She Who Became the Sun by Shelly Parker- Chan
The Radiant Emperor #1
July 20, 2021, by Tor Books
Review by Angela
This is going to be an incredibly hard book review to write because I’m not sure I’m up to the task of reducing this sweeping, incredibly complex, yet all-consuming tale into a mere thousand words. But I’ll try my best.
In a famine-stricken village on a dusty yellow plain, two children are given two fates. A boy, greatness. A girl, nothingness…
This quote from the blurb is where this story starts, with a young girl having grown up in a small village and known only hunger and desperation. She also knows she holds no value to her father and that her brother is who he has placed all his hopes into. Especially after the village fortune-teller announces that he, Zhu Chongba, will live a life of extreme greatness, and she will become nothing. So when bandits raid their home and kill her father and her brother dies in despair, she decides to seize his name and future for herself.
And then Zhu Chongba begins a journey that will take her from desperation onto a stern monastery, and eventually becoming a military leader in a group of resistance fighters against the Mongol rule and the great Khan. Zhu will learn about herself and just how far she will go in her ambition to reach the pinnacles of power.
There is so much depth to the world and character building that I couldn’t look away and didn’t want to put this book down even for a minute, although I did have to eat and go to work. I feel like I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that there is a lot of content that might be triggering to some people: scenes of war, torture, gore, starvation, and depression. It’s an incredibly heavy and dark read, but there are moments of light and so many deeply thought-provoking scenes.
This story is actually told from more than one POV. While Zhu is the main protagonist, there is also another character whose backstory and stoic, yet heartbreaking decisions about his future play a perfect foil for Zhu’s ambition. They are like two sides of the same coin, on opposite sides of the war, natural enemies and as the main conflict drew closer and closer I was on the edge of my seat in anticipation for what was to come. I was not disappointed.
She Who Became the Sun is a compelling, character-driven story about believing in your greatness and seizing your destiny in a society that doesn’t see your worth. There are frank discussions of gender identity and gender roles, moments of inner turmoil justifying the lengths one will go in order to get what they want, and so many twists and turns I couldn’t even begin to explain the overall plot. Just know that this book is beautifully crafted, intensely emotional, and I look forward to seeing where this series goes next,
Final grade- A