Oh, wow. This is phenomenal.
It is 1345 China and the Mongol’s rule with an iron fist. Out in the Central Plains of China, peasants toil away and only dream of the possibilities of greatness – something found in prophesies but not real life. Until, that is, the eighth-born son of the Zhu family, Zhu Chongba, is prophesied to come to greatness. How he’ll do that is a mystery to everyone since no one from the Plains ever comes to greatness. The family’s second-born daughter is expected to become just what every daughter will become … nothing.
A brutal raid on the village leaves Zhu Chongba and his sister orphans. Zhu Chongba doesn’t take well to this and he falls into a deep despair and dies.
His sister on the other hand, shows a remarkable will to survive at all costs and decides to assume Zhu Chongba’s identity. She, now posing as a young boy, enters a monastery, finding it easy to be a boy when there are few expectations other than obedience. But her nature is inquisitive and challenging and she is still willing to stop at nothing to protect her true identity.
When rebels to the Mongol horde seek help from the monks at the monastery, Chongba agrees to serve as their advisor, which she does extraordinarily well. And later, when the temple is razed because of the help they offered to the rebels,, Chongba sees another opportunity – to take her brother’s prophesy for greatness for herself and lead an army against the fiercest warriors in the land while maintaining the secret of who she really is.
This book is just … it’s truly wonderful.
Chongba’s will to survive, her drive to succeed, and her fierceness are so very powerful. It is, without a doubt, the over-riding arc of the book. I might normally find it too obvious, but author Shelley Parker-Chan manages to couch the themes within a great story and around exceptional characters. We want to follow Chongba and we want to see her succeed. But even her biggest foe becomes someone that we find a way to respect – or at least someone we want to know more about.
Parker-Chan never lets us forget that Chongba is female and while it is never acknowledged (because no one else knows her true gender) we also never lose sight of the fact that what she achieves is extra remarkable because of her gender (and that, according to prophecy, she was destined for nothingness).
Of course we also can’t help but wonder if both prophecies have actually come true. Chongba has left her female-ness behind. The girl is no more. She is nothing. But Zhu Chongba is slowly becoming increasingly ‘great’ – as according to prophecy – even though it is now the female Zhu Chongba.
This is not a light, easy read. Chongba will grow vicious, even very early on, and it is almost as though she will thrive on her aggression. Almost. When she has the best opportunity to truly become ruthless, she lets up, just enough to remind us why we like her so much.
I really got pulled into the story very quickly and on the strength of Chongba’s character, I was held to rapt attention all the way through. It combines adventure, mythology, and a strong sense of ancient Chinese legend, told in a classic Chinese fashion but for modern audience.
Looking for a good book? She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan is a powerful, motivating adventure story of a strong-willed girl who’s will to survive is a driving force that will be felt all across China.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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She Who Became the Sun
author: Shelley Parker-Chan
series: The Radiant Emperor #1
publisher: Tor Books
hardcover, 416 pages