He Who Drowned the World, by Shelley Parker-Chan

Read courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher, Tor Books. It’s out in August 2023.

Vicious, and savage; heart-wrenching, distressing, stunning, and shocking; twisty, and relentless, and deeply powerful.

Pretty much what you’d expect after She Who Became The Sun, although possibly More. Just… more.

Do not read this without She Who Became the Sun. You definitely want to read She Who Became; and this will make no sense without that first book.

Zhu appears to be on her way to becoming emperor. There are some seemingly insurmountable obstacles in her way, but she’s already overcome several of those in her life so why should these be any different? Of course, you should be expecting the unexpected when it comes to Parker-Chan’s treatment of her characters: so there are unexpected alliances and betrayals, unexpected deaths and survivals, and overall an utterly relentless and at time frightening drive from Zhu to claim her destiny. The question is frequently asked: is it worth it? And I’m not so sure of the answer.

Something I really appreciated about this as a sequel is the fact that all of the main characters were set up in the first book. They are greatly enhanced here – in particular, Madam Zhang and General Zhang are given much greater space and, fittingly, Madam Zhang becomes a point of view character. The other opponents who had more characterisation in the first, especially Ouyang and Baoxiang, continue to develop and have their motivations and experiences explored. Of Zhu’s allies, Xu and Ma get some more space, but honestly it’s really all about the enemies.

My one neg is that just occasionally, it did feel like there was too much time spent on the pain and existential crises of some of the characters. Of course part of the point of the story is questioning the lengths to which someone will go to for revenge / to get what they believe they’re owed / and so on, and sometimes that has required them to do truly dreadful things. But a couple of times it felt like there was too much focus on the pain felt by some characters, such that it became a bit repetitive and nearly undercut the rawness and enormity of the emotion – because it was overstated.

However, overall this is another truly amazing book from Parker-Chan. I hate to say it but I can’t wait to see what they do next… and I only hate to say it because it must feel really weird, and slightly distressing, to try and follow up this epic duology.

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