To Gaze Upon Wicked Gods

About the Book

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • She has power over death. He has power over her. When two enemies strike a dangerous bargain, will they end a war . . . or ignite one?

“A thrilling tale of magic and murder, intrigue and betrayal.”—Cassandra Clare, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Sword Catcher

The gorgeous first edition hardcover of To Gaze Upon Wicked Gods features a poster, color endpapers, a custom-stamped case, and a foil jacket!

Heroes die, cowards live. Daughter of a conquered world, Ruying hates the invaders who descended from the heavens long before she was born and defeated the magic of her people with technologies unlike anything her world had ever seen.

Blessed by Death, born with the ability to pull the life right out of mortal bodies, Ruying shouldn’t have to fear these foreign invaders, but she does. Especially because she wants to keep herself and her family safe.

When Ruying’s Gift is discovered by an enemy prince, he offers her an impossible deal: If she becomes his private assassin and eliminates his political rivals—whose deaths he swears would be for the good of both their worlds and would protect her people from further brutalization—her family will never starve or suffer harm again. But to accept this bargain, she must use the powers she has always feared, powers that will shave years off her own existence.

Can Ruying trust this prince, whose promises of a better world make her heart ache and whose smiles make her pulse beat faster? Are the evils of this agreement really in the service of a much greater good? Or will she betray her entire nation by protecting those she loves the most?
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Praise for To Gaze Upon Wicked Gods

“With hauntingly poetic prose, Molly X. Chang spins a tale at the intersection of science fiction, fantasy, and the very real devastation that colonialism brings down on colonized peoples.”—Xiran Jay Zhao, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Iron Widow

“This book is a thrilling gut punch, both lavishly magical and devastatingly human.”—Laini Taylor, New York Times bestselling author of Strange the Dreamer

“Readers will be on the edge of their seats wondering what’s going to happen next.”—Adalyn Grace, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Belladonna

“A heart-pounding, brilliant debut that shines with pure magic.”—Rebecca Ross, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Divine Rivals

“An electric collision of science, magic, and a terrifying alternate history, To Gaze Upon Wicked Gods is the complex romantic fantasy you’ve been waiting for.”—Hannah F. Whitten, New York Times bestselling author of For the Wolf

“A fantasy rich with heart and rooted in ancestral memory, a romance that will leave readers on the edge of their seat, a story that will take one’s breath away—this book is the complete package.”—Thea Guanzon, New York Times bestselling author of The Hurricane Wars

To Gaze Upon Wicked Gods is absolutely captivating, with a fierce heroine torn between love and loyalty as two worlds collide with devastating consequences.”—Emily Thiede, author of This Vicious Grace
 
“As ambitious as it is heartfelt, To Gaze Upon Wicked Gods cements Molly X. Chang as an explosive new talent in fantasy. I was swept away by this debut and eagerly await her next book.”—Isabel Cañas, USA Today bestselling author of Vampires of El Norte
 
To Gaze Upon Wicked Gods is desperate, grasping, breathless, filled with hard choices and characters who seek some measure of peace in an unforgiving land. Intensely riveting character dynamics in a truly unique world make this debut an absolute stunner!”—Andrea Stewart, author of The Bone Shard Daughter

“History and fantasy, sisterhood and betrayal, the tragedy of empire and triumph of the human spirit are vivid interwoven threads in an extraordinarily fine debut.”—Sarah Rees Brennan, author of Long Live Evil
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Excerpt

To Gaze Upon Wicked Gods

1

The sky was crying again.

All around me, my world wept. Gray, icy tears caressed my skin, shivering cold in the late-summer heat. With deliberate steps, I passed the Fence that carved my city into halves, guarded by Roman soldiers and their white-knuckled grips on the guns that haunted our nightmares, ready to shoot me down over perceived slights.

I hated these men. Hated their stern, foreign faces and foreign attires from beyond the shimmering portal high in the somber sky that now joined our two realms. A glistening fracture, looming over my broken city like the all-seeing eye of a vengeful God who was not here to love and protect, but to torture.

To inflict unimaginable pain and suffering, as the Romans had for over two decades now.

Every day, I cursed this road, this fence, their loaded guns, and every trace of Rome that marred my world like a permanent stain.

Yet, I still bowed my head for them, still walked this road week after week, under hawk-like gazes, for the drug that killed my sister slowly, but without which she would die fast like a flower cut from the stem. At least with opian, Meiya might live another two, three, or even five years like Father had.

Without it, she might not live through the season.

Some Romans wore disgust and hate clear on their faces. Others wore smirks and lust.

One pursed his lips and let out a sharp whistle that made my spine flinch cold.

Death’s magic thrummed quiet under my skin: embers ready to kindle into wildfire the moment I allowed it.

I had no reason to fear these men. Given my powers, I had no reason to fear anyone.

With an arch of my hand, I could dip into Death’s realm of stark grays, pluck qi from their bodies until only corpses remained. A constant temptation—to take something from them the way they had taken so much from us.

But Grandma had raised me to be cautious. A girl could never be too careful in this age of colonial destruction, where the peace between magic and science balanced at knife’s edge.

I could kill one of them—perhaps two or three if I was lucky. But I couldn’t kill every Roman who marched this city. Their heads high with arrogance, entitled to claim anything and anyone they pleased.

Though years had passed, memories remained vivid like a fresh dream: the first time I witnessed one of my own slaughtered in cold blood under Roman hands.

I was still a child and Father was still alive and kind as he’d ever be.

