Deep as the Sky, Red as the Sea

A Novel

This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.
Buy on Amazon Buy on Buy on
*This page contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you.
Send NetGalley books directly to your Kindle or Kindle app

To read on a Kindle or Kindle app, please add as an approved email address to receive files in your Amazon account. Click here for step-by-step instructions.
Also find your Kindle email address within your Amazon account, and enter it here.
Pub Date 30 May 2023 | Archive Date 31 May 2023
Bloomsbury USA, Bloomsbury Publishing

Talking about this book? Use #DeepastheSkyRedastheSea #NetGalley. More hashtag tips!


For readers of Outlawed, Piranesi, and The Night Tiger, a riveting debut novel about a legendary Chinese pirate queen, her fight to save her fleet from the forces allied against them, and the dangerous price of power.

Named a Most Anticipated Novel by:
Washington Post * Goodreads * LitHub * NetGalley's We Are Bookish * Debutiful * Our Culture * The Chicago Review of Books * The Rumpus *

When Shek Yeung sees a Portuguese sailor slay her husband, a feared pirate, she knows she must act swiftly or die. Instead of mourning, Shek Yeung launches a new plan: immediately marrying her husband’s second-in-command, and agreeing to bear him a son and heir, in order to retain power over her half of the fleet.

But as Shek Yeung vies for control over the army she knows she was born to lead, larger threats loom. The Chinese Emperor has charged a brutal, crafty nobleman with ridding the South China Seas of pirates, and the Europeans—tired of losing ships, men, and money to Shek Yeung’s alliance—have new plans for the area. Even worse, Shek Yeung’s cutthroat retributions create problems all their own. As Shek Yeung navigates new motherhood and the crises of leadership, she must decide how long she is willing to fight, and at what price, or risk losing her fleet, her new family, and even her life.

A book of salt and grit, blood and sweat, Deep as the Sky, Red as the Sea is an unmissable portrait of a woman who leads with the courage and ruthlessness of our darkest and most beloved heroes.

For readers of Outlawed, Piranesi, and The Night Tiger, a riveting debut novel about a legendary Chinese pirate queen, her fight to save her fleet from the forces allied against them, and the...

Available Editions

EDITION Other Format
ISBN 9781639730377
PRICE $28.99 (USD)

Available on NetGalley

NetGalley Shelf App (PDF)
Send to Kindle (PDF)
Download (PDF)

Average rating from 215 members

Featured Reviews

Deep as the Sky, Red as the Sea by Rita Chang-Eppig is historical fiction about Shek Yeung, the Pirate Queen of China. The novel focuses on a roughly two-year span of her life as she tries to hold onto the power she cultivated alongside her first husband as China’s political landscape rapidly shifts into something completely new. Naval battles, political intrigue among pirates and nations, and complex relationships feature throughout the character study of this complex figure. Both the legendary woman and the historical period she existed in are richly realized with beautiful, examining prose. 

Shek Yeung is a fascinating figure to follow throughout the novel as it examines her identity as a social outcast, her hunger for power, her trauma, and her relationships. Though the numerous issues tackled in the novel could become overwhelming, the author does a spectacular job of grounding it all with Shek Yeung and her relationships. Themes of womanhood; the role of women and mothers; social outcasts due to religion, profession, and sexuality; sexual violence; criminality, violence and power; poverty and trauma are all given their due.

Overall, it is a riveting and intimate study of a complicated figure and the issues of her time that shaped and influenced Shek Yeung.

Thank you NetGalley for the ARC.

Was this review helpful?

My first 5 star read of 2023! This book was phenomenal, somehow timeless and brilliant. Following a Chinese pirate queen, this is a story of adventure, politics, plotting, and the conflict of motherhood. Shek Yeung is newly widowed, her husband Cheng Yat murdered by the Portuguese. She has risen to command their fleet, but with his death, she seeks to consolidate her power and stick with the only part of her life she has known any power: being a pirate, and maintaining their alliances. She marries Cheung Po, her husband’s ward and heir, and steps into a new tier of intrigue.

