sex

Characters

Wei Wuxian

The enigmatic yet terrifying protagonist of this story, Wei Wuxian is the inventor of demonic cultivation and had the ability to control corpses. His character deviates from being a playful young disciple of his sect to transforming into the infamous Yiling Patriach

Lan Wanji

Lan Wanji is the Second Master of the Gusu Lan Sect. He is majorly portrayed as a reserved, self righteous and disciplined character. His love story with Wei Wuxian is the turning point of this storyline.

Storyline and Plot Development

If you are an avid fan of the drama, then you must be quite familiar with the plotline. The story follows Wei Wuxian who resurrects into the body of Mo Xuan Yu. Mo Xuan Yu commits suicide willing Wei Wuxian into existence so that he can take revenge on the people who bullied Mo Xuan Yu. Unlike the drama which is clearly divided into two parts- “The Flashback” and “The Present Times”, the novel weaves through both timelines coherently at an even pace. Mo Xiang Tong Xiu’s writing style is mesmerizing as she builds a complicated world ruled by the four major sects- Gusu Lan, Lanling Jin, Qinghe Ning and Qishan Wen. The past storyline focuses on introducing the major and the minor characters as wayward teenagers training to become cultivators. This is where Wei Wuxian and Lan Wanji meet as LWJ inevitably ends up falling in love with his mischievous better half. Their world is disrupted when the treacherous Wen Sect try to dominate and gain control over the cultivation world. The young teenagers are suddenly thrust into the middle of a war that leads to devastating casualties on all sides. In the midst of this turmoil, Wei Wuxian faces off challenges that arouse his dormant (evil) tendencies and help him control dead corpses.In the present times, Wei Wuxian returns to find the cultivation world at the brink of another major catastrophe. Alongside Lan Wangji, our heroes investigate the causes behind the mysterious, random deaths that are suddenly plaguing their world. The investigation leads to revelation of shocking truths as Wei Wuxian comes to terms with the fact that the happenings in his previous lifetime are somehow connected to the current turmoil. Mo Xiang Tong Xiu impresses with a rustic depiction of a cultivation world torn apart by lies, deceit and betrayal. While Wei Wuxian was quite popular in his teenage years and had loyal friends as well as a family; in the current scenario, he can only rely on Lan Wanji. The two timelines are far different from each other, but the consistent theme is world dominance. Various players try to gain control over the cultivation world in both timeframes and it makes for an interesting read. Never a dull moment indeed!

Angsty, Impressive and Memorable Romance

True to its form, the romance here is messy, infuriating and yet addictive. The pliable difference between the adaptation and the novel lies in romantic inclinations between Lan Wanji and Wei Wuxian. The flashback phase builds on their subtle romance (barely existent); because Wei Wuxian spends most of his time grating on Lan Wanji’s nerves while our disciplined crusader masks his emotions well. So, the romance doesn’t happen until the latter half when Wei Wuxian resurrects into Mo Xuan Yu’s body and surprisingly, fate brings them together. Once reconciled, Lan Wanji glues himself to Wei Wuxian’s side (poor guy is damn scared of losing his lover again), while Wei Wuxian decides that playing the “Gay Card” would get him off the hook. Shockingly, Lan Wanji takes everything in stride and doesn’t let go of Wei Wuxian. Thus, begins their journey as Wei Wuxian slowly learns to appreciate Lan Wangji’s presence in his life. As they spend time together, Wei Wuxian realises the painful truth that Lan Wanji has always been in love with him (for almost twenty years or so). The realization leads to some epic sexual content as both finally give into their desires and become official. As this storyline is based in medieval China, there is no base concept for same sex marriage. But Wei Wuxian decidedly shifts to the Gusu Lan sect after things are resolved (and villains are executed); where our happy couple spend the rest of their days training their disciples.

The Righteous, Morally Grey and In Between

Mo Dao Zu Shi is a rich tapestry of characters that leave a deep impression on your mind; and this theme isn’t restricted to the main protagonists. As such, you will be invariably drawn to the world of the supporting characters like the Jiang siblings. Unlike the drama, where Jiang Yanli plays a significant role, her brother Jiang Cheng takes the center stage here. His tumultuous relationship with Wei Wuxian is played out vividly as he sahsays between torturing the resurrected Wei Wuxian and finding relief in the fact that his long-lost brother is back. Similar attention is also paid to Jin Ling and Wei Wuxian’s blossoming relationship, as Ling overcomes his prejudices and learns more about his wayward uncle.

