She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

Beware those who journey further – a fairytale this ain’t!

After a fortune teller destines her brother for greatness and her own life to be worthless, a peasant girl may be expected to resign herself to her fate. However, upon her brother’s premature death, the girl seizes an opportunity to adopt both his name and his destiny.

She Who Became the Sun is a brutal, hard hitting debut to The Radiant Emperor series. Comparisons tend to quote Mulan due to the setting and the nature of Zhu disguising her female birth, but this is honestly where the comparison ends. For me, this novel is as if Mulan was in the Game of Thrones novels: warring factions, political backstabbing and the quest for power, Parker-Chan really doesn’t hold back.

As the debut novel, She Who Became the Sun has a lot of work to do in world-building and revealing the history behind the main characters. As a result, the pace of writing can feel a little slow at times but the final few chapters are well worth any previous perseverance.

Despite the pace in the middle of the novel, Parker-Chan’s writing is lyrical and intense simultaneously. Zhu’s desire to live gives a desperate, raw undertone to every one of the chapters under her POV. This is in direct juxtaposition from our other main character, Ouyang, who exudes cold detachment.

Zhu and Ouyang are both orphans, both queer and, as a girl and a eunuch, are both shunned by society. However, they consistently find themselves facing each other on opposite sides of a war: they may be ‘like and like’ but they are both characters who believe that their path is already decided for them, and neither will let anyone stand in their way!

Zhu and Ouyang are complex, well-developed characters, but they are nothing without their stunning supporting cast! I particularly loved Xu Da, Esen and Ma who never showed any prejudice against our main protagonists and purely accepted them for who they were.

She Who Became the Sun intertwines historical fiction with fantasy, war strategies with spirits and death with fate. This novel manages to be gritty and violent whilst also exploring gender identity in an open and refreshing manner. Morality is blurred and ghosts are rife: I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Thank you to Netgalley and Pan Macmillan for gifting me an e-ARC of She Who Became the Sun.

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