Cover Image: She Who Became the Sun

She Who Became the Sun

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Member Reviews

Thank you to Tor Books and Netgalley for sending me a copy of this book! All opinions are my own!

I have so many conflicted feelings about this book. I think I've just realized that I don't like military fantasy. For me, it was boring to go through all the strategy and planning and training. The time at the monastery was the most exciting to me, but even then there was a lot of just setting up for the future. The way there's very little fantasy elements until toward the end also set me off a little as well.

But I did love the representation of the book and the way things are portrayed, especially in the setting of 1300s China. I loved the sapphic relationship and the trans/non-binary representation and thought that it was really well integrated into the story. It has a powerful feminist flare but also doesn't isolate other identities, and I really loved that. One character experiences an amputation toward the end of the book. and it was really well written as well, but I wish there had been more of it. I think the next book will have some really good disability representation that makes me want to continue reading.

If you are a lover of military fantasy or a Poppy War fan, definitely check this out!
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Thank you to Netgalley and the publishers for giving me an advanced copy of this book to read and review.
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When I say I don’t even have the words to accurately state how much I loved this book, I truly don’t. I was so engaged the entire way through, even as we learned the long path to the main story of world and character building. I was so truly interested in every single character. Even characters we should dislike, I can’t help but see where they are all coming from and why they do the things that they do, that I can’t help but love and support them. I am beyond excited for HE WHO DROWNED THE WORLD and can’t wait to see what happens to these beautifully flawed characters.
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I really loved this. I found that it too me time to get into, and I had to really concentrate on it, but I would also find myself reading pages after pages and keep going back to it. I'm super interested in seeing where this is going.
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This book has been such a hit at our library, and for good reason!

For as long as Zhu can remember, her brother has always been promised a great life and great things. Zhu herself has only ever been promised nothing. But fate plays a fickle hand when the two are orphaned and it is Zhu's brother that dies instead of herself. Taking on a new identity as a boy and carrying on as her brother, Zhu finds herself at the gates of the monastery and at the crossroads of her life. 

Will she do great things in the guise of her brother? Will she be able to take fate into her own hands? 

10/10 I try too recommend at all times. Hailed as a great book for fans of Mulan and Circe, and they aren't wrong. There is so much good content within the pages of Parker-Chan's story.
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Fans of R.F. Kuang's The Poppy War will love this book! Shelly Parker-Chan has made a name for herself in the fantasy genre with her debut novel that is action-packed, moving, and thought-provoking. 

She Who Became the Sun tells the dual story of Zhu and Ouyang. Zhu Chongba is the reimagined emperor of the Ming dynasty rising to power. As a peasant girl, she is fated to life of nothing. When her brother dies, she takes the opportunity to cloak herself in his identity and take his own destiny of greatness. Ouyang, on the other hand, is the eunuch general of the Mongol army driven by his perceived need for revenge against the family who stole his own family from him.

Parker-Chan has perfected writing the anti-hero. Every character is perfectly real with all their flaws, fears, and anger. I can't wait to see what Shelley Parker-Chan writes next!
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This story was truly magnificent. Ignore The Song of Achilles comparison, this is not that kind of book. Instead it's reminiscent of The Poppy War, brutal and unforgiving. This is a novel destined for greatness, from the proficiency of storytelling in every scene, and the dialogue and atmosphere and emotions that were conveyed efficaciously. It will take me a while to recover.
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Zhu Chongba used to be a starving girl living day by day in a famine-stricken village. Her brother was destined for greatness while she expected to remain nothing her entire life. However, when her brother succumbs to despair after a bandit attack and dies, the girl steals his fate. If her brother choses to give-up, she won’t, even if it means pretending to a boy and enrolling into a monastery. With her new fate in mind, Zhu Chongba strives for greatness. And if greatness means taking every opportunity and change the world, she will.

She Who Became the Sun is a historical fantasy book set in the 14th century China during the Mongol rule and the rise of the Ming dynasty and it follows multiple characters. This cast of characters includes our little girl turned monk turned warrior, Zhu Chongba, Esen, the heir to a Mongol Prince, Ouyang, a eunuch general working as Esen’s hunting dog after his family was murdered by Esen’s family and Ma, a young woman betrothed to a rebel.

