She Who Became the Sun (The Radiant Emperor #1) by Shelley Parker-Chan
She Who Became the Sun reimagines the rise to power of the Ming Dynasty’s founding emperor.
In a famine-stricken village on a dusty plain, a seer shows two children their fates. For a family’s eighth-born son, there’s greatness. For the second daughter, nothing.
In 1345, China lies restless under harsh Mongol rule. And when a bandit raid wipes out their home, the two children must somehow survive. Zhu Chongba despairs and gives in. But the girl resolves to overcome her destiny. So she takes her dead brother’s identity and begins her journey. Can Zhu escape what’s written in the stars, as rebellion sweeps the land? Or can she claim her brother’s greatness – and rise as high as she can dream?
This is a glorious tale of love, loss, betrayal and triumph by a powerful new voice.
Published 27 July 2021| Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia | RRP: AUD$32.99
Buy it at: Dymocks | Booktopia | A&R | Abbey’s | QBD
My Blurb (4.5 / 5 stars)
The first time I heard of it was through a recommendation by Aussie author, Sam Hawke, but truthfully, the only reason I was really interested in this book is the girl-as-boy trope because it’s my absolute favourite. Set in China and somewhat structured to author’s love of East Asian historical dramas were added bonus because well, I had my own addiction of those dramas way back when. So I had an absolute blast imagining this book in my mind as if they are on screen; I hope that one day it will be adapted to screen!
…most strong-willed people never understand that will alone isn’t enough to guarantee their survival. They don’t realise that even more so than will, survival depends upon an understanding of people and power.
The novel opens with a young peasant girl who despite famine, poverty, and her parents’ expectation, was still living and surviving. She might be desperately hungry but so were everyone in the village. And then, one day, she was left on her own. She had no future to look forward to but she had a very strong desire to live and so, she assumed her brother’s identity, Zhu Chong Ba. In doing so, she believed she also subsumed his destiny, greatness. While those around her sees only what they want to see, is Heaven also fooled? To what extent would she go to to achieve this greatness?
What someone is means nothing about what kind of person they are. Truth is in actions.
There is a second perspective in this epic novel which is told from the opposite camp, the Yuans (Mongols). He was not a Mongol. He had no family left. He had been mutilated so that even as he held the highest & most trusted position in his warlord’s army, he was looked at as an aberration. He lived for one purpose only; his duty. But to what end?
Learn to want something for yourself. Not what someone says you should want. Not what you think you should want. Don’t go through life thinking only of duty. When all we have are these brief spans between our nonexistences, why not make the most of the life you’re living now? The price is worth it.
As these two characters pulled towards each other and pushed towards their own destinies, I was amazed at the parallels and contrast these two very different yet very alike characters. The author cleverly wove their stories seamlessly and with this second perspective, added extra dimensions to the story we otherwise would not have. It is also very savvy of the author to take on a reimagining of a founder of the Ming dynasty where the overall (major) arc is as per history but being able to twist it with a potentially true gender bender. I won’t say much more but just read it then do some research 😉
She Who Became the Sun is an epic historical fantasy reminiscent of East Asian historical TV dramas; just as author’s vision. The setting and sense of place feel authentic with ancestor worship and Heaven’s Mandate having critical places in these characters’ lives, the suffering of common people, the stress placed on duties and loyalties. Yet, it is a novel based on vengeance with twists of betrayals and sacrifices abound throughout the telling. It is also a novel of brotherhood and love. It is a complex novel that pulls readers in all directions as tensions, both on and off battlefields, wax and wane, we are irrevocably drawn to these characters to see them reach their destinies.
My thanks to Pan Macmillan Australia for this paperback copy of book in exchange of my honest thoughts
About the author