This was so vivid and immersive. Skillfully told and full of compassionate adventure, even through the violence.

Was this review helpful?

I love pirates and historical fiction, so I was excited to see Deep as the Sky, Red as the Sea by Rita Chang-Eppig pop up as an eARC on NetGalley. Boy did it deliver on the premise: there are elaborate naval battles and lots of hand-to-hand combat. I looked up a bunch of things about Shek Yeung after reading, and it turns out this really happened!

The prose is hauntingly beautiful. Also, the main story is interwoven with myths of the sea goddess Ma-Zou. These tales give a dreamy quality to the book and inject a lot of interesting existential questions.

The main character Shek Yeung is really interesting. And she's not the only interesting woman pirate in the book. There's a ruthless woman captain in another fleet who is kind of a sniper and has a reverse harem.

This is my favorite book I've read this year, maybe even one of my all-time favorites. I can't wait to read the next book from Chang-Eppig.

Was this review helpful?

I loved getting to read this book about the legendary Chinese pirate queen Shek Yeung, I always am up for a book about pirates and this is a really well done story. I enjoyed the plot of the book and it did everything that I wanted it to. The characters were really well done and worked in the time-period. Rita Chang-Eppig has a great writing style and I look forward to reading more from her.

"She had grown quite fond of him over their time together, she explained. Begun to think of him as a younger brother, maybe even a son. “But in truth I’m also concerned about your Matron,” she said. “I fear the English are deceiving her.”

Was this review helpful?

This epic adventure on the high-seas had me glued to my kindle. Hands down one of my top books of the year!
I just reviewed Deep as the Sky, Red as the Sea by Rita Chang-Eppig. #DeepastheSkyRedastheSea #NetGalley
[NetGalley URL]Edit

Was this review helpful?

Thank you to the author and publisher for the advance reader copy of this book.

I loved every thing about this book. A strong female in a male dominated field? Count me in. This book was beautifully written and incredibly intriguing. I'll definitely be looking for more books by this author in the future.

Was this review helpful?

Action-packed and beautifully written, Deep as the Sky, Red as the Sea is a captivating story about a powerful and fearsome woman. The novel opens en media res with a battle at sea and only picks up steam from there. I was hooked from beginning to end as Shek Yeung's story unfolds with depth and compassion. There are legends of a Chinese sea goddess braided throughout, which add even more dimension to this frequently surprising epic tale.

Was this review helpful?

Deep as the Sky, Red as the Sea by Rita Chang-Eppig is one of the best books I read this year. Great plot and main character!

Was this review helpful?

A beautiful, meditative, fascinating read. This is exquisitely written and while I knew that the subject would be fascinating, I was unprepared for how much. Perfect for fans of Four Treasures of the Sky.

Was this review helpful?

I am SO glad I requested an ARC of this book!

The cover and title attracted my attention, but the story and absolutely beautiful writing kept it.

Just wow.

The characters, the prose, just everything was so fantastic. I highlighted like 100 passages. This was one of the best books I've read in a long time.

I'll definitely be giving a copy of this away around release day on my tiktok (@hauntedhousebooks).

Sincere TY for letting me arc read and I wish you much success on the release.

Was this review helpful?

5/5 female-centered pirate historical fiction

Bloomsbury: Female Chinese pirate captain . . .
Me: Say less.

We follow Shek Yeung, a woman in her early 30's, who through a series of tragic, complex events has become the wife and chief strategist of her pirate captain husband. After her husband dies during a battle, Shek is left to pick up where he left off. The story flips back and forth from past to present, each time revealing a little more about Shek's history, decisions and self-reflections that brought her to this present moment. While the character development is rich and interior, this story moves at a good pace. The story takes includes shifting power alliances, an emperor trying to eliminate pirates and Shek's own internal struggles over power and freedom.

