She Who Became the Sun
Maya Somogyi Reviews "She Who Became the Sun"
Zhu Chongba in Shelley Parker-Chan’s She Who Became the Sun must maintain her role at her monastery as one of the male disciples, trick the men in her army into giving her respect, and above all, sustain her masquerade before the watchful eyes of Heaven as ‘Zhu Chongba,’ the stolen identity of her dead brother. Has it been mentioned that she can see ghosts? The spirits that accompany Zhu Chongba and tie her inextricably to the eunuch general, Ouyang, seem to signify her possession of power or perhaps, the flimsy veneer of her facade which might fail at any moment and leave her to her original fate: death. Zhu Chongba utterly emanates power. In beautifully prosaic writing, her hard-won ascension could not be more satisfying to read. Her stunning comprehension of political machinations and ability to change the tides of fate with nothing more than sheer determination glue your eyes to the page.
The novel takes its readers through incredible, vivid descriptions of its setting, whether it’s the squalor of Zhu Chongba’s childhood home or the harshness of the Mongol and Yuan battlefields. In its nuanced depiction of female and male spaces, Shelley Parker-Chan’s wuxia-inspired Historical Fantasy novel stretches genre boundaries with its unabashed embrace of queerness. Part of Zhu Chongba’s power, after all, is that she is not wholly a woman or man. In a foil to Zhu Chongba’s character and experience with gender, General Ouyang cannot be accepted entirely into male spaces for his eunuch nature and reviles all things female. His desire for Prince Esen contradicts his filial duty to kill him as a member of the dynasty that murdered his family. The tragedy of General Ouyang is that he cannot help but contradict himself. It is in his nature, his duty, and his fate. The parallel between Zhu Chongba’s glorious rise to power and the slow dissolution of everything General Ouyang holds dear creates thrilling contrast as readers wonder who to root for. In essence, you should read this book!