Cover Image: To Gaze Upon Wicked Gods

To Gaze Upon Wicked Gods

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Did not finish at 12%. Writing was good but story was not holding my attention. Did not love the characters and was not invested in what was happening.

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To Gaze Upon Wicked Gods follows Ruying, a girl blessed with the power of Death. Before she was born, the Romans invaded her homeland and have taken over, controlling the people by introducing drugs to keep them dependent.

I think the story itself was interesting, but the writing was overly repetitive and caused me to lose interest when I noticed I was reading the same thing over and over. The plot didn’t go anywhere until the last third of the book, and a lot of information towards the end would have been very useful to know at the beginning to understand the motivations of the Romans and especially Prince Antony. Overall, I enjoyed it, but the writing style bogged the story down. I plan to read the next book, but I really hope the editing is a little better.

Thanks to the publisher, I received an eARC through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

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I would first like to thank NetGalley, Molly X Chang, and Random House Publishing Group for the Advanced Reader’s Copy (ARC).

This review will be shared on Goodreads and Instagram (@caffeinatedfantasyreads) on May 31st, 2024.

The Er-Lang Empire, known for its magnificent history and legacy of some of its inhabitants, known as Xianlings, who often yielded magical powers, is now an occupied territory of Romans. Our main character, Ruying, is a descendant of one of the most prominent ancient families in the kingdom, who during her lifetime witnessed the complete destruction of her family and her beloved kingdom by the hands of the Romans. The story begins with her attempting to survive in a fully oppressed kingdom, where addiction and poverty plagues her loved ones. As she navigates through the hardships, she is forced to wield her own magical power of Death, in order to ensure her own survival. It is a power that she attempted to hide from the prying eyes of the occupiers, but as fate would have it, this particular display was in the presence of the younger prince of Rome, Antony Augustus. Suddenly, Ruying and Antony’s journeys become completely intertwined.

Ruying and Antony take us on a journey which immerses us in a world of oppression, political scheming, violence and the possibility of a near-total destruction of an ancient culture. As a reader witnessing the current geopolitical environment, it is difficult to resonate with Ruying. Can the oppressed trust their occupier? The question should be rhetorical, but Ruying’s conflicting emotions and the almost yearning to be able to trust in Antony are all things, as a reader, we cannot resonate with. The intensity of Ruying’s dilemma reaches a fevered pitch by the end, and her epiphany and reflection at the end feel like an ice-cold reality check for her and us. Molly Chang has done a tremendous job in immersing her readers into Ruying’s world, with an uncanny perfection in weaving the experiences of an oppressed people. As a reader, I enjoyed the dichotomy of the two Empires and worlds described, where an “advanced” and “modern” society of science, has managed to corrupt and destroy its world so much so that it now requires to leech of the resources off an ancient Empire, which managed to preserve its resources based on its reliance on Magic and divinity. To Gaze Upon Wicked Gods is magnificent in its ability to take us to a fantastical world and yet keep us grounded and reflective of tales of the oppressed and their oppressors. Though I enjoyed the world, the rating remains 3-stars due to the moral dilemma the romance in this work yields

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While the plot wasn’t hitting for me, the writing was beautiful and accessible. I may actually try to reread the book later, but four stars for now.

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Read a couple of chapters and DNF it. Might pick up again in the future but not crazy about it Not sure if this book is for me. Have been seeing other creators talk about the strange romance in this book and it makes me uncomfortable.

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The story is overall enjoyable enough. I found myself quite compelled by the romance plot in particular, though not by anything else. I'm aware that some people call this a "colonizer romance," which technically it is, but I also felt like it was pretty clear that the main character was being manipulated, and I'd rather not blame the colonized for giving someone the benefit of the doubt.

The worldbuilding is interesting in theory -- the mix of science and fantasy -- but it did also feel a bit jarring to me, not as smoothly integrated as I would've liked it to be. And more importantly, it felt thin. But the thing that repelled me the most was the quality of the prose. It was passable once I got used to it, but it felt really rough and choppy, with a lot of typos and overly-dramatic sentences that just fell flat.

