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She Who Became the Sun Paperback – July 20 2021
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Lambda Literary Award Finalist! Two-time Hugo Award Finalist! Locus Award Finalist!
"Magnificent in every way."―Samantha Shannon, author of The Priory of the Orange Tree
"A dazzling new world of fate, war, love and betrayal."―Zen Cho, author of Black Water Sister
She Who Became the Sun reimagines the rise to power of the Ming Dynasty’s founding emperor.
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.
Praise for She Who Became the Sun
“The characters are bold and complex in this story of fealty, family, and self. Epic worldbuilding, high action, and ruthless shades of love and desire make the tale at turns tragic and inspiring... Parker-Chan’s debut is forceful, immersive, and unforgettable. This inspired queer retelling of Chinese history is an exciting read.” ―Library Journal, starred review
“Parker-Chan’s gorgeous writing accompanies a vibrantly rendered world full of imperfect, fascinating characters. With every turn of the page, the book offers a new set piece, a new revelation, a new horror.... If you’re a fan of epic fantasy, you can’t miss this one.”―BookPage, starred review
“Parker-Chan’s novel is an epic tale of the power of desire, the role of free will in deciding a person’s fate, and the twisting machinations of power. Zhu is a powerful queer anti-hero, her means sometimes questionable, her desire overflowing.... The plots and betrayals that swirl around the book’s events are themselves intensely compelling, but it is Zhu’s strength of will and passion that give this novel its spark.”―Booklist, starred review
“In the book’s opening chapters, Parker-Chan masterfully balances poetry and tension, keeping the reader flying through the pages as they watch Zhu gain a foothold in life… this is an important debut that expands our concept of who gets to be a hero and a villain, and introduces a pair of gender disruptors who are destined to change China – and the LGBTQ fantasy canon – forever.”―USA Today
“Gorgeous and sprawling masterpiece of historical fantasy.”―Buzzfeed
“Striking.... The exploration of gender and sexuality, the sensuous romance, the vivid world-building, the flashes of tongue-in-cheek humor and human emotion set up against the epic plot. There are close, intimate scenes and climactic battle sequences that made me feel like I was watching a movie.... The book flare[s] with power.”―Popsugar
“Magnificent in every way. War, desire, vengeance, politics – Shelley Parker-Chan has perfectly measured each ingredient of this queer historical epic. Glinting with bright rays of wit and tenderness, yet unafraid to delve into the deep shadows of human ambition, She Who Became the Sun, like Zhu, is unquestionably destined for greatness.”―Samantha Shannon, author of The Priory of the Orange Tree
“Evocative and heartrending, Parker-Chan's debut is a poetic masterpiece about war, love, and identity…. It stabbed me through the heart then salted and set fire to the wound.”―S.A. Chakraborty, international bestselling author of The Daevabad Trilogy
“An exhilarating rise to power that takes you from palace to village to battlefield, in a world that is stunningly alive. Parker-Chan’s exquisitely wrought prose brings light and nuance to the novel’s immense themes of gender, power and fate. An instant classic.”―C.S. Pacat, USA Today bestselling author of the Captive Prince Trilogy
“She Who Became the Sun is epic, tragic, and gorgeous. It will wreck you, and you will be grateful.”―Alix E. Harrow, Hugo Award winner Alix E. Harrow, author of The Ten Thousand Doors of January
“Parker-Chan unrolls the painted scroll of her epic tale with the control of a master storyteller, revealing a dazzling new world of fate, war, love and betrayal. Fantasy will never be the same.”―Zen Cho, award-winning author of the Sorcerer to the Crown series
“Zhu is a hero unlike any other - her propulsive desire to survive at any cost powers a glorious novel that encompasses grand betrayal, love, loss and triumph. An unforgettable debut.”―A. K. Larkwood, author of The Unspoken Name
“She Who Became the Sun is an intense and sweeping epic that blurs the lines between rebellion and revenge, between fate and ambition, exposing the inherent violence of gendered ideologies and the traumas they create in ourselves and the world.”―Tessa Gratton, author of The Queens of Innis Lear
“Shelley Parker-Chan's debut novel is a sweeping epic rendered in elegant prose. Arresting, beautiful, grand in scope and yet intimately poignant, readers will be drawn into this deftly written fantasy.”―Rowenna Miller, author of the Unraveled Kingdom series
“A gripping tale of rise to power, fate, betrayals and the bloody beginnings and endings of dynasties. Heartbreaking, stirring, haunting.”―Aliette de Bodard, Nebula-award winning author of Seven Of Infinities
“Stunning, powerful and complex, there are no heroes in this tale, and people knowingly do terrible things. And you'll love them for it…. Parker-Chan is a major new voice in historical fantasy.”―Anna Stephens, author of the Godblind Trilogy
“Instantly enthralling. Zhu is canny, charming, and ruthless as she claims her own fate in a richly detailed world, challenging dynasties and gender in the process.”―Malinda Lo, author of Ash and Huntress
