SHE WHO BECAME THE SUN
Written by Shelley Parker-Chan
Published by Tor Books, July 20th, 2021
My star rating – 4 stars
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 the chance to claim another future altogether: her brother’s abandoned greatness.
This book has been on my radar for months….. Yes. I realize that it was just published a few days ago but the hype for this book was intense! It seemed that as soon as it was announced, the bookish world went wild and claimed their desire to have it in their life as soon as possible. As a long time fantasy AND historical fiction lover, this book hit its mark!
If you’re going into this book expecting sunshine and rainbows, don’t. Just don’t. There isn’t even a tiny sliver of sunshine because this book is dark as hell! The first chapter kind of solidifies that atmosphere as we meet our main character as her brother and father are struggling to survive during a famine. There’s almost no food or usable water and people are dropping like flies. One night, their house is raided by bandits and her father offers her up as a prize as if she’s nothing. That same day her father and brother die. I told you – it’s dark. And really, it doesn’t end there. There’s a lot of war, women being thought of as nothing, and so on. So prepare yourselves.
One of the things that I loved most about this book was the way it handles gender. Or main character visited a fortune teller that foretold her bother was designed for greatness – he was basically told he was going to become a thing of legend. But when she asked of her own future, she was told she would be nothing. So, when her brother dies, she assumes his identity as a way to survive but, as she spends time in a mans skin, she decides she’s going to claim his greatness as well. There’s also a eunuch, a woman who was nothing but a “wife on the action block”, and even a widow who was about to be sent away but realized that she could claim her husbands role in politics. There were quite a few times where, when the book reminded me of the gender of a character, I was actually taken aback by it. If there’s ever a book that was so gender fluid, it’s this one. I began to see characters as the opposite sex because they themselves strived to be more like the opposite sex. Or I forgot all together that gender was even a thing and just thought of them as a person. It was REALLY well done because, this was such a time where genders had their assigned roles in society and were assumed their roles as such without question.
I will admit though – when I picked up this book I was nervous I wouldn’t like it. Me and war focused novels have a rocky relationship. I haven’t figured out the type of war/battle based novels I like. Typically, I feel myself zoning out in the battle scenes. They’re usually so detailed, so boring, and leave me hanging confused amid the chaos and I don’t understand what’s happening until the dust settles. In the end, I love war novels, once it’s all said and done….. but most of the time I feel like I could skip all those pages and not miss much. When the battle scenes started – I thought it was over for me for this book and almost considered DNF’ing it. Luckily, the battle scenes were short and we weren’t left too much in the dark on the political plans going into those scenes. I felt like it was all really well balanced between characters, action, plotting, secrets, emotions, etc. So if you’re like me, and war scenes aren’t your jam, stick with it. If you make it through, the story as a whole is too good to miss!
The thing I struggled with most? The characters. Don’t get me wrong, they were amazing! I loved them! I just wasn’t “in love with them”, know what I mean? They were all smart, determined, conniving, bad asses! They loved hard and fought harder. They did whatever was necessary to get to their end games. They were morally grey as all hell and I loved every minute of it. But I didn’t feel them in my soul. I understood them and knew what they were feeling and why they made the choices they did, but my emotional attachment wasn’t there.
First of all, I didn’t expect this to be a multiple POV story. It seemed to me that this was just going to be the story of Zhu as she assumed the identity of her brother. Just as I was starting to really get attached and fall for her, the perspective changed, the plot changed, and so did the setting. It was so very jarring. I fell out of the character and the story itself when we left the monastery. Every time I would feel myself getting close to the character in the current POV, it would switch and i’d be left picking up emotional pieces again. Maybe it’s because there was sometimes so long in-between the POV’s? Maybe it’s because it was in time of war and they had to remain cold and emotionally detached? I don’t know. What I do know is that the character development was missing something.
All in all, this was a very well balanced book that kept me on my toes, wondering how this whole thing would all play out. There’s gender fluidity, assuming identities, a school setting, politics, battles, magic, and a whole lot more! It was a damn good book and I can’t wait for more! I think that this will be perfect for fans of The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang… just saying lol
Until next time, happy reading!