She Who Became the Sun

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5
Author: Shelley Parker-Chan
Genres: Fantasy
Pub. Date: Jul. 2021 (read Nov. 2021)

I used to read so much fantasy. I loved getting lost in other worlds and getting to return to the same characters over and over again – it made for such an enjoyable reading experience for me. Unfortunately over the last few years, I feel like I’ve almost completely lost my ability to read fantasy. Learning about new worlds seems exhausting and the thought of having to follow a storyline over multiple books daunting. But every couple months I try a new fantasy book to see if I can overcome the slump.

I’ve been hearing a lot about She Who Became the Sun and I wanted to try at least one book nominated in the Goodreads Choice Award fantasy category, so I decided to go with this one. It started off great and I was really invested in Zhu’s character and thought her growth while at the monastery was really interesting. Then something dramatic happens between 15-20% and I was catapulted into a completely different story – it was engaging, but something about the storytelling and pacing just seemed off throughout the rest of the novel.

She Who Became the Sun takes place during the Ming Dynasty in 1345 China and centers around a poor, starving, young girl who steals her older brother’s fate and seeks refuge in a monastery – hiding her true identity and gender. Parts of this book are excellent – primarily the author’s exploration of gender roles, identity, and dysphoria. Initially I got strong Mulan vibes, but Zhu definitely becomes her own character throughout the course of the book. The premise was great and I was invested in Zhu’s character and journey. I found it a bit confusing keeping track of who was who, but there’s some really interesting history in here and it’s a time period I don’t know a lot about, so I really enjoyed that aspect.

Where I struggled is that the author never builds any momentum in the story. She would pick up the pace and energy in the narrative in each chapter, only to have it completely ramp back down in the following chapter. For some reason she chooses to skip over major events, often focusing more on the political side of things than the action. I love a book that has both, so I found this an odd choice. It was just lacking balance and it caused me to keep losing interest in the book whenever I would put it down.

This is the first book in a series – I’d like to think I will continue on with it, but I honestly suspect I won’t. Given that the second book doesn’t have a name or release date yet, I’m sure I will have forgotten all the major plot points by the time it’s released. I get the hype, but unfortunately it just wasn’t enough to raise me out of my fantasy slump. 3.5 stars – good premise and nice writing, but suffers pacing issues.

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