She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

She Who Became the Sun (The Radiant Emperor, #1)

by Shelley Parker-Chan

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.

Reviewed by Quirky Cat on

4 of 5 stars


She Who Became the Sun is one of those novels that promise to do the impossible. Mulan meets The Song of Achilles thanks to Shelly Parker-Chan's prose.

Zhu Chongba is a girl who grew up with nothing. She was born on a dusty plain, under a different name. Had she not been so clever, she would have been fated to follow the path of the rest of the little girls around her. She would have died.

Zhu knew that to survive – to seize her destiny – she would have to do something bold. But she's capable of doing anything, including defying the fate that her elders tried to force upon her.

"I can do this. I can learn. I can survive."

Wow. She Who Became the Sun hit me in the chest like a sledgehammer. No, seriously, this is a novel that will force emotions from even the toughest reader, as Zhu's story starts in such a painfully human manner.

From there, her world quickly changes. It's impossible to look away. At least, I found that to be the case. Admittedly the pacing is a little bit slow, especially after the introduction is complete. It's not until about the one/third mark that the novel will begin picking up again.

It's worth that investment and time – I promise you. Everything laid down in the earlier parts comes to fruition, creating a dense and compelling tale. It's around this point where the comparisons (Mulan and The Song of Achilles) will suddenly make sense.

"She was always going to be expelled into that world of chaos and violence – of greatness and nothingness."

While She Who Became the Sun has been favorably compared to other novels, I should also mention that it is also so much more than that. This is not a retelling by any means, and it is important to keep that in mind. Retellings are often restricted due to their very nature. There is none of that here, and the risks Shelly Parker-Chan takes pay off.

Thanks to Tor Books and #NetGalley for making this book available for review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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Reading updates

  • Started reading
  • 2 August, 2021: Finished reading
  • 2 August, 2021: Reviewed