“An absolute stunner... The story, much like the characters, is ambitious and clever and the depth of emotion Parker-Chan is able to tap into without ever becoming maudlin is astounding... There's war and violence and betrayal (oh the betrayal) and destiny both embraced and defied. Incredible work. Cannot wait for the next one.”―Rebecca Roanhorse
“A rich and deeply layered story.... It turns several centuries’ worth of stories and assumptions on their heads in the best way possible.... She Who Became the Sun is a historical fantasy that’s meticulously researched, its worldbuilding rich and thorough. This is the sort of story that will not only have you digging into the history of the Ming dynasty in your spare time but hoping that the real story might have actually gone down this way.”―Culturess
“A brutal book of war and famine, She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan is a queer reimagining of the founding of China’s Ming dynasty that has no business being as poetic as it is. (That is not a dig. The prose in this book is beautiful.)”―The Geekiary
“An astonishing debut novel.... It is rich with Chinese history and culture, which is always refreshing in a sea of Eurocentric epic fantasy novels…. Parker Chan is following in the footsteps of her own characters. Carving a name for herself in history, and telling a story that might change the worlds of those who read it.”―Comic Years
“Parker-Chan’s fascinating debut, the first in the Radiant Emperor duology, gives the historical Red Turban Rebellion a grimdark fantasy twist... Her nuanced exploration of gender identity and striking meditation on bodily autonomy set this fantasy apart. Fans of Asian-influenced fantasy have just been given their newest obsession.”―Publisher's Weekly
“A bold, breathtaking historical fantasy debut seething with intrigue and action.... Vibrant and passionately inventive, She Who Became the Sun gives the aphorism 'live life like your head is on fire' dazzling new meaning.”―Shelf Awareness
“A genderbent, queer, light retelling of the fall of the Yuan Dynasty and the life of the first Ming Emperor (real-life Zhu Chongba, 1328-1398) is full of sweeping storytelling, gripping plot, and epic worldbuilding and doesn’t require a prior knowledge of the history covered. VERDICT: An exciting and thought-provoking epic will have readers breathless and waiting for the next installment.”―School Library Journal Reviews
“Compelling and intense. The political scheming here makes the A Song of Ice and Fire series look like child’s play. This book is packed with action and adventure, and even the quieter moments thrum with tension. The writing is sharp, keen, and droll. Parker-Chan’s narrative style is a delight to read... While I’m at it, I might as well add [She Who Became the Sun] to my top ten books of 2021. We still have half the year to go, but it’ll be a tough one to beat.”―Locus Magazine
“The best epic fantasy book of the season.... Rich with historical detail, emotionally powerful, and brilliantly plotted, She Who Became the Sun is a thrilling story of forging your own destiny.”―BookBub
“Easily one of the year’s best books.”―BookPage
About the Author
- Publisher : Tor Books (July 20 2021)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 416 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1250837138
- ISBN-13 : 978-1250837134
- Item weight : 350 g
- Dimensions : 13.82 x 2.79 x 20.57 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: #3,951 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in Canada on July 29, 2021
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Zhu is born a girl in 14th century (in what we refer to as China) amidst war and famine, so it comes as no surprise to her that her fate holds, quite literally nothing. Her older brother, on the other hand, is the eighth-born son and his fate is great and radiant, destined to shake the world. But when tragedy strikes, Zhu finds herself with a desire to live like a pure white fire in her soul and the conviction to go and grasp greatness with her own two hands, even if it means forsaking her entire identity.
Ouyang is a eunuch, unholy and despised by all but the man who was once his master; Now, they are brothers in arms. However, a fateful encounter turns his life upside down and the ancient wounds that were dealt to him in his childhood are exposed once more, forcing him to face himself and set down the path to his destiny -one to finally avenge his family and his honor as a man.
One thing, however, is certain. The cause of all suffering is desire, and these two -who desire their futures more than anything- will find that following their fate will bring them much more pain and sadness than they had imagined.
This is a pretty long book (at the very least, it took me a while to read) but it never really dips in quality and provides consistent quality throughout.
Both the story and the characters are interesting and compliment eachother very nicely. I found myself more than once rapidly skimming text just to find out what would happen next.
There is a lot of Asian culture in this book. A lot of time and effort clearly went into portraying the culture of the time and region and the book is much more interesting for it.