My favorites were by far Zhu and Ouyang, both characters have very different backgrounds but they couldn’t help but to feel like two sides of a single coin. Zhu is a woman living as a man. Ouyang was made a eunuch when he was just a child and, while being a legendary general, everyone sees him as a creature even less worthwhile than a woman (and that’s saying something since the book in set in the 14th century). Both characters struggle with their gender identity and how they are perceived by other people. Both characters strive to change their place in the world and achieve what they believe to be their fate. And seeing them interact – because of course, they do end-up meeting – was fascinating.

This book is marketed as a fantasy book, and while it does have a few speculative elements – the Mandate of Heaven is represented as a flame that the owner can cast, Zhu and other characters are able to see ghosts and interact with them in some ways – these elements are minor. A reader expecting high fantasy might be disappointed by this book that is more historical than fantastical. She Who Became the Sun is also quite grim, not as dark as The Poppy War though both books have similarities, but Shelley Parker-Chan doesn’t shy away from killing off characters in gruesome manners. It’s not surprising considering the backdrop of the story: war stories are rarely happy ones.

I’m not usually a fan of military fantasy, I usually skim-read long battle scenes, but I thought Parker-Chan wrote them well and I found myself excited to see how Zhu would magically save the day each time. The battle scenes were easy to picture and they weren’t too rushed or drawn out.

Reading She Who Became the Sun felt like watching one of my favorite historical Asian dramas. Parker-Chan says in the acknowledgements that they watched a ton of K-drama while writing the book and I can definitely see how they were inspired by it. Some parts of the book gave me My Country the New Age vibes and I can’t say I was mad for it. Maybe it was because the level of drama was pretty high at times (Ouyang is one angsty eunuch for sure!) but I found myself very invested in the story and the character relationships. And I may have grumbled a few times out loud from frustration but, I’m not complaining, I was really living the story!

If you are looking for a book that blends history with ghosts, legendary fates and rebellion, look no further! I can’t wait to read the sequel next year!

Rating: 5 out of 5.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. My thanks to Netgalley and Tor Books for the ARC.
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China lies under harsh Mongol rule.  The villagers barely eke out a living and are always only one attack away from death.  When her village is attacked and she loses her family, one girl finds a way to survive.  She takes her brother's name, Zhu Chongba, and enters a monastery. Zhu had been predicted to achieve greatness and she now feels that she has inherited not only his name but his destiny.  She is not sure how this will happen but she knows it will.

In the nation, things are stirring.  There is a rebel force of the natives who want to overthrow the Mongols and take their country back.  They are called the Red Lanterns.  The Mongol forces have a fearsome general, General Ouyang. As a boy, his entire family had been killed by the Mongols after being declared traitors.  Ouyang survived this massacre but only by becoming an eunuch and being given as a slave to the son of one of the top ministers.  Over the years, these two boys grew to be men and soldiers and best friends.

This is a book of secrets and betrayals.  Zhu rises to the top general of the Red Lanterns after his monastery is burned and he is thrown out to make his way in the world.  He joins the army and finds a way to defeat the Mongol forces in several battles and earns the top spot.  Zhu and Ouyang know they will face each other on the field and each knows that their existence depends on their successes.  Who will be triumphant?

This book has gotten a ton of praise.  It was the winner of the British Fantasy Award and a finalist for such awards as the Hugo, Locus and Lambda Literary award.  The author transports the reader to the courts and battlefields of the dying days of the Mongol rule of China and the beginning of the Ming dynasty.  There are battles, love scenes, betrayals and political maneuvering.  This is a debut novel and the reader can expect great things from this author as she continues her writing career.  This book is recommended for fantasy and literary fiction readers.
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I wouldn't be able to recommend this as a book included in a classroom library because of the descriptive nature of some intimate scenes BUT I would definitely recommend this to my more advanced readers. It's such a powerful book!
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I tried to read this book back in 2021 when it was released, got about 15% in and set it aside because the book wasn't speaking to me.

