There will be spoilers for the novel or novel series The Missing Piece.
Trigger Warning: There may be references to kidnapping, death, torture, abuse, PTSD, prostitution, and rape due to mistaken identity, as it appears in the novel or novel series.
Shen Mo is an art school graduate. Unfortunately, by the time he graduated and earned a job in his field, he was abducted, and as a result of the trauma from that incident, he was unable to use his right hand to paint. However, he thankfully escaped the incident with his life thanks to Ji Mingxuan. To pay back Mingxuan's help, Shen Mo is in a contracted relationship with him. All so that Mingxuan's younger sister can marry Zhou Yang, her childhood friend, and Shen Mo's ex, without worrying about Shen Mo and Zhou Yang getting back together. Three years passed as Shen Mo and Ji An'an, Mingxuan's sister, left to study abroad together.
Though it is a fake relationship, the lines between fantasy and reality begin to blur, especially when Zhou Yang and Mingxuan's sister come back from studying abroad together. Now, with Shen Mo right in front of him, Zhou Yang doesn't try to hide the fact that he is still attracted to Shen Mo, even as his engagement with An'an is publicly announced. While Shen Mo is still attracted to Zhou Yang, even if only due to the memories before his traumatic experience, he grows closer to An'an, and Mingxuan's affections become more and more real. Who and what Shen Mo wants for himself becomes more and more unclear. Will Shen Mo forsake Mingxuan and An'an to return to the familiar love he had with Zhou Yang, or will Shen Mo take the plunge and trade in his contractual relationship with Mingxuan for something real?
First off, this needed another pass-over by editors. I read the Kindle version, and the number of typos and grammatical errors is hard to ignore. I am also not sure if it is just due to the translation or if this is genuinely how it was written, but the writing is pretty stilted. It seems to find its groove halfway through, only to lose it again and return to the stale, choppy sentence structure. The story itself I actually enjoyed, melodrama and all, but the writing style made it really hard to enjoy. I wish I could find another translation to compare, as I am unsure if this is a great representation of the source material.
Now, for the story itself, I honestly found the whole sequence of Shen Mo confusing Ji Mingxuan for Zhou Yang both beautiful and heart-wrenching. I certainly disagreed with Mingxuan taking advantage of the situation and stringing Shen Mo along, but something about that desperation and hurt was really moving. Mingxuan was desperate for a connection and to be seen, while Shen Mo just wanted to be loved and to feel he could rely on someone else, so these two broken people took solace in each other through this horrible situation. This setup also makes it that much more meaningful when Mingxuan asks Shen Mo to say his name just because it proves to him that Shen Mo does see him as who he really is and ultimately does love the man in front of him. Also, when Shen Mo calls Mingxuan and feels loved simply because Mingxuan answers because Zhou Yang never would – oh, my heart shattered. That was beautifully set up, in my opinion.
Let's talk about Mingxuan for a second. He is your standard asshole top. He refuses to say anything out loud, which inadvertently leads to a whole pile of messy misunderstandings. He also refuses to listen a lot of the time, leading to even more misunderstandings and pain for both parties. If you hate misunderstandings caused by refusal to communicate, this is definitely not your story. While most of the trouble is caused by external forces and trauma, the rest is due to the couple's inability to communicate – primarily due to Mingxuan. Almost all of the big reveals were just because of withheld information or because Mingxuan didn't want to hear an explanation from Shen Mo. It was very frustrating, to say the least.
Time to talk about the extra stories. Most of them should not have been extras. I wish they had been interlaced into the main narrative because they added a lot of necessary context that, had the story not had it, made some story elements lose depth and sensibility. However, I think some stories add absolutely nothing to the main couple or the overarching story at all, and I wish they had just been left out altogether. Don't get me wrong, there are a few stories that I actually would call extras that are cute and should have been added as they are, but those are far and few between all of the other “extra stories” that have been added (there are over ten extra stories, just to give you an idea). Also, it's really odd how the extra stories were added in and arranged, as they seem haphazardly thrown in without any real rhyme or reason. Again, this probably wouldn't be an issue had most of them actually been utilized in the main story's timeline rather than just tacked on at the end. Still, they probably could've also just been organized better at the end.
Part of me wishes this wasn't my first foray into danmei and Chinese novels because I think the piece's quality was severely diminished due to poor editing and possibly a poor translation. At the same time, though, I did enjoy the story, and it makes me want to explore what other stories are out there in these realms. So, I guess, ultimately, I am glad I read it. I am just disappointed in the quality. If there are better official translations, I would definitely recommend those over the version I read (I would also appreciate a recommendation if it exists, please). Otherwise, I don't think I would recommend this to anyone who is just getting into danmei or Chinese novels, as I am not sure this is the best representation.
Have you read The Missing Piece? If so, what do you think? Do you agree with my assessment? Do you not? Let me know, and comment below!