She Who Became the Sun

Shelley Parker-Chan

She Who Became the Sun
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She Who Became the Sun

Shelley Parker-Chan

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.

Review

She Who Became the Sun is the debut novel from Asian Australian writer Shelley Parker-Chan. An extraordinary hybrid between historical fiction and epic fantasy, this accomplished book is set in China during the fall of the Yuan dynasty in the 14th century. This story of a peasant girl who assumes the identity of her dead brother to escape starvation, and ends up leading a rebel army against the ruling Mongols, is an engrossing, challenging and wildly compulsive read. Populated throughout with real historical people and events, She Who Became the Sun reminds me of some of the best works of Western historical fantasy – Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles – while simultaneously revealing how untapped the rich history and mythologies of China are.

Parker-Chan has a professional grounding in gender equality and LGBT rights, and they’ve woven these themes seamlessly into She Who Became the Sun. By making Zhu Chongba (the actual, real-life founder of China’s legendary Ming dynasty) an unapologetically ambitious queer woman in disguise, Parker-Chan upends the stereotypes around Asian women. By placing the formidable eunuch-general Ouyang in opposition to Zhu, Parker-Chan further blurs the expectations around gender roles.

At the heart of She Who Became the Sun is the corruptive nature of power and the sacrifices that must be made by those who hold it. Zhu is a fascinating, witty, multi-layered character who does some terrible things in her pursuit for power. Her journey from starving peasant girl, to warrior monk, to one of history’s most influential, enlightened and notoriously ruthless leaders is brilliantly imagined. I didn’t know much about this period of history (in this part of the world at least) beforehand, but I’m eager to learn more now.


Lian Hingee is the digital marketing manager for Readings.

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