The Gusu Lan sect remains the major setting for this storyline. Lan Sichen and the Lan sect disciples become Wei Wuxian’s biggest supporters. The medley group of teenagers hangs onto his words like they are the Gospel and their interactions are entertaining. More so, with Sichen (Wen Yuan) Lan Wangji’s adopted son; despite having a past connection with Wei Wuxian, Sichen is a mini- LWJ version (albeit polite and obedient). The ill- fated love triangle between Song Lan, Xiao Xingchen and Xue Yang will probably make you tear up. Their story coincides with Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji’s current investigation and it is much more descriptive as compared to the drama. Since the focus of the current timeline remains on finding the culprit, Jin Guangyao’s treacherous acts are revealed. Jin Guangyao is definitely the most morally grey character that I have ever seen in a Chinese BL novel. The torture and abuse faced by him are real and make sense, but his methods of extracting revenge are beyond redemption. His character arc is incomparably violent and even though you might feel sorry for him; Jin Guangyao is indeed irredeemable.

Memorable Quotes

Wei Wuxian- ” Who cares about the crowded, broad road? I’ll walk the single-plank bridge into the night…”

Lan Wanji-“I used to think of you as my soulmate.”
Wei Wuxian- “I still am.

Wei Wuxian- “You’re really great. I like you…Or in other words, I fancy you, I love you, I want you, I can’t leave you”

Wei Wuxian-“But what he hadn’t expected was that when everyone feared him and flattered him, Lan WangJi scolded him right in his face; when everyone spurned him and loathed him, Lan WangJi stood by his side.”

Lan Wang Ji- “For 13 years I waited for you. For 13 years, I played Inquiry for you, in hope that I could reach out for you—in hope that I could still talk to you. You never answer me back. All these questions in me left unanswered, all these feelings left unresolved. Why won’t you answer me back? Wei Ying, will you come back?”

Jin Guang Yao- “I’ve lied to countless people and have destroyed countless more. Just as you’ve said, murdering my father, my brother, my wife, my son, my master, my friends—There’s not a single sin left in this world that I haven’t committed! But you, only you, I’ve never ever wanted to harm you!”

Jiang Cheng- “Wei Wu Xian! Don’t you understand? When you’re standing on their side, you’re the bizarre genius, the miraculous hero, the force of the rebellion, the flower that blooms alone. But the second your voice differs from theirs, you’ve lost your mind, you’ve ignored morality, you’ve walked the crooked path. You think you can be immune to all those condemnations as you stay outside of the world and do whatever you want? No such precedent has happened before!”

Final Impressions

Unlike Mo Xiang Tong Xiu other books (Heavens Official Blessing and The Scum Villain’s Self-Saving System), Mo Dao Zu Shi is more graphic and violent in its depiction of battle and gore. Despite that, it is brilliant in its execution and Mo Xiang Tong Xiu seamlessly weaves a tale that is steeped in injustice as our vilgantes wage a war over principles and morality. There are very few characters that are politically correct and morale, with large chunks of the storytelling dedicated to building a complex universe hinging on self-destruction. The best part about this novel are the memorable side characters, even the villains (who will leave you shell-shocked). This novel needs to be savored slowly and meticulously. The constant jump between the past and present timelines should have been confusing; but the pacing is controlled, and the flow is consistent. The romance between the main protagonists takes a lot of time to simmer; but it is worth the wait. A must read, if you are addicted to the Untamed universe!

Rating- 4 out of 5

For more information on the novel and translation links, check this-

https://exiledrebelsscanlations.com/novels/grandmaster-of-demonic-cultivation/?amp

4 thoughts on ““Mo Dao Zu Shi (MDZS)” by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu”

  1. Hi there,
    you are not going to believe me but my two cat’s names are “wei ying” and “lan zhan”.
    I watched The Untamed around 1à times and the same for Word of Honor.
    And I love the idea of “family with kid” for both of them 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. There is also an official english translation now! Well, the first part of the book anyway. It is a gorgeous book and I highly recommend it (also to support the author).
    One thing that left me bewildered when watching Untamed was the HUGE storyline alterations – Yin Iron?! And – well no spoilers but you know. Personally I liked the book one more, but it could be just first bias. I did like a lot that Yanli had a bigger role.
    But in any form, I do love mdzs 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. So, here I need to put in my grain of salt since I read the book and it was a huge disappointment. for a novice in this universe who had never seen (or wanted to for that matter) The Untamed, I couldn’t completely resist the hype and I read the story! It took me about 20 (out of about 120) chapters to understand the relationships, names and cultivation (thanks to explanatory notes by translator) and I actually really liked it in spite of clunky writing style. The story in itself was riveting. And then, near the end, the whole thing went upside down, the tone of writing went full on smut and i actually never finished the bonus chapters. It became unconvincing! I am happy though to have met a couple of amazing characters, total opposites, funny and serious all at once…I guess we cannot all be fans! I do apologize!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Each version has something to recommend it- it is wonderful to see some of the scenes brought to life- there is heartbreak, silliness, deception!
    Another worthy version is the animated donghua- the first 7 episodes are superior to the live action in my opinion. The book lets you bypass some of the iffy or so so acting of the live- but the strengths of each is amazing and I am glad it has so many fans!
    Some say her later novel Heavens Official Blessing is the ultimate masterpiece- but all three of the novels of hers are well worth reading- Scum System starts out hysterically fun and then deepens.

    Liked by 1 person

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