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 Ashley on

2.5 of 5 stars


This might be my biggest disappointment of 2021.

I know it's a little silly to have this hope/expectation ahead of time, but I thought She Who Became the Sun would be a new all time favourite of mine. I made that assumption based on the amazing premise and the early reviews that seemed to confirm that hope. As you can probably tell from my rating, that did not happen.

The book started out interesting enough, but after the first ~50 pages it just went straight downhill for me. I think the main problem I had was a complete lack of attachment. I felt like the whole book was at a distance, including characters and stakes. Things happened, but I didn't care. I wasn't invested or involved.

Everything felt very shallow. Instead of digging deep into the story, it felt like we got flashes here and there. Ultimately we got the overall picture, but it was made up of snippets of scenes, instead of actually being involved in the whole thing… if that makes sense. That made it very difficult to get invested and actually care about what was going on.

I never got attached to any of the characters—not even the main character. I just… didn't find her very interesting? That sucked. There's a bit of a romance between the MC and another character, and I wasn't interested in that either. I didn't think there was any chemistry at all.

And finally, there was so much repetition.

“I will find greatness.”
“The greatness!”
“She had claimed greatness.”

I kind of never want to see the word “greatness” again. It was all so literal.

I'm massively disappointed. Sigh.

Last modified on

Reading updates

  • 31 July, 2021: Started reading
  • 31 July, 2021: on page 0 out of 416 0%
  • 31 July, 2021: on page 30 out of 416 7%
  • 2 August, 2021: on page 150 out of 416 36%
  • 3 August, 2021: on page 220 out of 416 53%
  • 4 August, 2021: Finished reading
  • 4 August, 2021: Reviewed