As a mother, I deeply connected to the vulnerable discussions about expectations around motherhood and the judgements about what makes a 'good' mother. Rita Chang-Eppig also folds in the expectations around womanhood in general and Shek's experiences in each extreme of each through work as a prostitute and work as a pirate captain.

I'm so glad I read this book, and hope we get a lot more from Rita Chang-Eppig in the future.

This book is best read in a fish market, by the ocean on a warm spring day with a light breeze. After you've finished, make sure to get your fortune read.

Thank you to NetGalley and Bloomsbury for an advanced reader copy.

Was this review helpful?

Wow, what a story. A story about a woman pirate Shek Yeung whose skill and will makes her a survivor in a brutal world. There is no sugarcoated story here, although she has had children and is fond of some of the people she's encountered, she doesn't indulge in sentimentality, just survival. From a young age she has had to survive the death of her family, being sold to the flower boats, and finally wife to a Pirate, Shek Yeung never had time to be anything but a pirate because being a woman in China was unthinkable. The story is adventurous and full of intrigues as Shek Yeung with the help of her new pirate husband Cheung Po tries to survive the elimination of the pirates by China and the Europeans. I absolutely loved this story.

I know this is suppose to be fictional story, but I looked up woman pirates in China and came across Zheng Yi Sao, who was a real pirate and had the same traits as Shek Yeung and just made go, Wow, how did she survive it all.

I want to thank Bloomsbury USA, Bloomsbury Publishing and NetGalley for an advance copy of this amazing story.

Was this review helpful?

This was really interesting to read after having just recently read Babel, by RF Kuang. It seems to center around a similar time period, with opium "trade" imminent in Canton. It was really interesting to have a protagonist who was so strong and amazing yet deeply flawed at the same time. It was difficult to know whether or not I should be rooting for her, but I think I did ultimately want her to come out on top. The politics and ethics around pirating was explored quite a bit, and it was also lovely how these myths and folktales of Ma Zou were interweaved throughout the book.

Was this review helpful?

I thought this one was really fantastic. One: the cover was gorgeous. I’m going to buy a hard cover just for my shelf because of how nice it looks. The story was recommended by several popular authors I follow. The story was exciting and the tone was set from the first chapter. I will recommend!

Was this review helpful?

Deep as the Sky, Red as the Sea was a true treasure. Strong female lead, dramatic and adventurous plot. It had all of the components you want!

Was this review helpful?

Wow! I loved this book--Shek Yeung's story as a female pirate trying to hold the fleet together after the death of her husband was compelling; the setting made me want to set sail; and, I loved how feminist it was. There was a lot of violence, yes, but the author handled it sensitively and acknowledged what it did to those who both were subjected to it and who perpetrated it. The writing was beautiful; I made many annotations of quotes I wanted to remember.

Highly recommend if you like feminist pirate stories with a lot of Chinese mythology--I would love to learn more about Ma Zhou.

Was this review helpful?

A wonderful telling of the actions of the Chinese pirate fleets as they struggle to survive against the Emperor need to wipe them out along with the invasion of their territories by the Portuguese and British merchants. The story is of a woman seized from her father's fishing boat by pirates,sold to a flower boat madam, rescued and married to the pirate boss of a huge fleet. Her husband is killed and she and his second in command take over the fleet. She married and has a child with him to secure her position in charge of the fleet. Together they try to preserve the fleet and battle against the Emperor' navy as well as the Portuguese and British merchant seeking to eliminate them. There is also the poignant story of her motherhood and her need to remain a pirate but also protect her child. This is an enjoyable story.

Was this review helpful?

I absolutely loved this book. What's not to like? Adventure, pirates... and a female pirate queen at that. But really... the author did an amazing job bringing to life a real person, with few choices in life, who somehow managed to survive everything that was thrown at her but also thrived in a world where men generally ruled. It was beautifully written... Shek Yeung is realistic and down to earth about what her current situation is at any given time. The mythology woven throughout the book tell stories of Ma-Zou, and they not only add to the story but left me wanting to learn more about Chinese mythology. As someone who loves mythology of all kinds, I do know very little about their mythology. I will be recommending this book and choosing it as my staff pick when it comes out.

