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  • Writer's pictureAshley Mongrain

She Who Became the Sun

Updated: Oct 7, 2022


Rating - ⭐⭐⭐⭐


"She’ll change the world to survive her fate . . .


In Mongol-occupied imperial China, a peasant girl refuses her fate of an early death. Stealing her dead brother’s identity to survive, she rises from monk to soldier, then to rebel commander. Zhu’s pursuing the destiny her brother somehow failed to attain: greatness. But all the while, she feels Heaven is watching.


Can anyone fool Heaven indefinitely, escaping what’s written in the stars? Or can Zhu claim her own future, burn all the rules and rise as high as she can dream?"


 

She Who Became the Sun is an upcoming historical fantasy novel by Shelley Parker-Chan and is the first installment in The Radiant Emperor series.


First and foremost I would like to thank NetGalley and Tor Books for providing me with a copy for review. Please note that this is no way affects my opinions. Also note that what I read was an ARC and things are subject to change for the final copy.


This is a story that is steeped in ancient Chinese history and culture with a dash of fantasy. It also has a gorgeous cover which is a bonus. Overall, I enjoyed the story that unfolded but there were elements that hindered my experience for more personal reasons.


Here are all of my thoughts on the book.



Writing


The writing was easy to digest for me but I did have some issues with the vocabulary and format. Firstly, when Zhu replies she always uses the term 'this monk' when referring to herself, and after a while, it got really annoying because it felt overused. Regardless of whether or not that is culturally accurate, it did bother me.


Another minor issue I had was with the timeline. There were gaps in the story that I wish were shorter in order to add more character development. As this is a series as well, I think that the gap could have easily been shortened.


I also found that the writing didn't feel very personal in the sense that I felt like someone who was seeing everything happen from the outside. I wanted the story to dig a bit deeper into the lives of the characters.



Plot


While I get why this is likened to Mulan, I think that marketing it for fans of Song of Achilles was a bit of a stretch. So if you read the book, try and keep those expectations out of your mind.


This is a story that is all about fate and what one will do in order to achieve their place in the world. I did overall like the story and the setting, but I did have a bit of a hard time getting through it as the story wasn't as riveting as I thought it would be. You follow Zhu as she must fight to make her destiny her own and strives to gain the Mandate of Heaven while pretending to be a male monk. You also follow Ouyang, who is a disgraced eunuch who fights for the occupying Mongols.


I think that both of their stories had a lot of thought put into them, but I did want more background information about Ouyang in order to help better establish his character motivations. As two people fighting on opposite sides, I would have liked to see more conflict between the two through warfare. There was a lot of political intrigue in this and strategic planning, but I would have liked to see more fighting especially considering the fact that this was being marketed towards fans of Mulan.



World-Building


This is set in 14th century China and follows the Mongols and the Red Turban Rebellion which was an actual historical event. I do like the way the author interweaved an original plot with a historical setting. As someone who took a class on Genghis Khan and the Khaganate in university, I appreciated the focus on the Mandate of Heaven and the level of detail that went into depicting the Mongols and China.


One thing I surprisingly did not enjoy was the fantasy elements which is a bit shocking as a fantasy reader. I felt like those elements were not strong enough to support the story. They either should have been included more or left out entirely.



Characters


Let's start with our main protagonist, Zhu. Zhu's character fell a bit flat for me as her entire personality for the most part can be summed up in two words: cunning and determined. At first, I was fine with it, but the direction of her character development was not something I really enjoyed. I don't mind characters like her in certain instances, but I draw the line when they make questionable decisions. Again though, this is something I don't like but it may not bother you.


Then we have Ma who honestly deserved better even though I think that I could have done without her perspective entirely. I wish that her character was able to develop a bit more as ultimately she felt more like a pawn than a character with her own story.


Finally, we have the most interesting character (in my opinion), Ouyang. I thought that his development as a character was well done and I felt like his motivations made more sense than Zhu's did. I would have liked to see more interaction between him and Zhu and would have liked to see more of him throughout the book. I also felt like his story was pushed to the side towards the end of the book.



Concluding Thoughts


I am a bit conflicted about how I feel about this book. On the one hand, I did enjoy the story, but I know that I am going to hesitate to pick up the next book because of the direction the story went in. If you are looking for a book that is reminiscent of a historical drama or is similar to The Poppy War, give this a shot.


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