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Novel Review | University of the Underworld by Ziloi

Warning:

There will be spoilers for the novel or novel series University of the Underworld.

Trigger Warning: There may be references to sexual assault, dubious consent (dubcon), obsession, stalking, impersonation, false identity, incest/pseudo-incest, violence, and murder, as it appears in the novel or novel series.

Synopsis:

Our main character is a new ghost. He doesn’t remember how or when he died, nor does he remember who he even is, so he spends the first moments of his new ghostly life simply waiting where he wakes up. For what? For the ghostly guards, of course, that will help guide him to the underworld. No matter how long he waits, though, there is no sign of any guards of any kind to come and help. So, on a whim, the ghostling decides that if he isn’t destined to go to the underworld, he’ll become a malevolent spirit. Unfortunately, his first target is none other than Bai Shaonan, a ghost and a powerful one at that.

The little ghostling’s antics do not amuse Bai Shaonan, and he’s compelled to destroy the new ghost and move along with his undead life. However, there is something about the little ghost that Shaonan just won’t seem to let him do it, especially when he finds out the little guy wants to become a malevolent spirit and has no clue who he is. So, looking around, Shaonan picks a random name: Cui Yue. Then, he takes little Cui Yue under his wing and back to the underworld, specifically the university where Shaonan is actually a dean.

Cui Yue starts his life as an underworld college student, but it’s not all fun and games. Cui Yue isn’t a very good student, but he’s trying to best, and his grades are the least of his worries when he realizes that Shaonan’s interest may not end at mere scholarly interest. But beyond school and romantic troubles, there is an underworld to the underworld that is working to destroy both Cui Yue and Bai Shaonan for eternity.

Review:

This one is a tough one. It was much harder to read than I expected, not because it was necessarily poorly translated or written. Still, it feels a bit all over the place, like the writer was trying to figure out the rules and plot as they were writing it rather than having a clear direction from the beginning. It tries really hard to be funny, but I wouldn’t say it was all that comedic by the end. If anything, I found the attempts at humor more confusing than anything. A lot of the humor is based on how dumb Cui Yue is, which was fine every once in a while, but it’s very repetitive and loses the humor quickly. It doesn’t help that I think some of the humor is culturally based too, which is no fault of the work itself. Of course, that is my own ignorance, but still worth mentioning.

Cover art for University of the Underworld by Ziloi

The “romance” is also pretty repetitive. Now, I put romance in quotes because I’d hardly call it romance. A lot of the time, it’s Shaonan tormenting Cui Yue and Cui Yue doing everything in his power to avoid Shaonan’s advances. There is also this weird and uncomfortable power dynamic between the two. Because Cui Yue is depicted as so dumb and innocent, it makes Cui Yue seem younger than he really is, which makes Shaonan appear like some creepy old guy. Plus, much of Shaonan’s fantasies include overpowering and taking Cui Yue by force, which isn’t all that romantic. They also kind of fall together with very little in the way of wooing or romance from either party, making their connection feel pretty contrived.

Then there is the whole “mystery” aspect of it all, and, again, I put mystery in quotes because it’s hard to call this a true mystery. It feels just as contrived as the romance portion of this, and every reveal or solution feels random. The only clue that felt like it was well-established was the “Lovingly He” and the “He” being in Shaonan’s father’s name. But that doesn’t really matter all that much because the father isn’t the big bad at the end of it all. I think it would have been much more successful if the mystery had been simplified to just finding Cui Yue’s origins or had been abandoned altogether, and the romance had been the focus instead. That would have strengthened the romance element and probably made the work easier to read.

Now, I’ve been pretty hard on this, but I will say that my favorite part is actually the epilogue or after stories. After teasing sex throughout the entire story, this is when we finally get to see it in action. It’s short but sexy, and Cui Yue is much more tolerable now that he is suddenly smarter. However, that is never explained (which is a problem because it ends up being that Cui Yue was a made ghost, and most of his mind was filled with water, so it’s not as simple as him just buckling down and studying). Unfortunately, this is relatively short-lived, but it was a good time.

Results:

I don’t think I’d recommend this one. It’s a challenging read because of the cultural references, the overused attempts at humor, and the questionable romance, not to mention the poor mystery element. There are much better danmei out there, like Little Mushroom and Salad Days, and if you want a novel with good romance and smut, Look at Me is much better in that regard. I am happy I read it, but I don’t think I’ll be re-reading it anytime soon.

Have you read University of the Underworld? If so, what do you think? Do you agree with my assessment? Do you not? Let me know, and comment below!

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