Review of She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan book cover and catalog link

In an exciting and fresh new historical fantasy debut, after an orphaned young girl is told that she is destined for nothingness by a fortune teller, she instead takes the fate of greatness that was meant for her deceased twin brother. Pretending to be a boy, the peasant girl Zhu becomes a monk, a soldier, and eventually a general in her quest to seize greatness and wrest control of ancient China from the Mongol Empire. 

Besides being a gripping feminist reimagining of Chinese history, the novel employs a refreshingly original magic system that is tied in with Chinese beliefs and historical facts. In an fascinating twist, the concept of the ‘mandate of heaven’ that defined who had the right to rule in historical ancient China becomes an actual flame that the chosen few can summon. The characters are complex and layered, especially Zhu, with robust queer representation and exploration of gender beyond the binary. Parker-Chan deftly explores what someone will do to survive, whether that is to compromise their values or even kill in cold blood, which is also tied in with the lure of power and womanhood in ancient China. The concept of immutable fate is central to the story – and in less-skilled hands could be boring – but Parker-Chan plays with the uncertainty of how Zhu’s fate will be achieved, and for how long she will keep the greatness she is promised. This is a top-notch historical fantasy novel (and the first installment of a duology) with a complicated, ruthless female lead – for anyone who enjoyed And I Darken by Kiersten White. 

Published on July 22, 2021.

ARC (advance reader copy) courtesy of NetGalley.

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