Coming very highly recommended, I didn’t like this novel as much as I expected to.
This novel is a reimagining of the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty in 12th century China, who in this telling, is a girl disguised as a man, married to a woman. She rose from poverty to assume her brother’s name and enter a monastery, and from there she became a general, until through grit, stubborn will, and a deep trust that it was her fate, she becomes emperor. She exhibits resilience, an intense desire to survive and be victorious, enough cunning to do whatever is necessary, and exceptional intelligence.
For me, too much of this book was war and more war, laced with lots of political intrigue. I honestly wasn’t invested enough in all that to relish it. Thankfully, however, most violence happens off stage.
And then there were so many difficult names, it was easy to get lost at times. Central to She Who Became the Sun are two opposing characters, who are both driven by their respective destinies. Zhu Chongba and Ouyang both have massively ambitious goals and their own circles of colleagues. Both are injured and obsessed, and oddly, you kind of root for them both. This book leaves you wondering how the sequel will flesh out what happens to them from here, although there is plenty of foreshadowing to give you a good idea.
Our main character advises, “Learn to want something for yourself, Ma Xiuying. Not what someone says you should want. Not what you think you should want. Don’t go through life thinking only of duty… why not make the most of the life you’re living now? The price is worth it.”
This elaborate fantasy is a new genre unto itself: a queer historical epic. Bellicose, pugnacious and power-hungry are words that come to mind regarding the deeds, if not the internal character, of this tenacious woman. It is an engrossing debut by this author. I give it four stars.