Was this review helpful?

A pirate fleet, politics, and a woman in search of herself. Rita Chang-Eppig's novel is a gorgeously written, meticulously plotted high sea adventure. I fell in love with our heroine early on in the novel: a woman used to strife, but not hardened completely to the plights of those around her. The relationships take center stage here: Shek Yeung's bond with her dead husband's former lover, her connection with her crewmates, and the inter-fleet fighting. Shek Yeung was a fascinating character to spend 300 pages with, and the fantasy elements here (lightly added) make the book especially special. There's a lack of sentimentality here that I appreciated. I'm really looking forward to whatever the author writes next.

Was this review helpful?

‘Deep as the Sky, Red as the Sea’ by Rita Chang-Eppig was a powerful, absolutely fantastic read. Highly recommend!

Was this review helpful?

Adventures to exotic locations aboard a Chinese junk where the main character is a strong willed “flower boat girl” turned pirate. Fast paced with exquisite world descriptions and clever minded characters who stave off greedy government bureaucrats and treacherous enemies. Every bit an edge-of-your-chair read.

Was this review helpful?

I LOVED LOVED LOVED this book! I am fairly new to the fantasy genre but I have come to love it. I am so glad I took the plunge and read it because I was so hooked! I read it walking from my office to different offices as I had to go to meetings or get things done kind of hooked. The characters are so so so well developed and three dimensional, they felt so real! I also really enjoyed feeling like I was completely transported into a new world. This can be a bad thing if you then try to function back in reality. :-)

It is a book newbies like myself and long time fantasy fans can enjoy. There were a few twists that made me keep reading later than was wise when I had to work early.

Thank you NetGalley for the chance to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Was this review helpful?

This is primarily historical fiction, with just a dash of fantasy / magical realism. It follows events leading up to the Opium Wars, but these characters are not hugely involved in these big events. This is the story of a pirate fleet and their pirate allies with the political events a backdrop for them to operate within. The scale is small and focused on Shek Yeung and her efforts to keep her fleet safe and successful. Because the main characters are pirates who are at odds with the Chinese Emperor for his failures to care for the common folk and his strict policies against pirating, the colonizers are primarily just set dressing and occasionally prey for pirating. As the book progresses, there is more intrigue about the Europeans' motives in the South China Sea, but the story remains focused on Shek Yeung. My history knowledge is too sparse to really speak much to historical accuracy around these events, but I can say it is compellingly told and I very much enjoyed the smaller scale perspective in amidst these historical events.

Shek Yeung was a village girl, a hand on her father’s fishing boat, a captive, a prostitute, co-commander of a pirate fleet, and a mother. She fills these roles with varying levels of enthusiasm, competence, and reluctance, and often reflects on stories of the goddess Ma-Zou’s life to make sense of her own circumstances, giving the narrative many stories-within-the-story - a narrative structure I am very fond of.

While there are certainly a lot of events occurring around the fleet, this book is primarily Shek Yeung’s life story. It is focused on her reflections of her early life, the choices she made and the ones that were made for her, and the stories she tells herself and others about those choices. This is a character-focused book about who holds power, what it means to hold power, and what is gained and lost in exchange. It considers gender roles and expectations, and the different ways one is treated based on those. The story is very reflective and thoughtful, and I found it and Shek Yeung as a character very compelling.

Recommended to readers who enjoy historical fiction, introspective character-focused stories, and stories that examine structures of power.

Was this review helpful?

Gorgeous prose abounds in this sweeping epic about pirate Shek Yeung. I loved this book and how Chang-Eppig weaved in stories about Ma-Zou throughout.

Was this review helpful?

As a young girl, Shek Yeung sees her brother killed and her father abducted by pirates. She is sold to the flower boats to live as a prostitute. Eventually, she will meet another pirate, become his husband and command one of the largest pirate fleets in China.