I borrowed the audiobook from the library hoping that if I listened to it, the book would grab my attention and hold it. This unfortunately was not the case, I kept finding myself saying "well I guess I should listen to the rest of the book" each time I started the Libby app.

I have seen other reviews of this book and people rave about it, so please don't let my review sway you from reading this book. This book just wasn't for me.
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She Who Became the Sun is being herald as a historical trans rep novel. However, the gender identity seemed to be more of convenience and actual survival than identity. This is not a horrible thing, however when it is combined with being trans then it provides fuel to the fire that gender identity is a choice, and people could just choose not to be trans. So, that part of the novel did not really resonate with me.

The overall plot was fine. It was a good book, but I did not synch with it the way that so many others have. It was good. I'm glad I read it. I'm not sure I will pick it up again. However, I will read future books by Shelley Parker-Chan.
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I absolutely devoured this book. What an exciting and propulsive journey. The warring points of view were an excellent choice, and it allowed you to understand not just the protagonist, but also the motivations, successes and failures of the antagonist as well. The writing was fascinating and full of depth, with detail that let you imagine the sights and smells of the world of the story. I can't wait for the next book.
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To sum it up in one word: wow

I originally got this as an eArc from Netgalley, and then I took a break from Netgalley and honestly forgot that I had been granted access to this book - so I ended up reading the ebook I bought for myself anyway. I am so glad I did, however, and I'm now kicking myself that I didn't read it sooner.

I really agree with another review I saw here that compared this book to the Song of Ice and Fire series above all else. It's a sweeping epic fantasy that leaves you breathless. 

One thing I love about the characters in this book is that I really viscerally feel their pain. I think sometimes it is easy to overlook in fantasy that in this sort of a world, most people would have a painful existence - even more so based on your gender/gender identity. And that is at the heart of this story, two people who have dealt with the scorn that is based on your worthiness/gender, two people who are aching for different reasons, who have been made hard - but one is consumed by their grief, and the other has chosen to rise above it. 

I saw some complaints that the "action" parts of this book happened too quickly - for me, honestly, this wasn't a bad thing. I don't need five chapters on a battle, especially when the mechanics of the battle really aren't important; the actual guts of this book are character development/character relationships and the prose. 

And what beautiful prose there is - I often found myself re-reading sentences because they were just beautiful to read. I love how absolutely naked and bear Parker-Chan can lay the emotions of characters, whether they are honest with themselves or not. 

What I appreciated about this book is that even our main "villain" is someone I can't particularly hate or fault. And even our "hero" is not without misdeeds. These characters behave like people who are fighting for their survival, for their fates, and who have been thrust into difficult situations. I appreciate a book where moral ambiguity reigns supreme. 

I cannot wait the next installment, and am honestly a bit sad that this is planned as a duology instead of something more. However, I will eagerly await any other series Parker-Chan decides to share with us - I am sure I will enjoy them just as much.
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Very solid debut and I plan on reading the sequel.

This book is about two people who are each living double lives. Zhu takes her brother's name and attempts to take his fate by living as he would have. She becomes a monk and then involves herself in the rebellion against the Mongol empire. She lives as a man but much of her edge comes from what she learned from being a woman. She sees the paths that a man would likely not see, makes unexpected decisions, attacks from unexpected directions. Zhu is consumed by the desire for greatness. All of her decisions follow from this desire and she is amoral when it comes to achieving her goal- the end definitely justifies the means for her. Despite her need for secrecy, she comes to love a woman also involved in the rebellion named Ma. Ma becomes her sounding board and her ally.

Ouyang, a general for the Mongolian army, is Zhu's opposite in many ways. He has been made a eunuch by the empire and then employed as a general by one of their great houses. Ouyang cannot get past the tragedy of his past, his dead family, the mutilation that was forced on him, the shame of living instead of dying. He can't help but love the members of the family in which he has been raised, but he can never forget that his goal is revenge upon them. He is in fact haunted by the ghosts of his family who wait for him to avenge their deaths although he does not know this. Ouyang also cannot get past the fact that he is not a man like other men. He has a lot of self-loathing and an idealized version of what a man should be. Although Ouyang has possibilities for love and allies, he denies himself these things and sees them as weaknesses. At the same time, his Han ancestry allows him to see things that Mongols do not realize and to exploit this knowledge for his own plans.

