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She Who Became the Sun    by Shelley Parker-Chan order for
She Who Became the Sun
by Shelley Parker-Chan
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2021 (2021)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Shelley Parker-Chan's She Who Became the Sun is a fantasy retelling of the founding of the Ming Dynasty in ancient China (previously under Mongol rule). It opens in 1345 in Southern Henan where readers share the extremely harsh early life of the lead, the Zhu family's second daughter.

The harvest has failed for the third time and the villagers starve, especially the useless daughters - all the others in the village have died. The Zhu daughter slaves for her father and brother Chongba, trapping lizards for meals. On her brother's birthday, their father takes them to a fortune teller who predicts greatness for Chongba and nothing for his sister.

After bandits kill her father and her brother dies as well, the girl assumes her brother's identity. Through sheer stubbornness, she gets herself accepted in a monastery and wins a friend in fellow novice Xu Da. When Mongols (led by eunuch general Ouyang) destroy the monastery, brilliant monk Zhu joins the rebels and gradually moves up through their ranks, determined at any cost to not end up as nothing. Da, who guessed her secret long before, aids her.

With an end-justifies-means approach, Zhu navigates rebel politics and not only survives, but prospers. She falls hard for rebel General Ma's daughter Xiuying, who believes Zhu to be male. Though Xiuying ultimately returns Zhu's love, she cannot soften the monk's power hungry ambition to rule the world. Zhu has further encounters with Ouyang, with whom he/she feels some empathy. And Ouyang also plays a long game, with revenge as its goal.

She Who Became the Sun is an extraordinary read, showing one born the lowest of the low, who yet rises to win the Mandate of Heaven.

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