Review: She Who Became the Sun

Review: She Who Became the Sun

Rating: 5 out of 5.

*I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

In 1345, China was under Mongol rule. For the starving Zhu family where only three members remain, their eight-born son, Zhu Chongba, is destined for greatness, a feat only capable by the few. But nothing is said for their daughter. When a bandit attack results in Zhu Chongba’s death, his sister takes on her brother’s identity to enter a monastery. There, in this alternate-history, she takes her opportunity to achieve what her brother failed to do: survive, and take control of a fate that would see her be nothing. 

Judging from other early reviews, my expectations were through the roof. Pitched as Mulan meets The Song of Achilles and while that is a fair comparison, I just feel like there must be some other way to describe this. I’m quite literally speechless. I don’t think one book has ever shot up my all-time favourites list so quickly. Usually, I let a book marinate on my mind before casting a final judgment, but She Who Became the Sun didn’t need to wait. It was that good. 

This book stands out because its character, each crafted and built to perfection, while not being entirely perfect. Zhu’s determination to survive is intense. Her peers at the monastery are confused by her actions, but what they don’t know is that she also has the ability to see ghosts, which loom over her in silent judgement. There is a cost to pay in her decisions, and she takes them head-on regardless of the reaction she knows she’ll inevitably receive because in the end, she knows what she wants and that is to rule. She might have been fated to be nothing, but she determined to let nothing stop her from achieving the goal her brother should have done. She is this perfect balance of driven and powerful while also being rather cheeky and very sweet.  Zhu’s storyline introduces us to Xu Da, a fellow monk, who Zhu comes to see as her own family. Later, you’ll meet Ma, a young woman whose fierce compassion takes a toll within the backdrop of war and power-plays.

The story chronicles Zhu’s journey from monk to the leader of the rebellion against China’s Mongol rulers. But we also see the opposition in the form of eunuch Ouyang, a feared general who tore Zhu’s future apart and set him on a path that makes them intertwined. I was enthralled by his character the most. But the relationship between Ouyang and Esen, the prince of Henan, is so complex, considering the history behind them. Esen is much more optimistic than Ouyang, and can never seem to understand why his friend would keep his distance. The tension between them is just perfect. 

The writing is so atmospheric, you could feel the impact of the landscape resonate with each character. Especially with Zhu as you witness her climb from a nameless child close to death to a well-rounded leader with men of her own. A child with no hope to a monk that can rally the people of this war torn land to her words. Also, I loved the nuanced exploration of gender identity, and how Parker-Chan does not shy away from anything. For anyone wondering, this is from the author: [Zhu] is assigned female at birth (but doesn’t identify as female), and [Ouyang] is assigned male at birth and identifies as male (with a gender nonconforming appearance). [Goodreads] I used she/her pronouns for Zhu as reflected in the novel. 

Overall, She Who Became the Sun is one story you must watch out for. It’s bold, imaginative and highly thrilling. A fantastic reimagining of the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty.


Review: Descendant of the Crane

Review: Descendant of the Crane

Rating: 5 out of 5.

*I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

Determined to find her father’s killer, Princess Hesina of Yan does the unthinkable. She seeks out the help of a soothsayer, treason under her own country’s law. Using the information provided by the sooth, Hesina frees a convicted criminal and names him her defender. The future of Yan now lies in Hesina’s action to make her stake and defend it well. As Hesina’s journey for justice grows darker, finding the truth maybe be complicated when everything she knows may well be all lies. 

My first thoughts when I finished this book was indescribable. I cannot get over how blown away I was with this book. This is a new forever favourite. We are barely a month into 2021, and I feel like I should already be making my Favourite Reads of 2021, with this book at the very top of the list: the story, the characters, the world, like damn. The way the author writes had me on my toes for quite a decent amount of the journey. The sheer twists and drama in this book had me incoherent and for once actually shocked. Joan He really said, I’m going to write a book that will put any book you will ever read to shame.

Hesina is soon to be named Queen of Yan, but the nagging feeling that her father’s death was not natural haunts her. Knowing her actions could get her killed, her attempts to bring her father to justice will also shine a light on her country’s own past. Centuries before, the relic emperors were overthrown by a group of outlaws called the Eleven. The emperors of the past used soothsayers for their biddings, but when the Eleven defeated them, their people were immediately expunged, now in hiding across the country. The Eleven gathered their philosophies into the Tenets which have continued to be followed centuries later. And for Hesina, any hope for a better world means bringing down everything before her. 