📚 Similar Books
The Ancient Wound, by Hope C. Dixon,Also an epic fantasy with two plotlines and topics of gender, which I have reviewed already.
This is a book about ambition and what happens to the people who pursue it, but both protagonists face the hardships that come with not being able to conform to what a person expects of their gender. While the story itself follows the foremost point, I'd say that the latter is what truly sets this book apart from other similar fantasy books. It's a common theme that is dealt with in an interesting and thoughtful manner and is my personal takeaway from this read.
I quite liked the setting. I've spent much time in Asia, so I had the chance to revisit some familiar bits of the cultures that I'm now apart from, but I've also learned a few things. Regardless, the approach to Chinese culture greatly compliments the excellent writing and story.
The ending is a little vague. This book is designated as being part of a series, but the ending very much seems to want you to think that, and I'd be a little disappointed if there wasn't a sequel.
I host reviews like these in an arguably prettier format on my website: israelkobi dot com
Based on Mongolian-esque culture and history; She Who Became the Sun has a setting that is less likely to be familiar to most of Western culture. Not unlike Marlon James fantasy series, I love this nod and inclusion to help educate myself on the religion, beliefs, culture, and politics of different places and eras in time. It also means it’s much harder for me to anticipate what might happen next. And if nothing else this book is excellent at keeping you shocked and on your toes.
At its core, Shelley Parker Chan, has given us a novel that is about being an outcast. From our eunuch military commander to our enigmatic (girl posing as a boy) monk we see the similarities of being stigmatized by the people around you. Be it for a lack of sexuality or gender; or because you are marked as being sworn to Buddha (even as you swing a sword in battle). There is a lot of internal monologues that brilliantly bring together how being an outcast feels the same to almost everyone. The reasons, nuances, cutting words, or shunning gestures may vary to each situation; but at the end of the day being excluded, dismissed, or intentionally insulted feel the same for most people. Awful, heart-breaking, and rage inducing; perhaps all dependant on the day, time, and person whom is signalling (loud and clear) that they are above you. I think a lot of us big-time readers will really connect with this feeling of being unwanted or a bit of an outsider to our own society.
I don’t want to say too much more here as it’s best to go into this story with minimal knowledge and let it take you on its magnificent ride. But I do want to point out there is little gore (although awful things happen, they are not described in extreme detail), there is one intense love making scene that is described openly, and certainly a lot of guilt and shame moments that may make the reader squirm or feel embarrassed on behalf of the character. This makes this an excellent , easy to recommend, fantasy story. I don’t need to add a bunch of disclaimers about it being too gory, depressing, sexual, etc. Especially an ideal recommendation for those whom you may not know super well or are unsure of their tolerances.
There is a lot of good queerness! Not overly in your face at times; but how can you not have gender discussions with an eunuch as a primary character. I really appreciated the time and nuance put into the thoughts of sexuality and gender that Chan gives us. This is, for me, what makes this book truly special. It talks of the idea that you are not just your gender or lack thereof. We are all what we believe and make ourselves to be. Our two primary characters truly show this throughout the story.
So what more can I say? If you love high fantasy, want an Eastern setting, or need to know how women survive in an extreme patriarch this is probably for you. If you are newer to fantasy this is a decent place to start. It’s got some slower moments but the politics make the story. Additionally I guarantee you will be stunned by the twists and turns those same (occasionally dry) politics result in at the end.
This is a top selling novel and is often highly recommended for a very good reason. My only regret, that it took me this long to finally read it.
The main character was a resilient young woman who showed bravery and strength in the face of hardship. My favourite aspects of this novel involved her coming of age narrative as she completed her warrior training. The focus on battles in the later half of the book were less compelling for me, but I am still interested to see where the story goes from here. I would be interested to read the next installment in this series.
I would recommend this one to any fantasy reader looking for a new epic series to begin.
Disclaimer I received a copy of this book from the publisher.
Top reviews from other countries
You begin with a girl, her brother - Zhu Chongba - and father. Her brother was destined to greatness. However, both her father & brother died. So she became Zhu Chongba. The 1st big decision that changed her life. Her next was going to a monastery, where eventually she was allowed to join the Buddhist monks as Zhu Chongba. Throughout her time there, we get to know the things Zhu Chongba endures, the friendship she makes with Xu Da, and how she comes to then leave the monastery.
From there, she bests General Ouyang (who we met prior to this) in battle, almost by accident. This sets up the continuing war that not only rages between the 2 factions, but between Zhu and Ouyang.
Finally, we have Ma Xiuying, who despite initially being promised to another, ends up marrying Zhu Chongba. While others believe her to be marrying a man, Ma is fully aware at this point that Zhu is a woman. It initially is a marriage of convenience, but love does ventually blossom between Ma & Zhu.