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This book started off so strong but than halfway it just went downhill. This had so much potential but the time skip didn’t help at all like you don’t understand why the FMC is so devoted to the MMC. The romance to me had no chemistry but the plot was good

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To Gaze Upon Wicked Gods explores themes of colonization drawn from history and the impact it can have on societies and individuals. Remaining on the right side of a war sounds easy, but what happens when you’re no longer sure what’s right? Or when you lose anything but the will to survive and save those you love?

Yang Ruying is a young woman just trying to survive and take care of her family at any cost while her planet is slowly being erased by the foreign race who is colonizing it.

Baihu is Ruying’s ex-childhood best friend and the bastard son of the royal family who has aligned himself with the Roman colonizers for power and out of his own bitterness towards his birth family.

Antony is the youngest Prince of Rome, bent on forging his own path for both his home and Pangu. Ruying is his greatest chance at making his plans come true.

To Gaze Upon Wicked Gods feels a bit like a debut novel (which it is), but I love the idea of qi-based magic and what the author has woven in regarding historical events. These things happen to real people and it’s as heartbreaking in a fantasy book as it is in reality.

One thing I do like is the inclusion of 汉字 (Hanzi, Chinese characters) in the text. I do wish I had Pinyin pronunciations for the characters names and tone marks on the other written out Chinese phrases, but I also understand most English readers wouldn’t know to care about those. For me, it just makes the Chinese inclusions feel half-done.

I do hope that the finished copy has a glossary. I am familiar with what a guqin is and that the Chinese state their names “last name, first name’, etc. but someone less familiar with Chinese culture might benefit from a small glossary or a cultural note to help further understanding of terms and references in this book.

I will absolutely pick up the next book in this series.

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I wanted so badly to like this book, the concept sounded so cool, but I couldn’t get beyond the colonizer romance and the overuse of bad tropes. It was just so repetitive that I white knuckled my way through it to be able to write this review

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2.5/5 stars

<i>Thank you to NetGalley and Del Rey for an ARC in exchange for an honest review!</i>

This is one of those books where I totally see what the author’s intention was, but unfortunately, she didn’t pull it off. I didn’t empathize with Ruying at all because I could see right through Antony. Maybe I’m just tired of women falling for mediocre (and in this case, horrible) men! I was not surprised at all with the ending, and it was annoying to be in Ruying’s head when literally everyone else was telling her that she was wrong and I agreed with them. She trusts Antony way too fast and the pacing for this book is off - there are random time jumps and I’m just supposed to believe that Ruying and Antony have grown so much closer in this time.

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Ruying is blessed with a deadly power that makes her an unwilling asset to the conquerors of her world. But can she trust the prince with the vision for a better world for both of their people? Or will the secrets he keeps be what unleashes her upon them all?

4 stars rounded up from 3.5

I was hooked for the first third of this story…it was fast paced and hard to put down. I found the ending third of the story was the strongest part of the entire book…it was so good and so wonderfully written. However, I was disappointed with the middle part of the book. The time hop was not it for me…I would’ve loved to see more of the character and relationship development happen on page especially since I found the story intriguing and the writing beautiful.

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oh I am SO mad about the ending not wrapping up enough. I have to read two more of these for a conclusion ??????????

2.5, rounded up. okay let me be brief as a briefcase (while still making absolutely zero sense ❤️), because this book was not.

Let’s start there, actually. The writing was SO fucking flowery that it feels like an affront to flowers to even call it that. It’s like that sickly sweet perfume-y floralness that tries really hard to smell like flowers and misses the mark entirely. Or like artificial grape flavoring, I dunno.

Antony not only has a terrible name, but he also has the personality of stale bread. And Ruying has the personality of a pineapple pizza handmade by a caveman that (obviously) doesn’t know what pizza is.

The use of “science” and the whole “magic vs. science” thing REALLY pissed me off. CALL IT TECHNOLOGY. TECH, EVEN, IF YOU WANT TO BE FANCY. Or Pangu could’ve called it science and Rome could say technology, to show the differences in technological development between the two. It was just so infuriatingly dumb how they were all like “we can do This and This and This because ✨ science ✨” no. ew. That’s something I would say, NOT something an entire civilization of techbros would say. Where’s the mansplaining??????? Unrealistic.

