Cover Image: To Gaze Upon Wicked Gods

To Gaze Upon Wicked Gods

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I think that this book is fine, the drama around it was overblown, but overall I think the book hits its mark for what it wanted to be.

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I DNF around 25%

There was just so much info dumping. A scene of someone walking down the road shouldn't take 30 pages, but it did here. There was so much telling and so much info just jammed into every second. There was so much world building done in such a short time that the characters were still pretty nameless to me by this point. I can't stand an info dumping book so this really just didn't work for me.

I didn't even get to the romance that other reviewers talk about as the reason they didn't like the book.

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I really wanted to love this book. It was such a creative concept and I loved the language and culture interwoven into the story. However, there was absolutely no character development, and at least half the book was the same internal debate over and over again from the main character. I ended up skipping over several pages at a time without feeling like I missed anything. The attempt at enemies to lovers was over in about two pages of dialogue, and then was sort of unclear the rest of the book. Overall I think the idea was great but the execution needed more nuance and development.

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It redeemed itself a bit by the end but i struggled through this one. The main character was stockholmed syndrome almost the entire book and I didn’t like that. I didn’t believe any kind of romance or affection between Ruying and Antony. He’s the literal worst. I considering DNFing so much and ultimately I’m glad I didn’t bc the end was surprisingly interesting. Not interesting enough for me to read the next book though.

Thank you netgalley for this arc!

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I’ve heard a lot of the controversy around this book, but I think Molly X. Chang did a really good job. This book hooked me in and I thouroughly enjoyed it! I will be looking forward to reading more from her.

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I am honestly unsure how I feel about this one! I like the themes of the book but it was such a slow build for me that it was hard for me to stay engaged in it. It is written with a lot of imagery, but it was almost too detailed for me at times where I just wanted to get to the plot. This could be a me problem, I don’t know. I did like the magic system and the fact that the main characters were morally gray. Ruying’s experiences broke my heart. It is admittedly difficult to get past the main love interest being so horrible to her though. Some things aren’t forgivable, which is why I had mixed feelings overall. Toxic relationships have their fan base, but note that this isn’t for you if you aren’t into that.

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DNF. While I am unsure if this is truly a colonizer romance, I do think that they make a good argument. As a white person I have decided to stay out of that dialogue and defer to the reviews by persons of color.

I had a difficult time getting through the beginning of the book, a bit slow of a start. The over-descriptions fell flat for me. I wanted more world building and less fluffy language.

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was not the best book i have read. was really excited for this one, but it really missed the mark. maybe the next book the author publishes will be better fleshed out.

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I absolutely ate this up. I felt like this was a very strong debut novel. I loved The Poppy War Trilogy and this gave me those same feels. I felt like this story was unique in the way that Rome not only invaded Pangu but it had crossed through worlds to do so and was using resources in Pangu to save Rome from it's collapse due to the Human's mistreatment of their world. I loved where the story left off and I am absolutely dying to know where this is going to go and can't wait to get my hands on the next one. Thank you @netgalley and @delreybooks for the arc.

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dnfing this one

the writing is so circular and confusing at the same time and i just can not read anymore of it. i have been trying to read it for a month and it’s just not happening, i’m sorry

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This was fun story. It took a little bit to get into it but it was a blast. The world was fun and the characters were very likable. It’s worth the read.

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This book is…interesting.

I should start off by saying that it is NOT a colonizer romance, nothing even close to it. There is a romance element, but it’s moreso based in the vein of manipulation and deception from the actual colonizer. I believe poc should be able to write very factual stories about being manipulated to do something against your own will without being accused to romanticizing that wasn’t romanticized to begin with.

With that being said, the author HERSELF markets this book very very badly. She calls it an enemies to lovers, it is not, nothing close to it. She markets the main character as this all powerful character with powers she uses to be a bad person, the book is somewhat that, though the main character is moreso docile and manipulated into doing bad things for the sake of those who she loves.

Onto the actual book:

It has potential? And for the most part reaches it, but it slightly falters towards the ending, which falls flat. The main character, Ruying, is annoying, despite being justifiably so, and you can understand her actions. The side characters are developed fine enough; though I would’ve preferred if characters like Baihu and Rome’s functioning to be explained further.

The magic system is actually quite interesting! I loved the way it worked, and the way it was done…as well as the worldbuilding, which was easily refreshing and fun. I especially loved the descriptions, if anything, that was my favorite aspect of the book.

With all the prospects and general ways this series could go, I think it will improve DEEPLY in its sequel. All this book told me is that maybe we should read the books before accusing it of something it is not.

