This book was new to me and came as as my first recommendation in my My B’s Emporium subscription. I had previously heard of Shelley Parker-Chan but will admit, had never picked up this novel before as it didn’t fall into my typical ‘fantasy’ trope.
I’m certainly glad that Mr B’s sent this through as it was full of surprises and a book I would definitely recommend.
This story is based within the time of the Ming dynasty. The Ming dynasty, or the Great Ming as it is also known, was an imperial dynasty of China. Ruling from 1368 to 1644, this novel follows the collapse of the Mongolian led Yuan dynasty. It is a wonderfully immersive read that will show you a whole new perspective of the warring dynasties of China and its history.
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In a poverty-stricken village and facing starvation, two children are given their fates. A boy, named Zhu Chongba, is fated for a destiny of greatness, while the girl is to become nothing. Fighting for her life, the girl carves out her own destiny; becoming a key player within the destruction & rebuilding of an empire.
“There are no kind solutions to cruel situations”– SHELLEY PARKER-CHAN
The beginning of this story introduces us to our main character. We do not know her name but later, we know her as Zhu Chongba. Yes I appreciate I have given away a small nugget of information here however, it’s very hard not to let that slip when it is so crucial to this story!
Zhu Chongba clutches onto a destiny of greatness. A destiny of such magnitude it is all consuming and her being refuses to accept any other outcome other than what has been foretold for another. As Zhu leaves her small village and heads to a monastery, we begin to see the start of the character development.
Shelley Parker-Chan continually refers to Zhu as female which, aside from the obvious, is a clever foreshadowing of Zhu’s own realisation and alignment later in the book. With an overarching “believe in yourself” and “remember who you are & who you are not”, it is a strong thread woven throughout the character’s development which breaks this all consuming belief of one destiny and shifts it towards another. The way in which Parker-Chan has described this deep sense of fear rooted in carving out Zhu’s destiny is powerfully written. Particularly as you watch this unfold and Zhu’s realisation of her own identity and own destiny as they begin to come through. I really enjoyed the messaging here and felt that this was especially prominent for this day-and-age where so many of us are striving to carve out our own unique story.
Love does bloom in this story and it takes shape differently to your typical romantic trope. There are no frills but more of a grounding with a realistic take on how love can blossom. I had a soft spot for our love interest Ma. Her character was strong but delicate and does have a heart of gold. With key players repping for the LGBTQ community, I loved the diversity and inclusivity of this book. It challenges something that as an historical event, so many of us know as predominantly male and ‘rigid’. No pun intended there…
This book is full of extremes and typicals with some very interesting characters. Our villain, General Ouyang, who is on the outside of the Mongol collective he so dearly reveres and holds onto so tightly as his identity, is a complex character. I enjoyed the warring of two versions of himself and really felt the hatred and self-loathing this character exhibits.
Another interesting moment in this book for me was one character’s assessment of another. General Zhangs’ wife so easily displaying the truth for General Ouyang is harsh, cold and calculating. It is also like a breath of fresh air. Throughout the story you feel that you tiptoe around a very obvious point as General Ouyang refuses to acknowledge something so crucial to his own development until someone finally lays it out on the cold metaphorical stone for him to see, hear and feel. This was fabulously written and timed perfectly within the book.
The fantasy element of this book, although minor, was fascinating.
Now – spoiler alert here! -…
Zhu can see, hear and feel ghosts. We are exposed to this very early on in the story and it begins in her village when she not only feels them but sees them. Ghosts are also key features within Chinese monk practices and beliefs and when Zhu arrives at the monastery, she is already sensing their presence. As the story develops, her exposure to ghosts only increases, especially around the darker or more villainous characters within the book. The reasoning for seeing ghosts isn’t truly explored which makes me believe that this will be further developed in the forthcoming sequel.
I really enjoyed this story although at time, did find myself opting to put it down. I wasn’t fully gripped by it however, this could have purely been down to being affected as a mood-reader.
I’ve upped the rating since I posted on Instagram after having some time to reflect on this book so my new rating is 4 stars. And they are well deserved.
Rating: ★★★★/5 stars
As always, happy reading.