Complaining aside, I did really love the “plot twist”, if you can call it that. I saw it coming, but I was in denial because so many books have the perfect setup for this particular twist and then they just brush it under the fucking rug. But not this book !! so yay, gold star for you

Now I just have to hope that the author doesn’t pull an “oopsie daisy actually that was all a miscommunication” and undo the whole thing.

(thanks to netgalley for the arc !!)

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I wanted to fall in love with this book so badly. The cover is gorgeous, and I've been wanting to read a Chinese inspired fantasy for a while now. I thought this would be the perfect one for me to fall into, but it just didn't live up to my expectations.

Let's be clear: I definitely do not hate this book. No matter how many times it got repetitive, or had a trope I'm not exactly fond of, I still remain hopeful for this author.

Molly X. Chang's writing is beautiful. She paints a scenery of flowing silks and half moon archways in a way that is romantic yet still does not lean into purple prose. I thought the world was gorgeous, and it felt very real, like I could easily step into the pages and exist.

The magic system is interesting, as magic is fading out of existence, and our main character has a dangerous power she is hiding from the public.

I did not like the colonized/colonizer tensions. At times, it was redundant, with the FMC describing over and over how the Roman's brutalized her people. I understand a character going through such an existence would be angry and bitter, but I think we could have understood that without being told at every turn. The author needs to trust the audience a bit more, as most of us would easily be able to connect the dots.

The story took quite a while to pick up, probably because there was so much unnecessary world building in the beginning. It took about 20% for things to get going. Unfortunately, I didn't find the plot very gripping, for the reasons stated above.

Ruying was fine as a FMC, though I wished she'd have the opportunity to be more balanced. I didn't care for Antony or Baihu, feeling as though both of them have vast amounts of blood on their hands, and neither of them were exactly redeemable. I didn't like any of their dynamics, with poor Ruying being under their control for various reasons.

The plot, again, was just fine, if a bit generic despite the unique setting. It did not keep me on the edge of my seat like I hoped, and I'm not sure if I'd be willing to give the second one a chance

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I could not get into this. I did not like the relationship between the FMC and MMC. It just felt like a bad “I can fix him” trope.

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This review may contain spoilers

I wasn't sure how I'd feel about this one given what as been said about it, but after sitting down and finishing it in a night, I can confidently say that barring a few nitpicks, I greatly enjoyed reading it. Ruying is a young woman trying to navigate a sister with an addiction, an elderly grandmother, people who want to use her powers and make choices for her, and an impending war that could destroy her home, her family, and perhaps eventually, her entire world. She is constantly in a state of flux trying to remain good, realizing she can't if she wants her family and herself to live, and beating herself up about her choices. While I sometimes found myself frustrated with her decisions and internal monologue, I don't see that as a bad thing given what's taking place around her.

As for the "colonizer romance" aspect of it. That doesn't exist. There is no romance here. There is infatuation from Ruying and she does wobble on her feelings for Antony, but I would be surprised if she didn't. Antony is a master manipulator. Not only is it in the subtext but more than one character says it outright. Of course Ruying is going to be manipulated and question herself about the person who has positioned himself as her captor but also her savior.

The magic of the world feels a little underdeveloped but given that this is the first entry into a trilogy (?), I imagine more will come to light in future books. I am very interested in the blending of magic and science and I hope with further glimpses at the world that it becomes less clunky. Also very interested in Rome as it sounds like a potential future Earth, but did Earth rebrand as Rome? Is it just a name? I hope we get more lore about that.

All in all, a solid first entry into a series and I can't wait to pick up the next book.

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A take on Chinese history with magic and technology bridging the gap for an all new colonization story. I felt the pain in this one and as always a fan of love triangles.

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What a romp this was! I’m very curious at
how the love triangle will be playing out. Overall this was just about of fun.
If this is the authors debut I’m excited to see what comes next. 3.5 stars!