On one level, Deep as the sky, Red as the Sea is a rip-roaring tale of piracy with Shek Yeung caught between the Qing empire, encroaching European powers and competing pirate fleets. On another, it is a fascinating mediation on what it means to be free; on how much power is enough to keep you safe (especially if you happen to be a woman); and the impact these choices have on those closest to you.

For me personally, I found the way beliefs systems were presented as simultaneously in conflict and complementary, as various characters choose to believe aspects of Confuscianism, Buddhism, Islam and home-spun fortune telling.

All in all, this book surprised me. It was everything I was hoping for and so much more.

Was this review helpful?

Deep as the Sky, Red as the Sea is an incredibly interesting read! Shek Yeung, a pirate queen, is forced to take over her husband's fleet after his death. She is forced to make alliances in order to keep power, and feels forced to exert her power over her crew and those they conquer. The questions of abuse of power, what true loyalty means, and how best to decide for your own future come up throughout the novel.

Readers see the relationship between Shek Yeung and those she cares about in contrast to those she sees as expendable. This brings up the question- who gets to decide who is worthy and who is unworthy? Shek Yeung appeals to a higher deity throughout the novel, asking for guidance, and there are cuts to stories about the deity's life. One wonders how much of Shek Yeung's actions are what she desires versus what heaven desires, which is a question she frequently considers.

Overall, this was a super interesting story, and I look forward to future novels from Rita Chang-Eppig!

Was this review helpful?

Definitely a book I would choose for its title and/or cover, but the story is even better! Who could imagine that a woman in the early 1800s in China would be in control of a pirate confederation? This is a historical fiction that introduces us to characters we would probably never know existed if not for this genre. The author, Rita Chang-Eppig, includes many different types of women characters and includes a few goddesses as well. It is a touching story amid the brutality of the Qing Dynasty, the European merchant ships, and the pirates of China The main character is based on the real-life female pirate, Zheng Yi Sao. You can’t help but cheer for her bravery and determination. She let nothing stand in her way – not even pregnancy. This is a story of belief, strength, perseverance, and survival in a cruel world. Thank you, Net Galley and Bloomsbury Publishing for providing me with the opportunity to read and review this wonderful novel.

Was this review helpful?

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Did someone declare this the year of the Pirates of the Not-Caribbean? This is not a complaint, I'm just wondering, because there's Shannon Chakraborty's The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi in the Indian Ocean several centuries ago and now there's this, which is 19th century piracy in the waters near China and Southeast Asia, and compared to what there has been recently, those two together feel like a boom. Also both of them center women pirates, which, sure, yes, that's historically accurate, more of that if you like, any time.

The speculative element of Deep as the Sky, Red as the Sea is the protagonist's conversations with the goddess of the sea. They have an ongoing and very specific relationship, and while the eARC format was less ideal for this than I expect the final product will be, the novel threads through stories of different incarnations and experiences of that sea goddess that illuminate the protagonist's experiences.

I think this book would probably still work well if you didn't know much about 19th century European colonialism in Asia, but if you do there is a particularly well-handled element of being the audience at the horror movie shouting, "DON'T GO IN THE BASEMENT! HONEY STAY OUT OF THAT CELLAR!" while the protagonists go on having their lives, not having hindsight on their side. It's extremely effective and fits interestingly with the realistic depictions of women's lives, medicine, and piratical politics. There's plenty of swashbuckling, but it's not treated as weightless, never allowed to be "just" a fun action story. Despite taking place substantially at sea, this is a book with very solid grounding.

Was this review helpful?

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Bloomsbury for giving me the opportunity to read one of my most anticipated reads of the year early!

I have never been so utterly captivated by a book so early—but this story had me hooked since the opening lines. This is a feminist tale of the high seas as a woman without many options chooses survival and ruthlessness. As Shek Yeung gathers strength and power, she is faced with both personal and external challenges as enemies seems to come from every angle. This story, both timely and devastating, is one that is sure to be a new modern classic. It’s heart wrenching depiction of womanhood and the strength of women despite the pressure societal structures place on them—and Shek Yeung herself—will stick with me long after I have written this review.

