Talk about a book I felt like I didn’t have enough brain cells for – in the best way! She Who Became the Sun is a fabulous, slower paced, epic fantasy. Pitched as “Mulan” meets Song of Achilles, I was hooked before I even started. EVERYONE I know and their family is excited for this book! Keep reading this book review to see what I thought!
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 uses takes the chance to claim another future altogether: her brother’s abandoned greatness.
(Disclaimer: I received this book from Netgalley. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
She Who Became the Sun is a slow burning fantasy. It manages to balance intense and nuanced characterization with action and political intrigue. The characters were, hand down, my favorite element of She Who Became the Sun. Mostly because I felt like I didn’t have enough brain cells for all the masterful political maneuvers. Seriously! So many war tactics, alliances gone wrong, and betrayals in broad daylight. The world of She Who Became the Sun is rich and detailed. It unfurls like a banner and Parker-Chan allows us to sink into the tensions, fragility, and conflict.
Characters and Flaws
All of the characters are allowed, even celebrated, for their mistakes and flaws. They felt relatable, even as you’re internally screaming. Even within the first book, we can witness the evolution of their histories, desires, and ambitions. How we are trying to chase greatness and the tenuous positions, and security, it can grant us. Talk about a gender queer character whose whole future is changed within the course of the book. Driven by a desire for safety, we can see the seeds of her ambition burning. How, when she steps into a new role, she allows the fire to burn.
She’s chasing a fate that must always be pursued since it’s stolen. Zhu is immersed in a world of fate and destiny. Of manipulation, forces beyond our hand that shape our days and dreams. It becomes a balance between the miracles we create. The power to see the holes and loops that we can pull to watch everything unravel. And those passed down by destiny. Zhu’s character development was fascinating to read. To watch her figuring out where to push. To see people’s hidden spaces. As she fuels the strength to grab the destiny she wants, what has been denied to us, with her sheer will. And what she will lose in the process.
Politics, oh my!
She Who Became the Sun is expansive and rich, detailed and layered. Full of political manipulation, betrayal, and retribution. There are quests for vengeance and rivalries that begin with miracles. It’s a world of varying degrees and decisions that flare for an instant, while hiding steel beneath. She Who Became the Sun manages a balance between character detail and the complex political situations. We can become stuck on a path of revenge that takes us into heartbreak. That seems to pull us apart from the seams. One that requires us to sacrifice yearning for retribution.
What’s a book that made you want some more braincells?