The story was just one big sucker-punch after the other. Only when you think you know what was going on, another twist, another secret comes crashing in, throwing Hesina off her trajectory. The court dramas, both law and royal, was fantastical. Everything was just unique and brilliant. I loved how determined Hesina is from the very start, and that headstrong attitude does not give up, even when the story takes a much dark turn. She is Yan’s queen, and she will defend it so. Even when she’s given the easy way out, she pushes through in pursuit of knowledge and truth. 

A Queen is not without her court, and I am in awe of her brilliant the rest of the characters were. Especially the dynamics between Hesina and her other siblings. She has her brother, Sanjing, their relationship tense due to her close companionship with her adopted siblings, Caiyan and Lillian. There is also her half-brother, Rou, who she has kept distant from because it reminds her of her parents’ distance. Akira is our convict turned ally who has more secrets than Hesina could count. No one knows what to expect, but I expected more from him. I loved his character and presence, but it felt a little out of place within the general story, mostly because he’s hidden from us for so long. The way they all interact and come together in the story was so captivating. 

If you take anything from this review, let it be putting this one on your TBR because it genuinely is worth the time. As of writing, there are no plans for the author to continue the story but what we have here is more than enough. Hesina’s journey for justice is hauntingly beautiful. The book pushes through its rocky start, and He’s creativity knows no limit as the story continues. Descendant of the Crane does not give up, and you’ll enjoy every moment of it.


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Review: Cemetery Boys

Review: Cemetery Boys

Rating: 5 out of 5.

When Yadriel accidentally summons the ghost of school bad boy, Julian Diaz, instead of his missing cousin, he’s stuck with a ghost who refuses to leave. So now he’s left with Julian as he navigates the days leading up to the day of the dead and proving to his traditional Latinx family that he is a real brujo. Yadriel is a gay trans boy who struggles to get his family to accept him as a brujo, even as far as partaking in the ceremony alone. Everything is going smoothly until his cousin mysteriously passes away, and no one in his family can find his body. So Yadriel takes it upon himself to find his cousin’s spirit and help him cross over, securing his position as a brujo. But his plans prove difficult when Julian is determined to find out what happened to him as well. The countdown begins as the two boys must work together before Dia de Los Muertos to find the truth. 

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Review: The Burning God (The Poppy War #3)

Review: The Burning God (The Poppy War #3)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

*I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

This review will be spoiler-free for The Burning God, but will mention content that will be spoiler-ish to the two previous books in the series, The Poppy War and The Dragon Republic.

Betrayed once again, Rin returns home to the southern provinces of Nikara and begins to take her own stand for her future. The people of the South are fighting two battles: one with the stranded Mugen soldiers and another with the Dragon Warlord. Rin can help, but she faces even more difficulty as the Southern Coalition aren’t too happy with her arrival. But the common people rise behind her, and she quickly realises that power is within the people who are done with being treated as fodder. But will Rin be strong enough to resist the Phoenix who calls for her to burn the world, along with everyone she loves with it? As she begins to grow her army, Rin must make her final stand against the Hesperians, or lose her country to colonisers once again.

I remember reading TPW for the first time back in 2018. It was exhilarating and one of the best books I had ever read. (Still is one of the best books I’ve ever read.) Kuang makes her mark with this series, and in this finale, the stakes are higher than ever before. And I can now confirm that The Poppy War trilogy is one of the best series I have ever had the privilege to read. This trilogy is just pain in three acts. Not one of the books falter, and Rin’s story remains incredible and deeply saddening at the same time.

Continue reading “Review: The Burning God (The Poppy War #3)”

Review: The Dragon Republic (The Poppy War #2)

Review: The Dragon Republic (The Poppy War #2)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

After causing the fall of Mugen and the ending the Third Poppy War, Rin is on the run. Hiding from her vengeful god, who rises to wreak havoc, hiding from the Empress who sold out her country, while plotting her revenge. But the Cike is a only a few numbers and with no other options, Rin must join the Dragon Warlord, who plans to remove the Empress and establish a brand new Republic. Struggling to control her power, Rin throws herself into the democratic turmoil, learning that the Empress holds darker secrets than she first anticipated and the Dragon Warlord’s beliefs are not what she expected. She might have ended the Third War, but another is about to begin and Rin will do anything to exact her revenge.