Zhu is driven to make certain decisions that are hard to read. Make no mistake, this book pulls no punches on moral choice. Zhu skirts through in the grey area most of the time. The start of a line towards the end really sums it up - "I didn’t mean to be cruel."
Yet despite not meaning to, Zhu often has to take that path.
Ma though brings light to the darkness. Zhu is Yin to Ma's Yang.
Despite this, I found Zhu likable as a character generally. Ma though is who I loved the most. Her ability to read people & situations was a match to Zhu, and I just found myself rooting for her immediately.
I was thoroughly absorbed by this book. It is pretty hefty in size, but I was so taken in by it, I was astounded to suddenly realise I was almost finished.
I did buy the audible version after I read it & I'm grateful I did as it helped bring together a lot of the pronunciation, particularly to names & places.
This is a duology, & while the end allows further exploration in another book, it isn't on a cliffhanger. It means it could be a standalone, although I for one can't wait to see how it concludes! I just hope Zhu doesn't become completely lost to the darker side of their choices, nor do those around her.
5/5 stars 🌟
I am hesitant to even leave a review because it would be like recreating the Painting of Adam with a piece of chalk. Nothing I say can even come close to describing the beauty of this story.
So, I will keep this short and sweet.
Shelley Parker-Chan doesn't just describe people well. It's like she has gone inside the readers mind and pulled out secret feelings/wants/desires that they have never even admitted to themselves.
Particularly with the character of Ma - although I do not claim to relate to a 13th century Chinese woman - her feelings throughout the book directly reflected my own. It was frightening how similar we were.
The depth of the characters was immense. Every single person was grey - nobody was universally good or bad. The exploration of gender and sexuality is the best I have ever read.
Every author aims to do this, but Parker-Chan has excelled.
I never read about romance, or Asia, or war. Yet this is my favourite book of all time. It is incomparable - it will win many awards.
I will stop my review now, so you can start reading this incredible book.
Just one more thing,
I will never forget you Zhu Chongba.
The love interests on both sides I did like. Ma is such a sweet character and I liked how she brought a little something out of Zhu that I couldnt find anytime else. Although I was not expecting the spice that was just thrust upon me so out of the blue. My jaw literally hit the floor with what was being described to me. Again out of the blue hahahhaa
I did enjoy the multiple POVs and the jumps in time. I know others found them very spontaneous and chaotic but I really dosnt mind. For it being a historical war fiction and wars are long.
I was more disappointed at the lack of fantasy elements it really was more just historical fiction for me. I did pick this up as it was made out to me to be a fantasy.
My interest would peek up and then just disappear but it did keep me picking it back up. I did want to see how it all faired in the end. I didnt originally know that it was a trilogy I believe in the making. I do think I will still pick up the next but maybe wont be in a massive rush to do so.
I finished this eARC, immediately preordered the physical copy and, even though I only just finished it, I am eagerly awaiting my copies’ arrival in July. This was SO good that I’m actually struggling to put it into words.
Shelley Parker-Chan’s writing is so gorgeous and as the tale unfolded, seeing the progression of Zhu’s life from peasant, to monk, to rebel, to commander and finally to leader unfold was really stunning. There wasn’t a moment that I wasn’t completely engaged in the story and, despite it being historical (and me having looked up the life of the real Zhu Chongba beforehand), everything that happened felt new and surprising.
I also didn’t expect to feel for the opposition characters so strongly - as much as I loved Zhu’s story, it was Ouyang and Esen that made me cry! The conclusion to their arc was so emotional, and even though I knew why it had to happen in the same way that Ouyang did, I wanted them to somehow find another way.
Also, while I’m here? I’m in love with Ma Xiuying... and also her relationship with Zhu. Her realisation that, with Zhu, she would have freedoms that she wouldn’t otherwise be afforded and that she would be able to live life her own way made me so emotional for her, and the combination of tenderness and gentle teasing in their relationship is a perfect dynamic.
5/5 Stars, and 100% recommended!
I hesitated to buy this book from the sample, even though it was very well written. It left the protagonist just entering a monastery and I cannot read one more fantasy book where a character goes through a monk/warrior nun/wizard/assassin version of high school for a whole book ever again. But this is not that type of book. We are not required to trudge through the day to day minutiae of the characters life. We are presented with the key moments that form them, what they learn from those key moments and then skip forward three months or three years to when they are able to apply that lesson. It is such a relief!
But what really makes this book great are the fantastic characters. Not simply the main protagonists and their love interests but a whole ensemble of really memorable secondary characters. I cannot praise the characterisation highly enough. You are constantly surprised by what the characters do, while at the same time it feels entirely natural.