She Who Became the Sun — Shelley Parker-Chan
|The first thing I noticed about She Who Became the Sun, aside from the fierce title and cover, was the prose. The book seduced me with its prose early on, and I knew it would be golden from the first page. There is a certain distance between the writing and the story, one that avoids going overboard on sentimentality but still preserves the depth of the characters and the journeys they find themselves on. This balance worked really well for me, because while so many things are going on, we never lose sight of the characters or what is at stake. We feel it all the time, through the MCs, through the vast world the author has created.|
It’s a massive feat writing characters who are morally gray, even (more than) occasionally swerving into morally repulsive, and still root for them to finish their journeys. Especially since there is a certain detachment to the writing—some people just die, lol, and that’s it—that avoids having too much emotion but evokes ALL OF IT it all the same.
You start off with a black-and-white world (Zhu is a starving villager who had to assume her brother’s identity to survive, so it’s easy to see who the “bad guy” is—society, the patriarchy, the empire, whatever), but as you read, you find there is no real antagonist; just two MCs on opposite sides of a war, blind to each other’s struggles. Okay, maybe the patriarchy is still the villain.
The world surrounding the characters is immense. There is no other way to describe it. There are a lot of politics the reader is privy to, epic battles told in detail, and expectations on a societal, familial, and personal level. Even the struggles of each character are immense. No one does anything for fun in this book, lol, as every action is taken as a step towards a perceived destiny. I enjoyed the epic scale of the writing that, without being overly sentimental, ended up becoming quite an emotional read.
She Who Became the Sun was such fire, and I basically only put it down to sleep. Definitely a top read of the year for me.
Key words to help you decide: historical fantasy, multiple (third-person) POVs, destiny, morally gray characters, coming-of-age, gender & identity, Chinese-inspired fantasy, dark fantasy, epic battles, beautiful prose