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‘To Gaze Upon Wicked Gods:’ Advance Book Review

Yang Ruying resents the Roman invaders for destroying her beloved Er-Lang through opian, harsh laws, and disregard for local customs. Even though she possesses the rare Xianling ability to harness Death, her lack of training and fear for her grandmother’s and younger twin sister’s safety prevent her from drawing attention from the ruling classes. When you’re blessed by Death, it’s hard to fly below the radar, and one fateful encounter presents Ruying with a monumental decision: Will she use her ability for the benefit of a Roman prince, or will she hold onto her morals and lose everything?

Molly X Chang’s debut novel, To Gaze Upon Wicked Gods, presents a reality where magic and science exist in parallel spaces that only cross when the veil is forcibly ripped open. Many years before the start of the story, Rome used their scientific prowess to do exactly that and wrenched a hole between their world and Pangu. (Er-Lang is one of the nations that make up Pangu.) Like typical colonizers, they fail to see the local people as equals or even human, and several unequal treaties have given the Romans exorbitant power. Ruying blames the Romans for the death of her father and her family’s decline, but as a girl, she feels her only hope is allowing her grandmother to find her a husband outside of the capital. She despises her countrymen that work with the Romans but soon discovers that working with the second prince, Antony Augustus, could be the only way to protect those she loves.

I had to read To Gaze Upon Wicked Gods twice before trying to put my thoughts onto paper, because the plot, foreshadowing, and world are so layered. First, Ruying is an incredibly complex protagonist given she fears her own abilities and considers herself a coward. This isn’t exactly someone I expected to find compelling, but, as the book progressed, I realized that Ruying is a realistically flawed human being. Without Er-Langian expectations that daughters are meek, mild, and modest, she wouldn’t have been so susceptible to Antony’s open admiration for her deadly magic. Ruying needs to be broken exactly as she is to be the right tool for her prince’s plans. By the final pages, I stanned Ruying hard, even when I desperately wanted to shake her to help clear her head.

My feelings about Antony Augustus, the second prince of Rome and Ruying’s master, feel less clear. Even with the revelations in the last quarter of the book, I can’t pinhole him neatly into the “villain” category, but his hat is definitely a very dark grey. I think that Antony believes his actions are justified, but he also willfully blinds himself to the harm he causes. The lies and half-truths he tells Ruying show that he knows she’ll feel anger and betrayal with his actions; however, part of me senses that while Antony is manipulative, he is also a hurting little boy who wants someone to accept him. He just no longer knows how to interact honestly with anyone. It doesn’t excuse his actions, but, to me, it helps explain why he tries to hide the truth from Ruying for so long.

The elevator pitch for To Gaze Upon Wicked Gods might easily be girl with magical power over death becomes assassin for colonizing rulers, but it’s so much more complicated than that. Molly Chang blends fantastical scenarios with critique on colonization/appropriation while presenting a scenario where the strongest way to foment rebellion is to learn the ways of the oppressors from the inside. I’m still processing everything I read, but I know that I want to see the continuation of Ruying’s story. She deserves to grow into her strength and power to protect everything she holds dear.

5 Cases of the Yin and Yang of Life and Death out of 5

Creative Team: Molly X Chang (author)
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Del Rey
Click here to purchase.

Jodi Scaife, Fanbase Press Social Media Strategist


Mid-30s geek type with a houseful of pets, books, DVDs, CDs, and manga


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