Webnovel Review: Heaven Official’s Blessing by Mò Xiāng Tóngxiù

天官赐福 [Tiān Guān Cì Fú]天官赐福 [Tiān Guān Cì Fú] by Mò Xiāng Tóngxiù
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Eight hundred years ago, Xie Lian was the Crown Prince of the Xian Le kingdom; one who was beloved by his citizens and the darling of the world. Unsurprisingly, he ascended to the Heavens at a very young age. Now, eight hundred years later, Xie Lian ascends to the Heavens for the third time as the laughing stock of all three realms. On his first task as a god, 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: body horror, graphic violence and gore, cannibalism, character commits suicide, character attempts suicide, epidemic and mass death, death of children, self-harm, implied child abuse, war and mass murder

When I first started this novel, I will admit I was intimidated by its size – with 200+ chapters spanning across 5 books, the complete story is quite a lot, obviously, to undertake; it is like reading an omnibus at length. Anyway, so I started, paused and then came back to it when the date for the donghua was announced, and then once I started again I practically read it in a frenzy. I was also in a reading slump at the time, so reading something different for a change really perked me up. Heaven Official’s Blessing basic plotline is about a prince-turned-martial god, Xie Lian, who has ascended to the heavens for the third time (it has also been 800 years since his first ascension), and as he starts to get involved in the matters of the heavens thanks to some mysteries he is investigating, there is a whole hidden tapestry of issues that start to unravel. Accompanying him is a Ghost King (who, like is the natural enemy of the heavens), Hua Cheng with a fearsome reputation, but to Xie Lian he is the gentlest and most devoted; yes, it is a romance between the two of them.

So, Xie Lian starts off seeming like a kindly, maybe-slightly-vapid, heavenly official/god (I will use them interchangeably) who lands himself a case (devotees pray to god to resolve their problems) where he is investigating disappearances of brides near a particular mountain, thought to be done by a ghost groom. This was to pay off the debt incurred by his quite dramatic entrance to the heavens that causes some, uh, structural damages. Anyway, he first meets a mysterious stranger who helps him cross into the mountain, and then later, a young lad meets him on an ox cart ride to the village where Xie Lian starts his new shrine. The other gods have already warned him to be wary of the mysterious stranger with the silver butterflies, but Xie Lian is intrigued by him. Even though Hua Cheng sticks by him sometimes in the form of disguises, they are really poor disguises if you think about it, so like is he really trying. In any case, it is quite obvious that Xie Lian gets special treatment from him such that everyone, Hua Cheng’s Ghost City minions included, are shocked.

I won’t be saying much about the interlocking mysteries that expose the secrets of the Heavenly Court, but suffice to say, there is a lot of dirty laundry, and Xie Lian, who has been away from it for 800 years, goes stumbling into it. A thing to note here is that while Xie Lian gives off a vapid, carefree vibe, it is more that he has been through A Lot through the years, and essentially, he has just chosen to be gentle and kind, not involved himself unnecessarily in gossip, and has no ego, so his goodness is because he has suffered through adversity. There were a lot of low points for him, and a great fall from being a Crown Prince who was considered the darling of the heavens, and moments where he suffered abject humiliation and betrayal in the past. Hua Cheng, meanwhile, is a mystery to Xie Lian for quite a bit of the story, because, well no one knows much about him, aside from the stories that made him popular and feared. Along for the ride are two of Xie Lian’s former friends-turned-gods; the three of them, too, shared a complicated history, that is slowly being mended in the present. As for the romance, well, it is a nice slow burn romance, that hits all the notes of yearning, confusion and sweet reunion. Sometimes, Hua Cheng’s behaviour does seem stalkery (but like, there is an actual stalker in the story sooo), but Xie Lian accepts his oddness, and he isn’t obsessive about it, and as you go through the past, you learn why he sticks so close to him.

Aside from the main characters, the story also has a rich cast of secondary characters whose stories form part of the plot – Shi Qingxuan (SQX) is a favorite not just because of how vibrant a personality he is, but also how he makes for such a good friend for Xie Lian. His past is also one of the uncovered mysteries of the story, though it contains a lot of angst. Oh, and did I mention some of the gods are genderfluid? Shi Qingxuan prefers to be in a female form, Ling Wen (the top literature god, and also the only one who keeps heaven running, someone give her a vacation) occasionally comes in her male form; Ming Yi also dons a female form at times. Pei Ming is also another interesting character because his first impression is awful but then he is sort of redeemed by the end. The characters are complex, multi-dimensional, and often are morally ambiguous, which is delightful because when you think of heavens versus ghosts, it looks black and white like good and evil. But the Heavenly Officials are not all virtuous, and being good is not exactly a prerequisite to get into the heavens. Like the Guoshi says (I’m paraphrasing here), the one who ascends (to a god) is also human, the one who falls (to a ghost) is also human. I think the story really stuck to that message well, throughout its various arcs, that just because they are immortal they don’t entirely let go of their human issues.

While I was overall pleased with the story, and it is quite engaging as a plot, I did feel there were some plot-holes that keep me from giving it 5 stars. The whole thing about spiritual energy revealing who they are, heavenly or ghostly feels confusing when so many characters go undercover – I feel, at times, the spiritual energy thing is deemed important and others it is not. It makes some of the reveals feel like they are coming out of left field, because well, how did anyone not know? I still don’t know how exactly the heavenly officials ascend and at what point they are no longer mortal and become immortal, because the book never really clearly defines it. There were also some tropes used more than once for different characters and the repetition felt less like foreshadowing and more like, well, recycling. The romance gets all my love, though, because I was floored by their journey. Finally, you gotta watch the donghua (preferably after reading this), because somehow they managed to make them even more romantic?

Is it diverse? gay romance; ancient China setting; genderfluid characters

View all my reviews

Note: This webnovel is not currently licensed in English; it is only available via fan-made translations, though you can still purchase the Chinese raws/other translations to support the author. Information about this series can be found at Heaven Official’s Blessing.

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