After Tong Hua’s (桐华) Lost You Forever/Eternally Yearning For You (长相思), I took a break from novels and leaped back into drama-watching mode. It’s always like that for me – shuffling between novels and dramas from various countries. I’ll dig up everything good for the season, and then move to the next source for more, and then the cycle repeats.
With only 2 dramas on my plate now (Ballad of the Desert 风中奇缘 and Kyou wa Kaisha Yasumimasu きょうは会社休みます), I’ve started on a new c-novel I stumbled upon at sutekii’s blog. She’s doing chapter summaries of it here.
Black Bellied Prince’s Stunning Abandon Consort (unofficial translated title by sutekii) 腹黑王爷的绝色弃妃
If I were scrolling through a list of Internet c-novels and this title appeared, I would never have clicked on it, because it screams everything I cared nothing about.
腹黑 has Japanese origins, being directly lifted from the kanji 腹黒い Haraguroi. The Japanese word refers to someone who is scheming, cunning, and planning to cause distress to others while putting on a deceptively pleasant front. When used in mangas, the negative connotation is not as strong, and sometimes just used to refer to someone who is pleasant most of the time but has a hidden dark nature ready to be unleashed when the situation requires it. In its Chinese form, it has further gained popularity as a trait for romantic novels’ male characters. It is usually used to describe a character who treats the woman he loves very coldly. He’ll think of ways to bully her, but all the while making sure that no true harm comes her way and gets rid of her true enemies and dangers posed to her. It’s as cliché as any male character can get, and any character and plot development shouldered by such a guy must be limited.
王爷 is a character that has graced so so so many novels. Not interesting, at all.
绝色弃妃 completes the story of the OTP, which is also a common feature in c-novels. The beautiful consort who is somehow rejected by the cold prince (who actually likes her a lot inside).
Definitely not something I would venture into.
Yet, when faced with an endless list of c-novels to choose from, one has to rely on the recommendations of fellow novel readers. So I took a leap of faith and decided to give it a shot, after reading the plot synopsis.
If anything, I finished 100 chapters in the past 2 days. That speaks a lot.
This is not a review but more of a list of things I appreciate about the novel, and a list of things I hope will improve. I’ve included at the end of this post a very summarised write-up on the 3.5 major arcs in the story up till Chapter 100.
- The author does not use any quotation marks, and only uses colon marks sparingly. This disrupts the reading experience because I often find myself rereading a sentence numerous times just to decide whether a portion of the sentence is being spoken by the character, or whether it is merely a narrative of his/her thoughts. Sometimes, it makes a lot of difference. For example:
Excerpt from Chapter 63 一剑穿心 (Sword through the heart)
Mo Wen Chen looked on with an icy gaze, he didn’t look at Hua Qian Zi, who was being attacked by the two thugs, first, but looked at Su Qi Qi, who was standing in the wind enveloped by frightening silence.
Expression also colder than usual, he has already guessed who the person outside the main hall the other day was.
It must be Su Qi Qi.
She must have overheard what he and Lei Yu Feng said, hence making this bold move.
Su Qi Qi, I misjudged you.
He did a mid-air flip and swiftly landed between Su Qi Qi and Hua Qian Zi as he pulled out the long sword on his waist and killed the two thugs, spilling their blood on the dry land around them.
Not looking at Su Qi Qi anymore, but spat out words like this.
The lines in bold and underline are very critical to the entire scene, bearing different effects whether it had been verbalised. Fortunately, in this particular example, the author subsequently indicated that it had been spoken out. This is not always the case and so this style of writing really bothered me. I heard from sutekii that the author starts to use quotation marks later in the novel (over 500 chapters!) and I’m looking forward to that.
- The above example also shows another shortfall of the writing. The author has the habit of inserting random broken lines haphazardly, breaking the flow of the narrative. It’s not as major a shortfall as the one above though.
- I like logic in novels, so there are some parts in the story thus far which doesn’t quite make sense to me. I can accept the fantasy elements, though it shocked me because I didn’t see such a twist coming, but not the skips in logic. Of course, they might have been explained further in the story, but for now, my major complaint is on Su Qi Qi.
1) The greatest mystery of all is how Su Qi Qi acquired her skills and knowledge. She is well versed in poetry, dancing, painting, zither (she beat the “King of Zither” twice), chess (she solved 9 “deadlock chess tactical patterns” which no one in the whole of the Southern region could), calligraphy, and medicine (she saved Mo Wen Chen who was poisoned when all other doctors failed to find an antidote).
We must remember that prior to marrying into the Prince’s residence, she was the unflavoured first daughter of the Prime Minister. Her mother, despite being the first wife, is unflavoured and hence keeps to her small courtyard. For her, because of her father’s attitude towards her, not much effort was put into grooming her. All she had was guidance and teaching by her mother.
Yet she turned out to be full of talents, which are gradually revealed to everyone, especially in the third arc of the novel. No one at the Prime Minister’s residence knew about her talents.