I had put off reading The Dragon Republic for so long. After reading the emotional turmoil that was The Poppy War back in 2018, my anticipation for its sequel, The Dragon Republic, was sky high. Life got in the way and a pandemic finally gave me time to read its sequel in time for the finale. The Poppy War was a wild fire start, burning from the first page. We witnessed Rin grow from a young child, unaware of her past to a young adult, that quite literally lit the world on fire. The Dragon Republic continues straight from the aftermath of TPW, Rin is tired and confused, while also battling the literal god that resides within her. She had ended the Mugen Federation overnight, but now she must face the consequences, and prepare for her next move: killing the Empress. Which is hard enough when her band of friends are labelled enemies of the Nikan Empire, and Rin struggles to control herself without the use of opium.

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Review: The Kingdom of Copper

Review: The Kingdom of Copper

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Years after the aftermath of The City of Brass, Nahri continues her power struggle with the King of Daevabad as she forges her own path without the guidance of her closest friends. Slowly, she begins to embrace her lost heritage, but one misstep can doom her tribe forever. Meanwhile, Ali, far from home in exile, continues to live on, defying his father’s orders. Hunted by assassins, he is forced to rely on his own new abilities, but a long-kept secret of his family is causing devastating effects. As the djinns begin to celebrate the new century, a brand new force threatens to topple Daevaebad’s strong brass standing.

I stand by this statement now: the Kingdom of Copper is the best book of the trilogy. To say a lot happens is an understatement. Five years after Ali is exiled and Dara is presumed dead to all, Nahri is left mostly on her own, now married to Ali’s older brother, Muntadhir, and despite all her bargaining for her dowry, she is still trapped under the thumb of the Al-Qahtani family. My biggest fear for Kingdom was the possibility it could fall victim to becoming the bridge book. But building upon the already mindboggling web of events and rules of the Daevabad universe, Kingdom outshines its predecessor by a mile and a half.

The rich and intricate history that Chakraborty has created is SO mind-blowingly good. Each book is this story is quite a hefty read, but you feel the impact. The djinn have long existed before Nahri’s time, and it shows. Their power struggles, wrongdoings and mistakes, the history is felt through every page. I truly felt for Nahri, who was raised in the human realm, because I felt overwhelmed by the detail laid out on every page. The magic system, myths, history and culture, has evident importance to the story and nothing is mention for no reason, everything has a meaning and impact on every character’s life.

Now we go onto our cast of characters, where do you even begin? Nahri has grown up a lot since Brass. I felt like in the first book; she was a little too backed up into a corner, given little to no information about her past so her struggles can come across as quite frustrating to readers. But in Kingdom, she is in better control of her life, despite the restriction. My heart soared when she discovered the abandoned hospital and slowly watching her plan to rebuild and create a space where the djinn and shafit (half-human/djinn offsprings) alike can have access to medical care. But no one willing to help her achieve such plans. Then comes Ali, our castaway prince, who begrudgingly returns to his family. He thrives a lot out of the comfort of his royal court, and it’s a shame we didn’t see more of their world outside of Daevabad. I think Kingdom consolidated Ali as my favourite character of the series. His pious disregard to the dark side of the court business made him quite a different character to Nahri, who is continuously using her con-artist skills to her benefit. Kingdom also shines a stronger light on the Al-Qahtani siblings, especially Muntadhir, Ali’s hot-headed older brother who is now married to Nahri. The two have resigned themselves to a loveless marriage of convenience, but the pair have an excellent working relationship. While they don’t see each other as trustworthy partners, they aren’t enemies either. They realise they’re both in miserable circumstances and they have to work together in order to get through it all. I came to really love Muntadhir in this book. And finally, Dara. I wasn’t too sure on his character in the first book but, just like Muntadhir, I come to understand and appreciate him here. You feel for him as he tries to do what is best, but he has no choice but to make unethical choices, guided by another. Ghassan and Manizeh are given so much more depth than the predecessor book.

Overall, I absolutely recommend the Daevabad series. Chakraborty returns to her sweeping universe with an absolute bang, giving us a compelling sequel that takes you on a wild, magical journey. What I loved the most about Kingdom was the characterisation of everyone, hero and villain alike. With raised tensions and higher stakes, this fantasy series ranks very high on my list.


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Resources on the Black Lives Matter movement, and what you can do to support basic human rights:
https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co

Resources for UK citizens:
https://blm.crd.co/ (Specifically aimed towards UK & Ireland citizens)
– Black Lives Matter UK (https://blacklivesmatter.com/)
– Show Racism The Red Card (https://www.theredcard.org/)
– Runnymede (https://www.runnymedetrust.org/)
– Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust (https://www.stephenlawrence.org.uk/ab…)