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.
Loved by our collective!
She Who Became the Sun is a captivating story of defying expectations and creating your own destiny - no matter the cost. Amid the ruthless backdrop of war during the fall of the Yuan Dynasty, there is a fascinating exploration of gender through characters whose experiences are never shoe-horned into 21st century understandings of queerness. It's dark, it's clever, it's sexy, and it's written beautifully enough to distract you from the horrifying choices these characters make as they stop at nothing to claim their fate. If you love tragic period epics (The Song of Achilles) and morally dubious anti-heroes this one is for you.
Content Warnings: This brutal book has pretty much everything under the sun (no pun intended) but notably there is no sexual violence.