MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
10/50 – 2022 Goodreads Challenge
Book 3 of #FebruarySheWrote
⚔️ Stabby Award Winner for Best Fantasy Debut Novel ⚔️
Mulan meets The Song of Achilles in Shelley Parker-Chan’s She Who Became the Sun, a bold, queer, and lyrical reimagining of the rise of the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty from an amazing new voice in literary fantasy. To possess the Mandate of Heaven, the female monk Zhu will do anything “I refuse to be nothing…” In a famine-stricken village on a dusty yellow plain, two children are given two fates.
A boy, greatness. A girl, nothingness… In 1345, China lies under harsh Mongol rule. For the starving peasants of the Central Plains, greatness is something found only in stories. When the Zhu family’s eighth-born son, Zhu Chongba, is given a fate of greatness, everyone is mystified as to how it will come to pass. The fate of nothingness received by the family’s clever and capable second daughter, on the other hand, is only as expected. When a bandit attack orphans the two children, though, it is Zhu Chongba who succumbs to despair and dies.
Desperate to escape her own fated death, the girl uses her brother’s identity to enter a monastery as a young male novice. There, propelled by her burning desire to survive, Zhu learns she is capable of doing whatever it takes, no matter how callous, to stay hidden from her fate. After her sanctuary is destroyed for supporting the rebellion against Mongol rule, Zhu takes the chance to claim another future altogether: her brother’s abandoned greatness.
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This is a good debut novel that is a retelling of the rise of the Ming dynasty. The author does a great job of weaving a character driven fictional story into a historical piece that had a great pace to it. It is very well written with court intrigue, and gender exploration and keeps your interest peaking, while also painting beautiful scenes in your mind that are hard to shed. I liked the complex character of Zhu, who assumes her brothers identity to fulfill the greatness that he was supposed to have… you could say that Zhu is swift as a coursing river, with all the force of a great typhoon, with all the strength of a raging fire and mysterious as the dark side of the moon. I’m not sorry if that song gets stuck in your head.
“Becoming nothing was the most terrifying thing she could think of-worse even than the fear of hunger, or pain, or any other suffering that could possibly arise from life.”
Why 4 stars? This was a story that I liked more than I loved. I thought there were things that could have been better, mainly the fantasy part of the book. So here’s the thing, this is classified as “Historical Fantasy” and while that is technically true, the fantasy element is a bare minimum amount that has made me personally classify it as just “Historical Fiction”. I don’t hate historical fiction, in fact it’s my second favorite thing to read. I just feel that if you remove the fantasy element from this book, nothing would change at all because it’s more like a background element rather than a fixture of the story itself. There were times that I did feel a bit bored with the story, but it quickly picked back up.
“Don’t look down as you’re flying, or you’ll realize the impossibility of it and fall.”
I am excited to see what is in store for the 2nd and final book in this duology, because that ending was phenomenal! If you’re looking for a character driven story within a real life setting and good world & character building, then She Who Became the Sun should be on your reading list!