For fans of the sweeping historical and feminist writing of She Who Became the Sun, this is a book that must be added to your spring TBR immediately.

Was this review helpful?

Thank you to Netgalley and Bloomsbury USA, Bloomsbury Publishing for an eARC of Deep as the Sky, Red as the Sea!

Rita Chang-Eppig's debut historical fiction novel is beautifully crafted and unputdownable. Deep as the Sky, Red as the Sea features our female main character, Shek Young, a fierce pirate. Politics, strategy, the roles of women and mothers in society, and power struggles- this novel has it all. An enjoyable read, 100%

Was this review helpful?

Thank you NetGalley and Bloomsbury for an ARC in exchange for an honest review!

Deep as the Sky, Red as the Sea is an adventurous historical fiction account of Shek Yeung, better known to the histories as “Ching-Yi Sao” or “Zheng Yi Sao,” a legendary pirate queen, 'The Scourge of the South China Sea'.

This is not a pretty tale, yet it’s a beautiful one, a gritty human kind of beautiful. We meet Shek Yeung just after her husband, commander of a pirate fleet, has been mortally wounded. We learn that they have been partners, each running half of the fleet; that a trust has grown between them, that she has fought daily to earn and keep that trust. We see her internal conflict over being grateful for that trust, somehow caring for this man, despite the fact that he purchased her to be his wife from a flower boat, that she had ended up there after being abducted by pirates and sold into sex work years before. She is his partner, she is his wife, she is also his property. The respect she has earned in the fleet has also been granted to her because of him, and now she must figure out how to move forward, how to keep her half of the fleet and her tenuous position, when another younger man is the named successor.

As a work of historical fiction this is fascinating, and I loved learning about early 19th Century pirates and politics and colonialist powers in and around the South China Sea. I enjoyed that the plot doesn’t build to some incredible end, because it’s loosely following a real historical set of events, and the point of it isn’t that story arc. The point of it is Shek Yeung herself.

What I truly loved this novel for is not the history, not the plot. It’s the compelling female perspective, the commentary and discourse on society and roles within it, the examination of gender and empire and capitalism and colonial oppression and patriarchal oppression and power. I love how we are shown Shek Yeung’s perspective as a female in this world, and how self aware and honest and devastating and f*&%ing relatable it is. I highlighted so many quotes, and out of context they could be commentary on our world today, on a hundred other societies and points in history, on this bloody struggle women+ and non-males and non-ruling-class persons have continued to battle decade after decade, century after century. I love that the author, through Shek Yeung’s thoughts and observations, never shies away from reality, from the way the world is, how it’s different for different genders, for different peoples.

Shek Yeung grapples with survival, with womanhood, with freedom, with personhood, with power, with want, with meaning in life. She observes how everything is impacted by societal social constructs, how these expectations and roles permeate and bind us, and internally she questions these things, she chafes at these things. Externally she does what she must to survive.

There are SO MANY quotes I highlighted and took note of and can’t wait to share. I want to be respectful of not posting these before the publishing date, in case anything changes, as I’m reading an Advanced Copy. After May 30th I’ll update this review with some of those quotes. For now here are some notes and themes:

- Women are deemed unworthy of power until a man decides otherwise; power is given to women by powerful men, granted to them, and this can be so easily taken away. (This is part of why I hate the word empowered.)
- Women are seen as inferior, as lesser than men, because of lesser physical strength (on average), and in no small part due to the debilitating act of childbirth.
- Women have to show they can do anything a man can do, constantly prove themselves to be as tough as the man, but they also have to do more, because they are also expected to be women, to be able to turn that womanhood on and off as needed, to “save” men when needed.
- Childbirth is a risk but also one of the only bargaining chips for power a woman has.

I'm so glad I read this. It's not what I expected, but it's what I needed.
4.5 Stars, rounded up to 5 on GR

Was this review helpful?

Readers who liked this book also liked: