She Who Became the Sun - Shelley Parker-Chan

Goodreads Book Blurb:

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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My Review:

***Thanks to NetGalley and Tor Books for an eARC of this book. The following review is my honest reflection on the text provided.

enjoyable/easy to read:
3/5
3.5 stars

She Who Became the Sun is full of vivid, atmospheric writing. At times it overshadows the narrative; this dark, haunting vibe running beneath the storyline. Even though only Zhu can see the ghosts, her ability suggests their constant presence, contributing to this undertone.

Ma [...] tried to tell herself that she was worried about nothing. But she couldn't shake the feeling that they were all walking down a long nighttime road, the others chatting cheerfully, and somehow she was the only one who could see the hungry eyes in the dark all around them, waiting.

Another aspect that Parker-Chan nailed is the emotions tormenting every character. The narrative is certainly not lacking depth; no character is ever experiencing only one emotion – it’s always a range, and it’s never simple. The relationships are complex with tortuous histories, and almost every conversation feels like a minefield of religion, gender, and bloodlines.

"Pure emotions are the luxury of children and animals," Ouyang said, and felt the terrible weight of his own tangled emotions.

She Who Became the Sun is an epic narrative encompassing a lot of time and a lot of information. Because of this, there are sudden jumps in time which can make it feel rushed or like you’re missing out on some of the character’s experiences. For example, I would have loved more time in the monastery during Zhu’s early years. By missing out on these formative years of her life, it’s a lot of telling, not showing, and the reader is expected to accept the information presented without a wealth of evidence. This happens with a lot of the characters; we’re told their backgrounds but don’t get to experience them. I want to attribute this to She Who Became the Sun being the first novel in a series, but I won’t know for sure until there’s a second instalment. I will be keen to read the next book to see if, after all this buildup and backstory, the pace will slow down a little, and we’ll be allowed to spend more time with the characters and their experiences.

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