This post is going to be more on Nirvana in Fire, what else! (For those of you who haven't watched, i.e. the majority of my flist, you'll either have to get into this series with me, or learn to ignore my posts, because I do not see myself getting over this anytime soon
(1) This series contains a lot of tropes I love, and that I rarely see outside of fanfiction.
Most times, even when I connect with fictional characters, it is because of things the writer(s) did incidentally, and I have to overlook the writer's intention, selectively filter/ignore major plot points, and the character's intended use, in order to keep on being a fan. And it is so refreshing to not have to twist myself into pretzels in that fashion! To have a competently plotted and cohesively themed and show-stoppingly gorgeous series, where the author deliberately caters to what I find appealing. (Which isn't to say it doesn't have faults! And there are episodes that I will forever keep skipping because they are that
deathly dull. But still, that the majority doesn't, is fun and gripping and amazing, is so rare for me.)
NiF wasn't published in the traditional way. It began as a serial fic on Chinese bulletin boards, and the author, Hai Yan, is also the one who penned the screenplay. And I think this plays into why the story just seems to breathe more. It wasn't written for/by the privileged, predominantly male, gatekeepers who usually, in a very heavy-handed fashion, dictate what should be seen and popularized and what shouldn't. The audience that Hai Yan was writing for was other Chinese BB fans like her.
(2) I previously compared this
to The Lymond Chronicles
because (a) both contain brilliantly clever main characters that actually are brilliantly clever; (b) there is more left unsaid than said -- some of the most important undercurrents remain just that, undercurrents, and there are often hidden layers of meaning under even the simplest scenes and conversations. But most of all, (c) it's one of the rare times, outside of fanfic, that I've come across a popular "serious" story that's had such a marked, unapologetic female gaze (and here I'm including stories written by both men and women).
For example, the main character, the brilliant, elusive Mei Chang Su, is largely coded as female. The series opens with two princes essentially trying to woo him to their side, showering him with attention and gifts, because they are interested in owning his ~~beautiful mind~~. It is understood by everyone that he is not allowed
to say no, to not belong to one of them. He is by far the weakest physical character in the series, and constantly has to be protected and looked after by those around him. And of course, when he was younger, he was the exact opposite
, and now he has to come to terms with what fate/society/life has consigned him to -- a weak body, limited options that force him into a role that most people (including himself!) disdain/distrust/look down upon.
That's part of what makes it so viscerally satisfying when his plans come to fruition, when he manages to turn yet another situation to his advantage, while those who overlooked him or sought to control his actions are left bewildered and wondering just what is happening.
(3) Onto what sharply differentiates it from The Lymond Chronicles
: it is very much an ensemble cast. Like I was telling troisroyaumes
, I bounced really hard off the Lymond books because it was lymond lymond LYMOND all the time, and the characterization of others, especially female others, I felt really suffered for that. I really dislike stories where the characterization of supporting characters are gutted in order to prop up the main, or where they serve as little more than stepping stones or accessories.
NiF is centered on Mei Chang Su/Lin Shu/Su Zhe, and he is
the catalyst. But the main character doesn't diminish those around him, but the opposite -- part of what makes him so brilliant is their
competency and brilliance. The way they are slowly revealed, how they gain enough depth that they could've carried the series on their own. And what amazes me the most is that even characters that never appear in the series, but only in people's memories, the author somehow manages to give so much depth and importance to, that it feels like they are the ones relentlessly driving the story forward.
(4) Another major difference, and something I take for granted in a lot of Asian stories/dramas. The sense of place and belonging, of people not being self-contained individuals, but a sum of those that came before them, and of existing in a web of relations and obligations with those around them now. And I mean, I have this in my life too? The solid certainty that this is where I came from, these are my parents and elders and teachers who molded and shaped me, whose legacy I carry, who I have a duty towards and at times need to represent. That it is not just me my actions reflect on.
Even if you question or rebel against parts or all of your legacy, even when you sharply break from tradition and the expectations placed on you -- one of the most compelling conflicts in this drama is Prince Jingyan vs his dad the Emperor, and that's just one of several examples I can cite -- that in no way diminishes its importance, but rather serves to highlight it.
And I think, I will always have a soft spot for stories that place importance on this, that have its characters navigating and grappling with it in all its complexity, rather than Ayn Rand brand of Galtian hero or the simplistic ~~I am a brainless drone that will follow every stupid restriction society places on me/ stupid instruction my elders give me~~.
(5) And of course, there isn't the blatant and rather despicable Orientalism that all of Dunnett's books had!
(6) I really want to watch another series like NiF! Why hasn't Hai Yan written anything else? She needs to
give me something else to watch/read for the good of all mankind