So, look who has (finally!) completed the Sapphic Trifecta! It certainly wasn’t because I didn’t want to read She Who Became the Sun by Shelley-Parker Chan. But actually because it took me so long (literal months) to actually find a copy of the book at a small bookstore to support. A silent praise in and of itself. Yet, I already had high expectations, hearing from others about how fantastic this book is.
Well, after finally reading it, I can confidentially say She Who Became the Sun absolutely, positively lives up to the hype. Holy shit.
Publisher: Tor Books | Release Date: July 2021 | Pages: 416
Age Range: Adult | Genre: Fantasy | Format: Hardcover | Source: Bought
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.
On the Page
- Abusive relationships
- Body shaming
- Death of a child
- Death of a parent
- Death of a sibling
- Forced marriage
- Grief and loss
- Loss of limb
- Poverty themes
- Military violence
Content warnings are written up by me, unless specified. Subject to being an incomplete list, though guided by referencing this list and trying to highlight as many as I can identify.
- Pure, unapologetic ambition. I think one of my favorite aspects of this novel was how our main character, Zhu Chongba, will not stop to achieve her ambitions, despite fate, being a woman and the Heavens having other plans. In a world where she was fated to be nothing, she took every moment to fight against that fate, no matter how grueling, painful or dangerous. I felt nothing but admiration and awe for Zhu.
- Completely immersive. From the very beginning, this book was completely and utterly immersive. The writing just pulls you in so utterly, using details and moments–from the every day to the epic–to draw you in. I was utterly captivated.
- Conversations with gender and power dynamics. I was fascinated with how Parker-Chan handled gender in this novel, especially with the characters of Zhu and Ouyang.
- Pulls no punches. I dunno what it is, but a book that absolutely leaves me feeling gutted and wowed and desperate and awed in the last 100 pages are my favorite. This is no exception.
- Shift in POV was a bit jarring. I won’t lie: it did take me a moment, after we switched from Zhu’s childhood in the first part and suddenly saw other perspectives, like Ouyang and Esen, to get adjusted to that shift. It was a small hiccup for me, though. I found myself really enjoying the different perspectives!
Undeniably, this book is my second top notch read for 2022! No surprise that She Who Became the Sun is 4.5 gems of glorious storytelling.
So, if you’re looking for a book that is as refreshing as it is painful (all in a good way, if you’re a reader like me and likes that sort of thing), look no further than She Who Became the Sun. The characters are fantastic, the worldbuilding is precise and visceral, and the twists and turns are ruthless.