Monday, 24 January 2022

Christmas 2021 Audiobook - She Who Became The Sun

I finished this a few days before Christmas (hence why I classed this as a Christmas review). I wanted to get a few titles (two or three) read before Christmas and New Year's Eve that I have promised publishers I would do. As you all know, if you follow me on my socials (mainly Goodreads and Twitter), I am useless at requesting a story in any form and then making a prompt review. They are always late, but I hoped that, over the Christmas period, I could at least attempt to have a few titles - bought, borrowed or requested - ready for 2022, hence why I decided to have a slightly longer blog break over the Christmas period. 

And so, here we are. 

Title And Author: She Who Became The Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

Publisher: Mantle

Bought, Borrowed or Gifted: eProof gifted by UK publisher via NetGalley in exchange for honest review/reaction while Audiobook’s borrowed from local library via BorrowBox app. 

I'm not sure how to write a blurb for this title so, bear with me. Set in 14th century China, two children's futures have been revealed. The boy is promised greatness, the girl nothing. But when the boy dies, the girl makes a snap decision to survive: she takes her brother's identity and joins a monastery as a young male novice. Her need to survive burns deep within her and she is willing to do anything to keep herself hidden and to live. 

But when the monastery is destroyed, she makes another decision. She decides to not only claim her dead brother's identity but his abandoned, foretold greatness as well.
I definitely seem to be in the minority with this. Everyone I know and who I trust in book-sphere love this grimdark (a subgenre of fantasy that has a dark, violence to it in either tone, setting or style) historical fantasy, re-imagining of the rise to power of the Hongwu Emperor in the 14th century. 

And yet, it didn't work for me. 

Don't get me wrong. There were many aspects of this that I loved and are the main reasons why I am very, very tempted to read the upcoming sequel (I believe this is a duology, but might be wrong): how the story looks at gender, sexuality, politics, how far a person will go to survive, a look at Asian and queer masculinity. And the writing - ok, the writing might be a bit flowery and purple prose for some people, but the writing is one of this book's strongest assists. 

But - now, here is my biggest problem - this book is very character driven, and because of this, it takes time for the plot to come forward, which slows the book down at the start. The middle suffers the most as things get really bogged down, and it takes a long while before the book picks up the pace. I was listening to the audiobook and I had to up the speed on it to nearly double (I never up it to 2x as I can barely keep up). I get why - character driven story with ever-changing politics and this is where the book really looks into gender and sexual identity, which means the pace has to be slower, but I wish the book could do this while keeping the pace and the tension. 

Saying that, though, I do like how this book does tackle the issues of gender politics, sexuality, gender identity. Like I said earlier, this is one aspect of the book I really liked and made this fantasy feel different (to me as a cis gay white male. I would be very intrigued to see how trans and non binary reviewers read this book and their thoughts and feelings to this). 

While I see why so many of you guys love this, I fear I have to admit that this isn't completely for me. Though, like I said earlier, I am tempted to read the sequel as the end of the book and the direction this is going intrigues me...

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