She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan (The Radiant Empire #1)
Reviewed by Sam!
What I drank prior: it was the state of the union tonight, and Parker and I would never shuck tradition. We watched it with our normal drinking game and now I’m v drunk. Also P got a kitty and you all should ask him about lil Cuz cuz… he cute.
Mulan meets The Song of Achilles in Shelley Parker-Chan’s She Who Became the Sun, a bold, queer, and lyrical reimagining of the rise of the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty from an amazing new voice in literary fantasy.
To possess the Mandate of Heaven, the female monk Zhu will do anything
“I refuse to be nothing…”
In a famine-stricken village on a dusty yellow plain, two children are given two fates. A boy, greatness. A girl, nothingness…
In 1345, China lies under harsh Mongol rule. For the starving peasants of the Central Plains, greatness is something found only in stories. When the Zhu family’s eighth-born son, Zhu Chongba, is given a fate of greatness, everyone is mystified as to how it will come to pass. The fate of nothingness received by the family’s clever and capable second daughter, on the other hand, is only as expected.
When a bandit attack orphans the two children, though, it is Zhu Chongba who succumbs to despair and dies. Desperate to escape her own fated death, the girl uses her brother’s identity to enter a monastery as a young male novice. There, propelled by her burning desire to survive, Zhu learns she is capable of doing whatever it takes, no matter how callous, to stay hidden from her fate.
After her sanctuary is destroyed for supporting the rebellion against Mongol rule, Zhu takes the chance to claim another future altogether: her brother’s abandoned greatness.
Drunk Overview: alright, let me see if i can get this. Chicklet and her bro go to the fortune teller with dad. Fortune teller says Chicklet is destined to die, bro is destined to be the greatest emperor of all time. Bro and dad die. Chicklet says fuck that, imma be the greatest emperor of all time so she joins a monestary under her brother’s name, as a man, and grows up there. On the other side of the war, there’s a eunuch who’s made friends with the rulers who literally killed his family. ANYWHO, Chicklet is trying to fulfill her destiny (that she’s stolen from her dead bro) and the story goes from there.
Spoiler-free Thoughts: i listened to this on audio and liked it. I struggled a bit with the names because it’s in such a different language than mine but once I got past that, then I was golden. I also recognize that’s a me problem, not a book problem. I wanted to love this based off everything I was seeing but… it was just fine.
Characters: ok so the three i want to talk about are the Chicklet, the eunuch, and the Chicklet’s bff.
I promise, soberly, i know their names, I PROMISE (Sober Note: Zhu is her name, Ouyang is the eunuch, Xu Da is the bff)
So Chicklet is quite the bad ass. She’s all “fuck this noise I am going to be the greatest” but all the while having the ultimate imposter syndrome. She learns how to hide everything but also how to be the actual best while she’s at it. Oh, and her wife, a woman that without spoiling whether she knows the secret of Chicklet’s gender, is such an amazing partner, I can’t even. I really like the struggle with imposter syndrome, as someone who deals with that on the regular. It felt super relateable. I am good at my job, i deserve the responsibilities I’ve been given but also… literally why? Haha. I don’t understand, I’m just me. And Chicklet’s story totally gets that
Chicklet’s bff is amazing, he’s just… like… this is one of those moment where I’m like “z’ohmg this was so good” without words because he just is. JUST IS. Such a great influence.
The Eunuch is also awesome. He’s on the opposite side of the war but to some extent, he’s there to bring them down with as much fervor as Chicklet is. The struggle he goes through, living in the world he does, is so raw and real and I love that.
Plot: so where I loved the characters and their struggles, I disliked the plot. It just felt so lackluster. So so slow.
World Building: I’ll read the next one to figure out what’s up but only because I want to know how the world turns out.
What to pair it with: red blend. It’s tasty but you can’t really compare it to anything and the body is blah.
Until next time, we remain forever drunkenly yours,