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Well. Glancing quickly through other reviews, it seems this book was incredibly divisive. For me, it was just...fine.

Ruying of Pangu is a girl blessed by Death, able to drain the lifeforce of those around her if she desires. Of course, she keeps this ability under close control after inadvertently killing a close friend as a child. Now an adult, she simply wants to do what she can to protect her family. Meanwhile, her world has been invaded after a portal in the sky opened and unleashed the scientific and military might of the Romans. Wait, like actually the Romans from our own world? Apparently so! Did the Roman Empire never fall in this version of Earth? Did their descendants rebuild the Empire and conquer modern day countries? How far into Earth's future is this? Who knows! The author simply never explains it!

One of the princes of the Romans, Antony, irrevocably alters Ruying's life when she's captured and imprisoned. To save the lives of her family, they enter a bargain together where she uses her powers of Death magic to become Antony's personal assassin. Do you actually get to see this happen? Not really! Almost all of the assassinations are off-screen, the action referenced in later internal musings. At one point there's literally a six month timeskip, after which Ruying thinks to herself along the lines of "I can't believe I've killed over forty people for him". HUH! What happened to showing, not telling...

Of course, Ruying and Antony grow closer throughout their time eliminating political targets in the name of building a peace between Pangu and Rome. They're both attractive and codependent, so you can see where this is going. However, what I really enjoyed is that Ruying is a fairly unreliable narrator, and we only very rarely get glimpses of Antony's POV. He's manipulative and controlling, but it's never fully clear how aware she is of this (until the end of the book). At times I really enjoyed their banter and how they'd both obfuscate. What became frustrating was when others would try to open her eyes and she'd just say "I don't care, I don't want to know", etc, BUT was completely shocked at the end reveal of the things he'd done. Why are you so floored now!! You already knew he was hiding things from you!! Come on...

Anyway. I feel truly mid about this book overall. There were certainly some intriguing aspects, and I enjoyed the setting of Pangu, the magic involved, and the bits of history mentioned. I just can't get past the amount of content that was never explained or simply not shown. I definitely don't feel strongly enough about this book to pick up the sequel.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the arc.

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- I had very high hopes for TO GAZE UPON WICKED GODS. It met some of them - an inventive magic system and a great world full of hard choices and morally gray characters. Plus, the staccato style of the writing kept everything moving at a breakneck pace.
- Where it fell short for me was characterization. Ruying has practically only one personality trait, a drive to protect her family. And we know this because she states it every other page, along with other basic facts of the story, over and over again.
- There is also a six month time jump in the middle of the book. During that span, we miss what sounds like some heart pounding action, and also the entirety of the budding relationship between Ruying and her colonizer captor. We’re simply told that she’s drawn to him, but we skipped the parts where she learned more about him and built trust.
- The trust part in particular is was very difficult for me to swallow. It’s glaringly obvious that he does not have the good intentions he professes, and yet Ruying is ready to follow him to the ends of the earth (and therefore, the end of her people and her country).

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I felt like I was tricked into picking this book for how insanely mad I was after finishing it. I remember seeing an arrow trope post by the author saying it has a love triangle and "he is a traitor but could never betray the woman he loved" That said traitor isn't in more than 3 chapters and there is no love triangle. Instead, there is a colonizer romance.

I loved the idea of the FMC turning evil to protect her family, we all love a badass woman who would break rules and walk through hell to save her loved ones. But siding with them out of desperation and falling in love with them are two very different things.

If you want to write an 'I can fix him' romance maybe write a dark romance with mafias and not colonizers.

I have read comments like Antony is making me feel things and sorry to say but nothing has ever disgusted me more than this.

How does one go on having inner monologues about feeling guilty about killing innocent people and then say with a straight face "Frankly I don't care" when someone tries explaining to her what her prince is doing?

After 70% of the story I wanted to roll my eyes every time Ru said My People.

“And if you die, it will mean war too. I'll start it myself.” Be fr man, your family is already committing genocide, you are referenced as a soldier from one of the worst units to exist in human history

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