Her mother may be a very talented lady, so I can accept that Su Qi Qi acquired the skill of poetry, dancing, painting and calligraphy through her mother’s teaching. These are skills she could practise without drawing much attention to herself.
What about the zither? In numerous scenes it was depicted that despite being in another part of a residence, one could still heard the melodious sounds from her playing the zither. If so, how was it that no one at her home ever noticed a heavenly tune echoing through the halls? Where did Su Qi Qi practise her zither?
The elephant in the house, in the whole book, must be Su Qi Qi’s knowledge of medicine and acupuncture. She used acupuncture to save people who were poisoned, used the same to threaten a martial artist’s life, and to give herself a temporary rush of energy. She managed to come up with an antidote for the Prince’s poison. Yet there is no explanation (as of now) how she became such a skilled healer, knowing medical skills which even the acclaimed miracle healer doesn’t. Anyone can have knowledge on medicine from reading the relevant books, but not everyone can apply that knowledge in practice, especially on first try!
2) Adding on to the unbelievable factor for Su Qi Qi is her coldness. She is often described to show a calm, unreadable expression, reining in her emotions very well. Even when she is being bullied and tortured. It just doesn’t click, and make Su Qi Qi a rather flat character for me.
- The set-up of the universe promises a lot of backstory, and I hope the author tapped on it in subsequent chapters. Offhand I can only think of these:
1) how Su Qi Qi’s mother turned out to be the opposite of the frail, poor unflavoured first wife of the Prime Minister, having spiked her best friend’s dream and sent her to the Emperor’s bed. I’m sure there must be more than meets the eye and that would be interesting.
2) how Hua Qian Zi and Su Qi Qi’s sister, Su Meng Ru, are going to fight it out in the palace. Palace scheming!
3) what is the purpose of the jade pendant Su Qi Qi’s mother gave her and stressed the importance of? Does it have to do with her background?
4) what will Su Qi Qi do with the golden medal bestowed to her by the Emperor on her coming-of-age ceremony?
- The numerous characters were weaved in and out of the pages very naturally, and some are interesting enough that sometimes I wished they would replace Mo Wen Chen as the lead male (as I’ve said, I’m not particularly partial to the cold-face-warm-heart type anymore):
1) Fen Wen (焚文), the miracle doctor and “King of Zither” (though he was initially introduced as the master of flute =.=). He saved Su Qi Qi during the first attempt on her life. I was hoping that he would be the one to save her after she got stabbed in the heart in Chapter 63 above. Or maybe realise that Xiao Su Su is actually Su Qi Qi after he hears her play the zither, because one’s soul would show when playing music.
2) Xiao En (萧恩), the elder cousin of Xiao Su Su. He is said to be extremely clever and talented, which is a waste because he has no place in a matriarchal country like Bai Hua Kingdom. It’d be interesting to see a male lead who isn’t overbearing. I hope he FINALLY gets the courage to ask Xiao Su Su why she knew so much when she had been in vegetable state for the past 15 years (or are they supposed to accept this lack of logic, like us?).
Overall, the novel is definitely worth your time, if you are looking for a rich plot which has unforeseen twists and a good balance of romance and political conflicts.
A brief summary of the 3.5 major arcs till Chapter 100
Chapters 1 to 22 – Su Qi Qi, our heroine, marries into the Ding Bei Duke’s residence (literally Duke who stabilises the North, Mo Wen Chen’s title), after being rejected by the Emperor of Da Yan for being too plain looking and without talents. The Emperor Mo Wen Xuan, broke the engagement bestowed by his late Father, and took Qi Qi’s younger sister Su Meng Ru as her Empress instead, all because she was more beautiful and talented than Qi Qi. Losing her position as Empress, Su Qi Qi was then bestowed to the Emperor’s younger brother Mo Wen Chen as his First Consort.
Mo Wen Chen sees it as a humiliation to be given a women his brother rejected, hence cannot bear the sight of Su Qi Qi. He sends her to the laundry house to work as a servant. Jealous that her elder cousin has married someone as plain as Su Qi Qi, Hua Qian Zi terrorises Su Qi Qi on numerous instances. Finally, after her friend got killed by Hua Qian Zi, Su Qi Qi decided that she cannot let the situation continue. She volunteers to heal Mo Wen Chen when he got poisoned by the Emperor. Using her acupuncture skills, she managed to stop the spread of poison.
She also sets out to create the antidote for the poison. After trying out the poison on herself, she finally finds the cure. However, to complete the formula, she needs two rare ingredients. Hence, she and Mo Wen Chen’s good friend Lei Yu Feng, master of the Lei Fortress, went into the mountains to locate these herbs. There, she finds one of the herbs. She meets the miracle healer Fen Wen, who saves her from an assassin, and realises that he has the other herb. Both agree to a competition on the zither in exchange for each other’s herb. In the end, Su Qi Qi wins, surprising all with her zither skills.
