Shelley Parker Chan's She Who Became the Sun

Shelley Parker Chan's She Who Became the Sun: The Extraordinary born out of the Ordinary

by Akanksha Kinwaar

*Spoiler free review*

“She saw someone who seemed neither male nor female, but another substance entirely: something wholly and powerfully of its own kind. The promise of difference made real.”

There is always an incessant quest for patterns in life. The patterns that make us realise our self-worth, the ones that make us capable of doing what we want and the ones that ignite the fire within us. In this world full of unpredictable circumstances, it’s a matter of moments that can turn one into someone unknown. The greater the hurdle, the more the longing to get to a place where resilience becomes the best way to cope with people around. In a civilization that believes in the trap of greatness through violence and destruction, there are not many who acknowledge that peace can be established by better means.

“She was always going to be expelled into that world of chaos and violence—of greatness and nothingness”

Through She Who Became the Sun, Shelley Parker Chan brings back the era when China fell under the harsh Mongol rule and the stringent times when birth of a male child was a celebration but  birth of a female, a trouble. In this era there are two children left by bandits to survive on their own. Zhu Chongba, who is supposedly the lucky eighth-born child, soon dies. His sister, carrying her brother’s identity, arrives at a monastery in his place.  Zhu prepares herself, evolves herself and grabs the power she was supposed to take hold of.

‘She had kneeled there for four days, eating nothing, drinking only rainwater. Now she reached for her very last strength. And the boy who had been the Zhu family’s second daughter said, clearly enough for Heaven to hear, “My name is Zhu Chongba.”’

‘Belief’ is as powerful as the word power itself, both that help hold on to the catastrophes that life throws and turn and toss them into opportunities. The fate run in the aftermath of the hardship teaches powerful lessons of life. Zhu Chongba in this novel is a manifestation of how courageous, strong, and dedicated a woman can be under any circumstances. This book has a lot of elements that can construct a stream of raw emotions. The poetic gesture from the beginning is well enough to grab the attention of the ones reading it.

Like the sun bestows light and life, like the sun symbolises power, vitality, honour and prominence and like the sun rises against all odds, the metaphorical exemplification of the main protagonist is praiseworthy and apt. The passive growth of Zhu in contrast with the plot development is quite creative. In fact, when Zhu comes to desire a woman in her circle, we get a fuller portrait of how queer lives might have been lived in 14th century China. The fantasy viewpoints of Parker-Chan’s story don’t comprise making the world of 14th-century China under Mongol rule more equitable; the new Zhu Chongba first tries to survive as a monk and then as a fighter, without appearing to be anything other than a boy, and later a man. The way Zhu finds herself and her unseen potential is inspiring.

“Inside her, there was only the perfect, blank brightness of belief and desire. Desire is the cause of all suffering. The greater the desire, the greater the suffering, and now she desired greatness itself. With all her will, she directed the thought to Heaven and the watching statues: Whatever suffering it takes, I can bear it.”

Shelley Parker Chan is an Australian author who became addicted to epic East Asian historical TV dramas but the language being a barrier she couldn’t find any English versions of such amazing stories. The idea of reading more, learning more, and understanding more led her to write her novels and she accomplished it with this stunner of a debut book, She Who Became the Sun.

As she says, this book was a result of many ideas shared among her and her friends who were all confused about where to begin and where to go. But then beautiful imaginations lead people to their dream path and then ultimately to the dream. 

With this historical fantasy-fiction, described as ‘Mulan meets The Song of Achilles', Shelley has reimagined history with empowering women and LGBTQ touch based on and around the Ming dynasty. 

To be honest, this book is quite intense and exhilarating to read. And on top of all that, if you are into epic fantasies or like watching movies or shows of the same genre, this might be a good fit for anyone to read and enjoy.

- Akanksha Kinwaar

To read more article written by Akanksha Kinwaar - CLICK HERE


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