To Gaze Upon Wicked Gods by Molly X. Chang, her debut novel, is a blend of fantasy and sci-fi. It follows Ruying, endowed with deathly powers, as she navigates the complexities of using her abilities under the watch of an enemy prince. With vivid worldbuilding, this story explores the heavy costs of war and power.

It takes courage to kill, but it takes power to spare a life.

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To Gaze Upon Wicked Gods by Molly X. Chang

To Gaze Upon Wicked Gods by Molly X. Chang

To Gaze Upon Wicked Gods #1
April 16, 2024

Read this if you like:

  • Iron Widow or
  • Violent Delights

Grab this book on Amazon

The first life I took was also the first boy I’d ever kissed.

Molly X. Chang’s debut novel To Gaze Upon Wicked Gods is a genre-blending tale that compels readers to take a look at the true costs of war and greed. Ruying is a girl blessed with the powers of Death, trying to keep her head down and avoid notice from the Romans that invaded her home. However, one choice forces to reveal her magic (in the presence of the enemy prince), which alters her trajectory more than she could have ever imagined. 

The worldbuilding was definitely what sold me on this book. First of all, the author does a great job portraying what it’s like to live under a colonizer’s rule. Given the inspiration that’s mentioned in the author’s note, this part comes across as almost historical fiction. It also is reminiscent of how our own greed has damaged our planet (the Roman world has been besieged by natural disasters and other issues due to overtaxing their resources, which were instrumental factors in their choice to invade other territories). Secondly, the magic system is super cool. The people of Er-Lang have traditionally had very powerful magic, but it doesn’t come without its costs (which is why they were unable to use it when they were invaded). For some, its pain. For others like Ruying, it can be as bad as taking years off her own life for every life she ends with her death magic. And as a third point, there are elements of sci-fi in the book too. I didn’t initially realize it, but when they say the Romans came from a different world, it is literally a different world (by way of a portal in the sky). Super cool, and very well done to blend so many genres together. Admittedly, there are a couple of moments where elements of worldbuilding don’t make sense, but it didn’t retract from my reading too much and I think there’s room to fix it in future novels. 

Heroes die. Cowards live.

There’s been a lot of conflict and critiques about the romance in the book, and I think that comes from a place of misunderstanding. First of all, I would not classify this book as a ‘romantasy’. For that to happen, the romance would need to be the main storyline and it’s more of a subplot. I also wouldn’t classify Ruying and Antony’s relationship as a romance (though Baihu and Ruying are another matter entirely). From the very first moment they interact, Antony is manipulating her. In a world so oppressive, Ruying is desperate to cling to the chance that someone actually cares about what her people are going through. Some see it as love and attraction, but in my opinion it came across more as clinging to a sense of safety. The author makes it clear that Antony is not some redeemable prince, and is actually a corrupt gaslighting villainous figure so do with that information what you will. 

To Gaze Upon Wicked Gods had a strong storyline and world to have me reading to the end. Ruying’s journey was compelling, and I will definitely be picking up any future sequels (especially To Kill a Wicked Prince), as I’m curious to see how the rest of it plays out. I would recommend this book to those who enjoyed reads like Xiran Jay Zhao’s Iron Widow or Chloe Gong’s These Violent Delights. 

CONTENT WARNINGS: Death of a Parent, Addiction, Colonization, Drug Use, Torture

Power meant different things to different people. To me, power meant safety, stability. The opportunity to indulge in joy without fear of tomorrow. Power was being able to protect those I loved. 

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