Tag Archives: shelley parker-chan

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.

She Who Became the Sun

Whaaaaaat a book.

And yes, I am incredibly late to this party, since Parker-Chan was nominated for the Best Novel Hugo this year (losing to A Desolation Called Peace, by Arkady Martine, a massive favourite of mine so I’m glad I didn’t have to choose…).

This novel is just brilliant. One thing I will say is that it was a bit different from what I expected – which is entirely about me, not about the book. Because of the Hugo nomination, and my genre-leaning friends, I was expecting this to be a book with greater, or more obvious, fantastical elements. Nothing about the book itself made me think that! Parker-Chan’s bio says she was inspired by “epic East Asian historical TV dramas”, and my knowledge of such is below limited (although I am an Australian kid of the 80s and 90s, so does the original Monkey count?).

ANYWAY. It’s 1345, China is ruled by the Mongols – who think the ethnic Chinese are all barbarians, and vice versa. There’s famine in the south; two children in a family are told their destiny: he is bound for greatness, she is bound for nothing. But then he dies, which means his destiny is going wanting… so she decides to become him…

Epicness ensues as Zhu gets caught up in events far beyond what she imagined as a child. First as a monk, then as a warrior and a leader; always worried that heaven might catch on to the fact that the destiny she is grasping was not, actually, intended for her at all. She teeters on the precipice of failure and discovery – not sure which is worse – and sometimes through luck, more often through her intelligence and grit and sheer bloody-mindedness, she ploughs on through…

I believe this is a duology, and honestly the next one cannot come fast enough (which is rich, given how late I am to the party). The pacing was excellent, the stakes were high, Zhu is mighty and charismatic. The supporting cast are varied and intriguing – Parker-Chan writes a significant portion of the story from the other side, as it were: what’s going on in the Mongol camp, particularly from the perspective of a Chinese captive-risen-to-general, which gives the entire novel even more drama and intensity, emotion and high stakes.

What a book.