Variously titled Fengshen Yanyi or Fengshen Bang in Chinese, Hōshin Engi in Japanese, and Investiture of the Gods or Creation of the Gods in English, this novel is a heavily mythologized account of the overthrow of the Shang Dynasty by the Zhou Dynasty in the 11th Century BC. 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.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 and a plenty of back-and-forth betrayals, executions, and skulduggery.
Tropes pertaining to the novel itself:
- Divided for Publication: Most English versions (what few exist) split the work into 2 parts
- Doorstopper: ... because the book contains 100 chapters, many of them detailing tactical maneuvers that are really cool but would never work in real life.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: Oh so very, very many... this page makes a list of them, and the creator the page even goes so far as to say it's not even CLOSE to being a complete listing - just enough for your average reader to keep track of the important characters.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Just as The Trojan War PROBABLY didn't involve the actual sons and daughters of gods, or the gods themselves directly in some instances, it's safe to say that several dozen Taoist deities PROBABLY didn't take part in the Zhou Rebellion, especially as commanders of legions under King Wu himself.
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.
- Back from the Dead: ... however, Nezha's master constructed a new body for Nezha's soul out of sacred lotuses, which ended up being even more powerful than his original flesh-and-blood body.
- Bad Boss: Being a member of King Zhou's court is not a pleasant experience, unless your name is Daji. A good number of his ministers, concubines, and generals end up dead before the fighting even begins.
- Bunny-Ears Lawyer: One of the more famous anecdotes about Jiang Ziya was him going fishing with a straight hook that he dangled three feet above the water, reasoning that he would only catch those who really wanted to seek him out. Naturally, he's not talking about fish, and ended up a chancellor for the eventual Zhou Dynasty.
- The Caligula: King Zhou, in spades. He very quickly has a full-blown rebellion protesting his cruelty.
- 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 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.
- 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)
- HeelFace Turn: A good number of King Zhou's generals end up defecting, most notably his head of military affairs Huang Feihu, and for good reason.
- I Ate WHAT?!: King Zhou at one point tries to invoke this on Ji Chang, who would eventually become the predecessor to King Wu, by feeding him meat cakes made from Ji Chang's son. Ji Chang was skilled enough in divination to know exactly what he was eating, but did so anyway to make King Zhou let down his guard.
- One Steve Limit: Note that King Zhou is not affiliated with the Zhou dynasty. It's less ambiguous in Chinese since the two use completely different characters.
- World of Badass: Quite a few named characters are gods or destined to become gods, or at the very least have supernatural powers. Pity the Red Shirts that have to go up against these guys.