Review: She Who Became the Sun

As soon as I heard of this epic fantasy and historical tale, I knew I needed it in my life. I mean Mulan meets The Song of Achilles with a dash of The Poppy War just sounds like perfection. Luckily, the wonderful team at Mantle sent me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

“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. 

Publication Date: 22nd July

TW: violence, mass murder, amputation, famine, gender dysphoria, war, violence, gore, death, misgendering, ableism, homophobia, misogyny, mentions of death by torture, child murder

Goodreads | Waterstones

My Thoughts:

She Who Became the Sun is the kind of book that just stuns you with its brilliance. This is an epic tale that weaves historical and fantastical elements together and combines them with themes of identity, fate and above all else, ambition. 

I revelled in the fascinatingly complex narrative voices and how their characters developed over the course of the book. They’re morally gray people who are determined to only survive, but thrive as well as they can in a brutal landscape. I actually loved how ruthless they were in chasing their goals. They will do anything in order to be able to carve their own fate and forge their own path. For both of our protagonists, the past is a force that shapes them and their actions heavily. Their identity also informs every fibre of their being, having often been marginalised and overlooked because of the way that they are. This makes them far more complex and interesting to follow along as a reader, as you can love and loathe them within the space of a singular page. Ethically, there is no clear-cut hero and villain to an extent, instead it is a matter of perspective. It’s a messy, murky fight for survival and to control their own destinies. 

Parker-Chan drops you straight into an intriguing and epic opening that perfectly sets the tone for the tale that will unfold. It’s a brutal battle for survival against all odds, commenting on societal expectations and norms as well. Fate is there to be moulded into whatever shape the protagonist wants, but this will come at a heavy price. From there, the intrigue never stops. There’s plenty of political manouevuring, with shadowy morals and betrayals everywhere you look. Nothing is really as it seems in many places. Alliances are ever-shifting, with hidden motives behind every calculated move. The entire book feels like an immersive game of chess between two stellar players, where everything seems pre-planned and carefully manipulated. As a reader, you are privy to far more information, but you still get the sense that the protagonists are just one step ahead of you. 

I cannot finish this review without mentioning the exquisite writing. Parker-Chan has such a sense of style and punch to their narratives. It is just amazing to see how descriptive, realistic and enticing every page is. This whole world is richly sketched out, with plenty of moments to flesh out the historical and political landscape our characters are inhabiting. There’s a sense of weight behind every word, a delicate preciseness that cuts like a knife. For me, time felt meaningless outside of these pages. This is a grand tale that encompasses your entire imagination, but at the same time, the pages just fly by. It is so riveting that I read the vast majority in just one sitting. 

She Who Became the Sun is a bombastic tale with fascinatingly complex characters and a real edge of ruthlessness underpinning every page. It asks what depths the protagonists will go to in order to escape the path they were given and forge their own fate instead.

8 thoughts on “Review: She Who Became the Sun

  1. Louise says:

    What an amazing review. This book sounds amazing, there is no other way to describe it based on all the reviews I’ve read. I’ve had this approved on my Netgalley shelf for quite a long time and I have been waiting until release month to read it. I am so excited that is finally here and ill be reading this in the next couple of weeks!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hundreds&Thousands says:

    THIS WAS ONE OF MY MOST ANTICIPATED READS OF THE YEAR! It was so worth it and was the queer historical rec that I didn’t know I NEEDED. I’m very enthusiastic (don’t know if you could tell haha). I agree with everything you said! There were so many brilliant parts I could mention, here’s my review if you’re interested in 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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