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Ruying hates the invaders who are taking over her home using technology that far overpowers the magical abilities and old fighting styles of her people. Perhaps just as much, she hates her people who have opted to betray their own and allied with the Romans for personal gain. So imagine her inner turmoil when she has no choice but to do the same for not just her survival but that of her grandma and sister. Blessed by Death with the ability to pull life out of mortal bodies, Ruying shouldn’t have to fear these foreign invaders, but she does. When an enemy prince discovers her powers, he offers her an impossible deal. If she becomes his private assassin and eliminates his rivals, her family will never starve or suffer harm again. Are the evils of this agreement really in the service of a much greater good? Will she betray her entire nation by protecting those she loves the most?

I have seen some criticism of this story revolving around the idea that this is a "colonizer romance." I more or less felt that way when reading The Hurricane Wars. I don't really feel like this reads all that much like a romance, though. I think the struggle is more about our FMC deciding between upholding her morals and surviving and protecting her family. She judges the other members of her society who have "betrayed" her people but now she is forced to make some of the same choices. In that sense, I find it an interesting premise: how our morals and ideals change as war is waged. Any "romance" or racing hearts that are alluded to read more like manipulation than love/attraction that I am supposed to root for or buy. With that said, I don't particularly enjoy the pacing. Our FMC makes many a questionable decision with dubious motivations at times. So I wouldn't say I necessarily enjoyed reading it. But I am willing to give the sequel a try before tossing in the towel.

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I have received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

"Courage in boys was bravery. Courage in girls was foolishness. From this day forward, I wished to be foolish."

Maybe I should be embarrassed with how quickly I devoured this book in one sitting, but maybe I won't and live my best life. To Gaze Upon Wicked Gods was definitely hard to put down. I quite enjoyed this book, and it's interesting to see everyone's opinion after reading it themselves. Especially after just reading the very last page.

In this, you will meet Ruying Yang. She and her sister live with their grandma and have seen their fair share of heartache and horror. Ruying would do anything within her power to keep her family safe. Ever since her world was invaded, she has never understood why the emperors sat back and did nothing. Especially after they brought the drug, opian, that got people she loved addicted to and eventually died from. On top of that, little raids are happening, and people are disappearing more and more frequently.

There's not much she can do once she steals from someone—a prince, no less—and becomes his prey. She doesn't want to strike the deal but does so to keep her family and friends safe. Little does she know what safe truly means when she strikes a deal with a prince who isn't from her world. Along the way, we get to know more about her magic and what happens to her when she uses it. We also get a glimpse that the prince doesn't truly know anything about her world or the magic she wields.

As for the romance, I don't necessarily think it was truly brewing between her and Anthony (the prince). It might be more one-sided than anything because she's a toy to him, and he's quite frankly fascinated by her. Or should I just say in her magic? As for the other guy, I could see something growing between them. Oh, and before I forget - no, I didn't get any love triangle vibes in this.

If the romance is supposed to be between her and Anthony, then I truly need the guy to redeem himself. Still seems unlikely though.

Then there's the betrayal—my god, so much freaking betrayal. Whether it's just secrets that aren't told until it is too late or the ones that sneak out with help from some wine, I truly think the next book is going to be her redemption arc. Towards the end, the wool has been lifted from over her eyes. She was young and naive for most of this book. She was truly doing the things she did because she just wanted to keep everyone safe. Sure, she also maybe believed the prince was a good guy and didn't want him to die. But now? Ha, no.

Vengeance is coming. Be prepared.

"...those blessed by Death can either save the world one day or destroy it."

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To gaze upon wicked gods- 3.5⭐️ .5🌶️

Dual POV
Eastern Asian influence
Colonized nation
Coming of age

The cover of this book is beautiful. Truly.

The plot was interesting, bringing up the question of technology vs magic. Whether the magic would stunt an empire from growing to their full potential because of the reliance in the mythical… and how it would hold up against technology and modernism. I found the call to look at the morality of power and what it means to different people to be a good topic to pursue. I appreciated the book showing the birth of a political assassin, even if it was really annoyingly that the FMC’s grandma taught her everything that she needs to know about fighting, stealth, knife work… a bit too conveniently.

The pacing of the book was broken up quite a bit by repetitive inner dialogue as well as for-shadowing mentioned multiple times, making the twists and turns fairly predictable.

The characters were fine. The FMC having her inner struggle of morality was interesting… both FMC and the MMC being morally grey was ok… but having feelings for the MMC with the oppression and emotional manipulation was icky. It gave Stockholm syndrome vibes and not necessarily in a good way. The book was mostly in the FMC’s POV, with a single VERY short chapter in the MMC’s POV. It almost felt like we were meant to sympathize with the MMC? While he was painted as a terrible person TO the FMC the whole time. Ugh.