Chapters 23 to 63 – Mo Wen Chen and Su Qi Qi are invited to the capital by the Emperor to visit Su Qi Qi’s family. Knowing it to be a trap to kill off Mo Wen Chen, who the Emperor sees as his biggest enemy, Lei Yu Feng tags along and brings with him his Lei Fortress’ private army. The group is attacked by many groups of people, one of which is the bandit gang Hua Sha Bang. The leader of the gang, Hua Chi, holds Su Qi Qi hostage to force Mo Wen Chen to surrender. However, he is shocked when Mo Wen Chen leaves Su Qi Qi to die. He is further caught unaware when Su Qi Qi uses a golden needle to fight back, threatening to stick them into his neck if he wouldn’t leave. In the end, Su Qi Qi manages to free herself, leaving an impression on everyone, including Hua Chi.
At the capital, there are several attempts by the Emperor through the Prime Minister to convince Su Qi Qi to spy on Mo Wen Chen and to plant treacherous letters on him. However, Su Qi Qi remains faithful/loyal to Mo Wen Chen, who has been treating her increasingly well. All the while Mo Wen Chen wonders if he is actually falling for Su Qi Qi, or if he is treating her nice so as to win the bet with Liu Yu Feng. The trip ends with tragedy when Su Qi Qi gets threatened with her mother’s life by the Empress Dowager and her mother burns herself to death so that Su Qi Qi will not be robbed of her blissful marriage.
After a fierce battle outside the capital, which shows plenty of evidence of Su Qi Qi’s growing importance to Mo Wen Chen, the group final returns home safely. However, Mo Wen Chen soon receives a letter from his aunt, the Queen of the matriarchal Bai Hua Kingdom, giving her daughter’s hand in marriage to Mo Wen Chen. He agrees to make Hua Qian Zi his second wife out of gratitude to his aunt.
Due to scheming by Hua Qian Zi and also coincidences, Mo Wen Chen is made to think that Su Qi Qi does not care that he takes another wife, while she thinks that Mo Wen Chen’s display of affection is merely due to the bet with Lei Yu Feng. These misunderstandings set the stage for the biggest plot of all, where Hua Qian Zi staged an act that Su Qi Qi got two thugs to rape her so that she cannot marry the Prince. She also causes the Mo Wen Chen to accidentally stab Su Qi Qi in the heart. Devastated, she jumps off the cliff. Afraid to find her dead, Mo Wen Chen does not send anyone to search for her body, so that he can still hold onto hope that she is alive out there.
Chapters 64 to 87 – Su Qi Qi wakes up to find herself in the body of a Xiao Su Su, the youngest grandchild of the Xiao family in Bai Hua Kingdom. Xiao Su Su has been in vegetable state for the past 15 years since birth and the family is overjoyed that she has come around. Xiao Su Su is an aristocrat who has been betrothed to Bai Li Mo, the 9th prince of the Ao Yun Kingdom. However, Bai Li Mo cancels the arrangement after learning that Xiao Su Su has been a vegetable for 15 years.
Angry to that he was tricked into a betrothal with a dimwit, he schemes to make Xiao Su Su embarrass herself in front of the entire Bai Hua Kingdom during the Bai Hua Festival, where talented man and woman gathered to pit against each other and win the top honour. To everyone’s surprise, Xiao Su Su outshines everyone in every contest, eventually emerging as champion and makes a name for herself in the entire Southern Regions (comprising the Bai Hua Kingdom, Ao Yun Kingdom and You Zhen Kingdom). Everyone, including the Bai Hua Prince Hua Qian Ye, Ao Yun 9th Prince Bai Li Mo, You Zhen Crown Prince Xu Wei Ran, Lei Yu Feng, and everyone’s bodyguard @.@ is impressed by her wits and talents.
Meanwhile, Hua Qian Zi returns to the Bai Hua Kingdom after being kicked out of the Ding Bei Duke’s Residence. Xiao Su Su is embroiled into the schemes of Hua Qian Ye and Hua Qian Zi. The former wants to make use of Xiao Su Su to lure the other 2 kingdom’s princes into a trap that will kill both of them and cause war between the 2 kingdoms so that Bai Hua Kingdom can take advantage of the situation when both its rivals are weakened. The latter wants the backing of the Xiao Family, which holds power over the army. However, Xiao Su Su manages to diffuse the situation with her wit.
Chapters 88 to 100 – In order to distance the Xiao Family from the kingdoms’ rivalry, they give up the power held over the army. However, this makes the Xiao Family vulnerable to all the enemies it made over the years, including the royal family. Hence, Xiao Su Su accepts Lei Yu Feng’s request in order to win the backing of the Lei Fortress, which both Da Yan and the Southern Regions are afraid of. Lei Yu Feng’s request is for Xiao Su Su to compete against Fen Wen in the zither, so that he can win back a zither highly prized by Mo Wen Chen. (the arc continues beyond Chapter 100!)