What makes a book worthy of our attention? What gives a book literary value? Those are the questions reviewer Taylor Poulos raises in this review of Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation, by Mo Xian Tong Xiu, our second book review of February! Dive in below.
Recently, I’ve been struggling with what it means for a piece of writing to have literary merit. The book that has me so vexed is Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation, by Mo Xian Tong Xiu, which is newly available in English in an uncensored form.
My interest in the novel sprung from its film adaptation, The Untamed. For those who haven’t had the pleasure, The Untamed is a webseries, available in the West on Netflix. It’s fifty-plus hours of sword fighting, sorcery, makeup, flowing robes, the undead, and, somewhat puzzlingly, long, meaningful glances between the show’s two male leads. In China, where it was created, it’s even more popular. On the streaming platform Tencent Video, the series has over ten billion views, and has won major drama awards.
The series’s popularity is all the more surprising because of its source material. Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation is a gay romance novel, originally published online. The book is smut, and proudly so, but it is a truly exceptional kind of smut, because even with its raison d’être removed to meet stringent Chinese laws banning “vulgar” content, the television adaptation can still limp along. This is because Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation is a deeply queer fantasy novel, where LGBTQ+ touchstones are expertly woven into a high fantasy landscape.