Sometimes referred to as the Fifth (or Sixth) of the Four Great Novels of Classical Chinese Literature
; the other four being Romance of the Three Kingdoms
, Journey to the West
, Dream of the Red Chamber
, and Water Margin
(The Plum in the Golden Vase being in contention for the Fifth, despite being Hotter and Sexier Up to Eleven
Variously titled Fengshen Yanyi
or Fengshen Bang
in Chinese, Hoshin Engi
in Japanese, and Investiture Of The Gods
or Creation Of The Gods
in English, this novel is roughly equivalent to The Iliad
in the West in scope, feel, presentation, and importance. It is a heavily mythologized account of the overthrow of the Shang Dynasty by the Zhou Dynasty in the 11th Century BC - ironically, about the same time that The Iliad
was occurring, as well. Oh, also, just like Romance of the Three Kingdoms
and Journey to the West
, it contains 100 chapters
The major arcs of the book can be separated into a few parts:
1. The birth and rise to power of King Zhou of Shang, his ever-growing corruption which brings about the ire of a goddess, and finally his complete Start of Darkness
wherein he orders the executions of ministers, generals, and even his own sons, in such quick succession as to make George R. R. Martin
2. The births of heroes, especially Li Nezha
. During this time we also see the arrival of the novel's central-most figure, Jiang Ziya
- a 72-year-old Taoist Mystic; that being said, 72 is not that old for a Taoist Mystic, and as such he's usually portrayed in his early-to-mid twenties.
3. The Rebellion of King Wu of Zhou. It's at this point that the main action of the novel picks up, the majority of the story takes place, and the motivations for the myriad of characters begins to interweave. Of special not is Jiang Ziya's job, as dictated by his master, who's own orders were dictated by the Jade Emperor
himself: first, to ensure that the Shang Dynasty falls and the Zhou Dynasty rises; second, to cultivate those listed on the eponymous "Fengshen Bang," or "List of Gods-To-Be" to become the numerous Gods of the Celestial Bureaucracy.
4. The success of the Rebellion, the institution of the Zhou Dynasty, and the establishment of the Celestial Bureaucracy in Heaven.
As one can expect from a story as large as this, the Fengshen Yanyi
contains far too many heroes and side characters to count
. It also contains some of the most nuanced back-and-forth betrayals, executions, and skulduggery this side of Game of Thrones
, and demonstrates that Rule Number One
of GOT - "Don't Get Attached" - is Older Than Feudalism
Tropes pertaining to the novel itself:
Tropes within the novel:
- Archnemesis Dad: Li Ching, who (probably) fought for Zhou of Shang, to Li Nezha, who (always) fought for Wu of Zhou.
- Even in the versions of the story where Li Ching joined the rebellion side, they did not get along.
- Badass Very, very many, but Nezha and Jiang Ziya take the cake.
- Death by Origin Story: Nezha. He was quite the precocious herculean brat, and ended up ticking off one of the Four Dragon Kings, Ao Guang (something Sun Wukong would ALSO do in spectacular fashion nearly 1000 years later]], along with accidentally killing one of Lady Rock's disciples and unintentionally maiming another, which led to Nezha's master killing Lady Rock in order to protect Nezha. When the Jade Emperor caught wind of the mess Nezha was making, he was set to punish Nezha's parents, but Nezha brutally hacked himself to pieces in front of the Jade Emperor and Ao Guang as recompense, thus sparing his parents...
- Disproportionate Retribution: Oh, ye GODS, yes. Though King Zhou was already destined to be the last of the Shang Dynasty, he was by no means the cruel or vindictive leader he became later. Rather, he became that way largely because of the intervention of the Goddess, Nu Wa, who sent a Huli-Jing to seduce and corrupt Zhou and cause his downfall much sooner than intended. His crime? Remarking at how "hot" she was in her temple.
- To elaborate, Nu Wa's divine wrath involved: the murder of an innocent girl (Su Daji) and replacing her with Nu Wa's Huli-Jing servant; said Huli-Jing then kept the King so preoccupied with - ahem - "personal" affairs that the general matters of state (which apparently he was decent with beforehand) began to be ignored; said Huli-Jing then convinced the Zhou to sentence over a dozen of his ministers, dukes, generals, his wife, and own family, to variously-horrid forms of torturous death, despite the fact that their only real "crimes" were criticizing the king; finally, the entire war, which cost thousands upon thousands of innocent soldiers' lives, on both sides of the conflict. All because Nu Wa didn't like that Zhou made lewd comments about her.
- When a great Taoist mystic divined what was going on with the King's new consort (the fox in disguise), he wrote a poem explaining all on a pillar in the city square for all to see. A learned scholar, Yuanxian, then deciphered the poem and figured out what was going on, as well. He presented his findings to the Prime Minister, Shang Rong, who presented the findings to the King, in order to protect the king and the Dynasty. The King's response was to ask his consort if she really was an evil fox-spirit. She said "no," of course, and said that Yuanxian is guilty of treason for deciphering the poem, and should be put to death.
- Following this immediately, Mei Bo, the chief executioner, stopped the execution and asked what was going on. When Shang Rong explained things, Mei Bo decried the King for believing a consort over a long-loyal subject who merely translated what someone else wrote. The fox then said that Mei Bo was treasonous, and convinced the king to have him be melted alive on a searing brass column for his actions.
- It should be mentioned that once Zhou was on a roll with executions, he started ordering them with greater frequency, and for ever-less egregious affronts. Apparently even failing him ONCE was enough to put your life in serious jeopardy.
- Evil Overlord List: Not only did King Zhou not read it, he commits so many mistakes listed on it that it's a wonder it took so long for the heroes to kill him. (He seems especially fond of spitting on Rules 17 and 37)
- Moral Event Horizon: If it wasn't King Zhou's use of the Burning Pillar on Mei Bo for simply criticizing Zhou's readiness to kill a long-time loyal servant and scholar over an interpretation of a poem someone else wrote, it was definitely his bloody execution of his wife, Queen Jiang.