Wednesday, January 31, 2024

He Who Drowned the World by Shelley Parker-Chan: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

He Who Drowned the World by Shelley Parker-Chan

He Who Drowned the World concludes The Radiant Emperor duology that began with She Who Became the Sun. The first book was so brilliant that when it came time to read the sequel, I postponed it for months in fear that it wouldn’t live up to the first. I shouldn’t have worried.

In the second book, Zhu Chongba, the orphan girl turned a boy monk who assumed her brother’s destiny along with his name and gender, has become the Radiant King, Zhu Yuanzhang. But she has a long way to go to defeat the Mongols and becoming the emperor. She has the Heavenly Mandate, but she isn’t the only one and the fight for the throne is fierce.

A battle after a battle follows. Zhu Yuanzhang is outnumbered, but she is resourceful and she has an unexpected—and unwilling—ally, the eunuch general Ouyang who is driven by his need to revenge his father and kill the Great Khan. The two are mirrors of each other, in their destinies and the perceived wrongness of their bodies, but only Zhu is willing to accept it.

The journey to the throne is difficult and unexpected. The death of the Great Khan isn’t what Ouyang imagined, and the Great Khan Zhu has to face isn’t who she thought he would be either. But after all the death and sacrifices, after believing she would do anything for her destiny, Zhu learns in the end that there is a sacrifice she isn’t willing to make.

This was a great book. It’s heavy on war campaigns and court intrigue, which aren’t my favourites, but the attention is always on the characters, which makes everything interesting. The contenders for the throne aren’t nice people and some of their fates are well-deserved, but the reader still feels sympathy for them. And after disliking Ma in the first book, she rose to be my favourite.

Nevertheless, this wasn’t the mind-blowing experience of the first book. Zhu Yuanzhang has assumed her role as a man so thoroughly it doesn’t cause any internal problems for her, not even when she has to pretend to be a woman. She even thinks of herself as her unlike in the first book.

But she isn’t quite as single-minded as in the first book either, driven by fear of being found out. She grows with her experiences, and learns to question the sacrifices and her destiny, which culminates in the perfect final scene. Had it gone any other way, I would’ve been seriously disappointed. Now I can imagine that as the first emperor of the Ming dynasty she would’ve been both fierce and compassionate.

I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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