Anyway… I wish things were a little deeper, when it came to the side characters. They felt very surface level.

Over all, this book gave post-apocalyptic earth realm colonizing other realms. Finding a love story in the opposing sides is hard to empathize with. I think I want to know what is going to happen, but at the same time I hope this is just a duology.

Thank you NetGalley, Random House Publishing Group- Ballantine and Del-Rey for the eARC of this book. All opinions are my own.

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As a reader who eagerly delves into fantasy realms, I picked up "To Gaze Upon Wicked Gods" by Molly X Chang with high hopes, enticed by the promise of strong writing and immersive world-building as depicted by its captivating cover art. However, upon finishing the book, I found myself grappling with disappointment on multiple fronts.

First and foremost, the central theme of colonizer romance left a bitter taste in my mouth. The narrative hinges on a romantic relationship between a colonizer and a native inhabitant, a trope that has been criticized for perpetuating harmful power dynamics and romanticizing historical oppression. While I understand the author's intention to explore complex relationships, the execution felt tone-deaf and failed to provide any meaningful critique or resolution to the inherent issues at play.

Moreover, the writing, touted as strong on the cover, fell short of expectations. While not outright terrible, it lacked the depth and richness I anticipated from a fantasy novel of this caliber. Dialogue felt stilted at times, and character development seemed superficial, leaving me unable to fully invest in their journeys.

The world-building, another aspect hyped by the cover, proved to be disappointingly mediocre. While there were glimpses of interesting concepts scattered throughout, they remained largely underdeveloped and failed to coalesce into a fully realized and immersive setting. As a result, I found myself struggling to envision the world beyond the surface level descriptions provided, ultimately hindering my ability to become fully engrossed in the story.

In conclusion, "To Gaze Upon Wicked Gods" fell short of its promises, delivering a narrative marred by problematic themes and lacking the depth and world-building necessary to truly captivate its audience. While it may appeal to readers less concerned with nuanced representation and immersive storytelling, I cannot in good faith recommend it to those seeking a more satisfying fantasy experience.

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I really enjoyed this story and the characters. Its hard not to see the parallels between this fictional story and what is happening in our own. I'm not going to lie it was difficult to read at times because colonization has and continues to be a big problem.

As difficult as these issues are they need to be pointed out and discussed and in the end stopped.

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This book was very intense but so good! The authors note in the beginning is unlike anything I've read before in a YA fantasy and sets a heavy but important tone for the story. This story is unlike anything I've read and I can't wait to see how it continues and how the main character continues to grow. Thank you netgalley for the ARC!

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Main character Ruying is all about survival. So much so that she's lost herself. She has deadly magic, which is both gift and curse, for obvious reasons. She loves her family and wants more than anything to keep them safe, to be the hero of their community. But otherworldly colonial oppressors called Romans get in the way. Yes, its Planet Rome vs a world reminiscent of ancient China. Science vs magic, which kind of pissed me off to cast all of science as a villain. And the love story is just as problematic. Ruying falls for her oppressor, and I'm not sure how I am supposed to feel about the relationship. If I'm supposed to feel icky and creeped out, then the book's a success. But ... ew.
On the plus side, I am intrigued by the Phantom character, their followers, and plans. I wish this book hadn't been such a long preface to that story. 

[Thanks to Del Rey/Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine and NetGalley for an opportunity to read an advanced reader copy and share my opinion of this book.]

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To Gaze Upon Wicked Gods was a solid start to a new fantasy trilogy! The magic system is unique (everyone’s is different and it feeds off your qi), and the worldbuilding is imaginative and a strong metaphor for history/colonialism (it’s the West bringing opium to China, where the West is still “Rome,” China is a different world altogether, and opium aka opian is a magic-enhancing drug).

I found the main character, Ruying, to be a breath of fresh air. She’s not a hero (at least, not yet in this book). She’s making morally gray choices to stay safe, stay alive, and keep her family fed and off the streets. I do think she’s tending toward chosen-one territory, but for this book, it was neat to spend time with an MC who isn’t focused on good vs evil, just survival.

There are a good number of reviews (mostly from early readers who were served, it seems, a different framing from the way this book was eventually marketed) calling it a colonizer romance. (Warning to skip the rest of this paragraph if you don’t want even the softest of spoilers.) While there IS a romance plotline in this book between Ruying and a prince of Rome, I thought it was pretty clear that he’s the Tamilin of this series (LOL). I guess we’ll see if that turns out to be correct, but just know he’s not her only option, people! Plus, she’s an unreliable narrator and probably has Stockholm Syndrome. TLDR, I need to read the second book before deciding if this feels cringey or not, because there’s a LOT of story left (at least two whole books!).

At the end of the day, I enjoyed this and look forward to the second book.

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