Both Zhu and Ouyang are deeply involved in war but both of them see this war as a means to achieve their own ends. They have no stake in the actual reasons for the war and only want to win as a way to achieve their own goals.

I found the characters in this book to be fascinating and unique. I was interested in their decisions and occasionally appalled by them. I'd read somewhere that the author wrote the book that they wanted to read and couldn't find. I'm very glad that they did! I enjoyed reading the book tremendously.
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Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with an electronic Advanced Reader Copy of She Who Became the Sun. This historical fantasy that takes place in 12th century China explores themes of war, magical realism, gender nonconformity, fate and destiny (and creating your own), and sapphic love. I would recommend it especially for those who are already fantasy-lovers and who read at more advanced levels. As I myself am not super into fantasy, I found it more difficult to understand and to stay engaged in - it was very dense - so I unfortunately did not finish it. However, it is beautifully written and I know I will eventually pick it up and finish it one day. I love that it features both sapphic and achillean characters, and all-Asian characters. Books like these are so important, and I'm confident it deserves the praise it receives- it was just not the read for me.
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I really thought I'd love this one, but unfortunately, it just didn't work for me. I found the narrative quite dull and felt that a lot of the action happened 'off page', which was quite frustrating. I enjoyed Zhu as a protagonist and thought that their journey was a fascinating one, but the other characters fell flat for me and I found myself struggling to invest in the story.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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4.5 stars

Fate rests within our own hands.
The unapologetic rage in this book is one of the most realistic and human things about a book filled with pain, war, ghosts and fate.
I was pleasantly surprised by the other pov and main characters than the ones I expected in this book. The goals of the two main characters are strange ones I need to happen no matter how they conflict; gain revenge and reach legendary status.
The relationships, both love and platonic and understanding are also note-worthy! The complicated, the trust and betrayals were terrific! 

AND YEP, THAT SCENE WAS MUCH A SURPRISE; all of you know the one I mean!
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Another fantastic debut from Orbit. Parker-Chen is an author to watch, and SHE WHO BECAME THE SUN is a powerful opening statement. Definitely recommended for all fans of epic fantasy.
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3.5 Stars — I really love the characterization of Zhu and Ouyang. This is where the writing stood out to me. I loved following our morally gray hero Zhu. Her anger, determination, and sheer willpower to claim her own fate was depicted so well. We see her make difficult but necessary choices that are slowly leading her into a darker path. But you can’t help rooting for her all the same. And her arc is juxtaposed with Ouyang perfectly. Where Zhu is forced to hide her true self, everyone knows Ouyang’s shame and history of how he became an eunuch. While Zhu is intent on claiming a different fate than what was handed to her, Ouyang struggles with living out the fate he feels he cannot escape. The author explores this themes of destiny/fate vs, individual choice/desires, and gender in this highly patriarchal society with depth and nuance. 

However, the pacing in the middle of the book was really slow. I personally love political intrigue and machinations in my fantasy novels. And while this is full of it, the politics is never wasn’t shown in detail to the reader. I felt like I wasn’t ever in on the plan and saw machinations after they’ve already happened. I want to be in the room where it happens. 

Also, I love action scenes but for a story heavy with war, there were a lot of battles that were glossed over. I needed more intimate action scenes like the bridge and duel scenes. Not this “oh we planned out a strategy. We have X amount of men, they have Y amount of men. The fighting was all around me. In the end, we survived and they retreated.” Like where’s the expression on people’s faces, how are they fighting? I want to feel in the moment and when it came to the political scheming and action, I felt like I was reading observations. 

I found myself getting bored for a good portion of the book. I enjoyed the book enough and may continue the series depending on how reviews look, but ultimately I am disappointed that I didn’t love this as much as I expected to.
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