It was murder by gunshot, execution-style. And the fingers that had pulled the trigger belonged to none other than their eldest prince—Valentin Augustus. Just three years older than I was, he’d shot a man dead before hundreds of witnesses for the audacity of placing soiled hands on the prince’s pristine clothes, for daring to beg him for the pennies he kept carelessly in pockets. Pennies that would enable a father to feed his starving child.

If I closed my eyes, I could still feel my father’s shaking hands holding mine, smell the fear that radiated from everyone in that crowd like a foul stench. The very fear that emanated from my own skin the moment I heard that sky-splitting bang. A primal thing from deep in my belly.

Evil ran in all Roman veins common as blood, but Valentin Augustus was rumored to be something worse.

The city whispered of his brothers, too.

The middle prince who lived on Pangu soil with Valentin, but no one had ever seen him venture beyond the Fence.

The third and youngest prince, who was a blood-thirsty military protégé and the only prince who remained in Rome as their grandfather’s right hand.

Their mighty yet odious grandfather, whose disdain for my kind shaped the politics of two worlds. Whose callous heart doomed my Empire to this bitter fate.

Cruel and monstrous, all of them. Privilege and power fed the evil in these Romans like oil to flame.

So I walked with vigilant steps, hands folded across my torso where they could be seen. Quiet as a mouse, rigid and timid like a ghost drifting away. This was how we were taught to move around them.

Too many stories of trigger-happy soldiers.

Too many warnings from Grandma.

One step out of line and they might slaughter my family in retribution, like they’d done too many times before to the patriots and the martyrs who refused to kneel.

Everyone in this wretched city knew someone who’d died by Rome’s vicious hands, playing Gods with their machines and science that had our once great Empire begging for scraps of mercy.

Stories of horror tangled with stories of awe. Whenever they perused our streets, we knew better than to venture too close.

When it wasn’t Prince Valentin, then it was some other Roman nobleman or soldier terrorizing our crumbling city. Men who dragged my people from the streets in lust or rage or a twisted combination of both, pulled them into alleys in broad daylight where their terrified screams could be heard by all who passed, yet few were brave enough to do something. And of those brave souls, fewer were lucky enough to live and tell the tale.

路见不平, 拔刀相助. When you see someone in trouble, you draw your blade and help.

But what was a blade against a bullet?

What was magic, against science?

What was the point of seeking justice when these vile monsters lived above decency, above rules? Who would punish them? Mortals who lived like Gods, who had such power even our young Emperor Yongle had to lower his head and let them walk all over his dignity . . . just like his father did before him.

How far our great Empire had fallen. From a great beacon of power, shining over the entire continent, to a puppet hung from strings, dancing to Rome’s command.

All in the span of twenty-something years.

That incident with Prince Valentin might be the first time I had witnessed a Roman kill us in cold blood, but it wasn’t the first time it had happened on our soil.

And it wasn’t the last.

Once, an elderly father with a feeble body had tried to seek justice for his son, who had been murdered by a group of drunken Roman ministers because he had dared to look at them with contempt instead of bowing respect—an act of defiance that had cost him his life. That father had bellowed and cried at Rome’s gates before the guards shot him down with a swift bullet, then hung his corpse on the Fence for an entire moon cycle.

A formal warning to anyone who dared to disrespect the Roman Empire.

Our Emperor and his city guards and all of those generals and governors who were supposed to protect us did nothing, said nothing.

The Romans could beat us, kill us, do unspeakable things to us, but as long as they returned to their side of the Fence before authorities caught them, they couldn’t be punished.

Not like anyone in Jing-City was brave enough to arrest a Roman anyway.

To do so would be war.

And nobody in their right mind would willingly start something so horrific over a few lost lives. The Romans knew their power, and they’d never hesitate to exploit it.

Mortal laws don’t apply to Gods: a saying whispered in grief and sorrow.

This might be our world, our home, our land, but the Romans had forced themselves into our lives with guns and grenades and flying machines, with weapons beyond our worst nightmares.

The war that had killed my grandfather almost twenty years ago began and ended right before I was born. For the Romans beat us not in a year, not in a month, not even in a week.

They had beaten us in a single day.

Planes filled the sky like a storm and rained fire and bullets upon the camps where the Er-Lang armies were stationed—a fight unlike anything our continent had ever seen.

And since then, when Rome told us to kneel, we knelt.

For we knew, in a war between magic and science, we stood no chance.

In the aftermath, we surrendered more things than we could count. Nobody knew the full extent of the peace treaty and what our emperor gave up to ensure another war would never take place on our soil.

This was the nature of power. The decisions of Emperors were never relayed to their subjects. So we grasped at every rumor and speculation as our city changed before our eyes. The west half of the capital was surrendered to the Romans, and all of its inhabitants were either evicted or, if they were brave enough to defy the wishes of these cruel tyrants, slaughtered at the edge of the Fence for all to see. And opian—the substance that allegedly sparked the humiliatingly brief war—flooded the streets on unchecked claims of strengthening Xianling Gifts and awakening magic from those who were not born Gifted.

Years passed in the blink of an eye. Babies were born and raised in such times.

Er-Lang Empire existed only in name now. After the late Emperor passed and his last surviving son—three years older than I was, just like Prince Valentin—succeeded the throne, things had only gotten worse.

About the Author

Molly X. Chang
Molly X. Chang is a first generation immigrant born in Harbin, China. To Gaze Upon Wicked Gods is her debut novel and Immortal the Blood marks her YA debut. More by Molly X. Chang
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