My interest in Shelley Parker-Chan’s debut novel, She Who Became the Sun, was piqued on Twitter by Tor Books and Parker-Chan’s own tweeting. However, it was Parker-Chan reading Chapter Three of her novel on Tor Book’s Instagram that solidified my interest in the novel as a must-read—the lavish details and personal struggle of different sides in a singular conflict on the material and emotional scales.
—Ghanima Emmanuelle Sol
Marketed as The Song of Achilles meets Mulan, Parker-Chan’s historical fiction novel follows the peasant girl Zhu as she takes up the name of her brother, Zhu Chongba, and his foretold great fate. The novel moves from peasant villages to grand monasteries and walled cities to the gers—or portable dwellings—of the Mongol rulers of fourteenth century China. Zhu, while disguised as her brother, survives first as an apprentice in the Wuhuang Monastery before becoming a horse thief and a leader in the Red Turban Rebellion campaigning to retake southern China from Mongol rule.
Zhu’s journey, and this book as a whole, is centered on survival by any means necessary. Her counterpart is the eunuch, General Ouyang. Orphaned by Mongol brutality, the child Ouyang swore fidelity to Great Yuan (the Mongol Empire) to survive. Both characters grapple with gender expectations different from what they were born with. Zhu is treated like a man; she is not talked down to or belittled by men, and climbs the military ranks of the rebellion. Despite his martial prowess and heroics, Ouyang is expected to be weak and dishonorable, and is compared to women, all because he is a eunuch in a hyper-masculine society.
“She Who Became the Sun is a thrillingly active story of internal and external conflicts, and for LGBTQ+ readers (myself included) the novel alleviates the anxieties of that experience.”
The novel transitions between Zhu and Ouyang’s experiences, blending two sides of the same story as the two work towards their own destinies. The campaigning, battles, and politics are all fascinating and kept me invested in the wider world of She Who Became the Sun. But it is the interpersonal connections between opposing sides that wins my reading and admiration.
As a debut fantasy novel, She Who Became the Sun is a thrillingly active story of internal and external conflicts, and for LGBTQ+ readers (myself included) the novel alleviates the anxieties of that experience. Like Zhu Chongba, we need only to move towards our fates and take them for ourselves.
Thank you to Tor Books for the advanced reader copy.