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.
... striking ... makes it official: it's a very, very good time to be a fantasy fan. A genre in which anything is possible should be a genre in which every story is told, and fantasy is finally starting to live up to that billin ... that's just the barest outline of a plot that includes ruthless political maneuvering, heart-rending betrayals, and brushes with a ghost-ridden spirit world that haunts Zhu throughout her travels ... The contrast between fierce, gritty Zhu and cold, self-hating Ouyang couldn't be more stark, but Parker-Chan flits between their two perspectives (and a few others) in a way that propels the jam-packed plot forward ... There's so much to like about She Who Became the Sun: the exploration of gender and sexuality, the sensuous romance, the vivid world-building, the flashes of tongue-in-cheek humor and human emotion set up against the epic plot. There are close, intimate scenes and climactic battle sequences that made me feel like I was watching a movie. For Zhu, failure to achieve her stolen fate of 'greatness' equals death, and her utter refusal to accept defeat makes the book flare with power. Original and absorbingly detailed, She Who Became the Sun explores the strength that we find within ourselves, and inspire in others, when we rebel against expectations and take fate into our own hands.
Parker-Chan’s gripping, subversive debut produced a nigh-on feral response in me, as if I’d been struck with a blunt but electrified instrument. I can’t overstate how much I appreciated reading an entire book propelled by the intense, grasping, often amoral desires of two queer protagonists whose deeply complicated relationships to gender and their bodies are center-stage. To plunge through a text with such an unapologetically genderqueer perspective felt like leaping into a cold river: percussive, stinging, a real rush. Better still, She Who Became the Sun pulls no punches with its gnawing ethical quandaries about the foundations of empire ... Dynamic and flexible prose skillfully balances the grand scope of the plot with the intimate details of each character’s life ... Whether juxtaposed as foils or allies, Ouyang and Zhu are an astounding pair of protagonists. The resonant connection that crackles between them on first sight is full of hunger—spectral, in the form of literal ghosts, but also personal.
... ambitious, sweeping ... In the book’s opening chapters, Parker-Chan masterfully balances poetry and tension, keeping the reader flying through the pages as they watch Zhu gain a foothold in life. Whether lugging around slopping washbasins or binding her breasts to prevent exposure, Zhu is sympathetic and resilient. Parker-Chan doesn’t establish Zhu’s male gender expression as merely a trick to survive; it is very much a part of her identity. When Zhu comes to desire a woman in her circle, we get a fuller portrait of how queer lives might have been lived in 14th-century China ... Though Ouyang’s characterization references old queer villain tropes, it’s rescued by the richness of other LGBTQ representation in this novel ... Scenes of kindness and compassion are nearly absent from She Who Became the Sun, and this restricted emotional range makes the long middle feel surprisingly stagnant, despite what ought to be juicy conflicts. Tonally, too, the poetic language of the book’s opening chapters feels less well-considered in its second half ... Despite these slight missteps, this is an important debut that expands our concept of who gets to be a hero and a villain, and introduces a pair of gender disruptors who are destined to change China – and the LGBTQ fantasy canon – forever.