She Who Became the Sun - Tor/Forge Blog



Six Bookish Betrayals to Beware on the Ides of March!

Caesar: “What sayst thou to me now? Speak once again.” 

Soothsayer: “Beware the Ides of March.”

Caesar: “He is a dreamer. Let us leave him. Pass.”

This snippet from Act 1, Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is quite famous. Often the clues that nod to a fate we don’t want to see are so clear, in retrospect. Even with this prophecy, Shakespeare’s subject perished in terrible surprise when he was betrayed by his besties. 

Here are six reading suggestions full of betrayals that you’ll never see coming!

the silverblood promise by james loganThe Silverblood Promise by James Logan

Ah, Saphrona! Fabled city of merchant princes! You can find anything you might like here, for a price, and loyalty? Well. That can be very cheap. Saphrona is the destination of Lukan Gardova, a disgraced noble scion on a quest to unravel the mysterious murder of his father. It’s a good thing Lukan is an excellent cheat in his own right (cardsharp) because in this investigation, a single lie could spell death. 

one for my enemy by olivie blakeOne for My Enemy by Olivie Blake

Sometimes love is betrayal. In this modern speculative reimagining of Romeo & Juliet, the two sparring factions are rival corners of the Manhattan magic underworld. The Antonova sisters are the daughters of the elusive chemical supplier Baba Yaga. The Federov brothers are the sons of the shadow kingpin Koschei the Deathless. 

To fall in love would constitute a betrayal of their families. To act for your family would be a betrayal of your lover. 

Uh oh. 

she who became the sun by shelley parker-chanShe Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

This book is actually the most amount of betrayal one can fit in a book, probably. There’s so much. Literally so much. Our protagonist Zhu’s engagement with both betrayal and murder is well above average, but General Ouyang is the real revenge warrior. His entire life is revenged and the only person he loves is his target. Ouch. 

Daughter of RedwinterDaughter of Redwinter by ed mcdonald by Ed McDonald

After so many shocking betrayals, here’s a new angle: Our main character Raine is the one doing the betraying. Kind of. Her primary goal is to accumulate power so she can stay alive, and she’s staying true to that, even if it means lying to everyone else. Here’s the thing: Raine can see the dead. Everyone around her would just hate that if they found out. Probably to a lethal degree. 

So they never will. 

the echo wife by sarah gaileyThe Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey

In marriage, you’re supposed to have your partner’s back. Evelyn’s husband goes behind her back when he steals her cloning research to create a gentler replicant of his wife. He’s the worst. Luckily, he’s soon dead. Evelyn and her clone, Martine, have a mess to clean. 

the three body problem by cixin liuThe Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

Sha stared at Wang for a long time and then nodded. “I understand. Strange things have been happening to scientists lately…” 

“Yes.” Wang ducked into the car. He didn’t want to discuss the subject any further. 

“Is it our turn?” 

“It’s my turn, at least.” Wang started the engine. 

The Trisolarans are coming. They have inside help. 

The Three-Body Problem will release soon as a Netflix series!


Twistory: History with a Twist

‘The past is in the past’ is a saying that, presumably at some point in the past, was said by somebody. But the past isn’t just in the past—not really. It’s also in a space outside of time, and even outside of actual space. It’s in books, and ironically, it’s not pre-written.

Novels twist the past into new stories, and we’ve got a list of great ones right here.

Kinningkinning by nisi shawl by Nisi Shawl

In her novel Everfair, Nisi Shawl imagined a new history, where technological innovations in the Congo gave a fledgling nation the resources and strength to challenge the tyrant Leopold II, a Belgian monarch and one of history’s bloodiest colonizers. In an alternate world where barkcloth airships soar through the sky, the nation of Everfair grapples with its identity in the wake of the Great War. Kinning chronicles the fight for the soul of Everfair to remain a beacon of hope and progress in the face of resistance both external and internal.

She Who Became the Sunshe who became the sun by shelley parker-chan by Shelley Parker-Chan

A reimagining of the rise of the Ming Dynasty, She Who Became the Sun follows a young girl whose brother is destined for greatness. Her brother is also dead, so in defiance of fate, she steals his identity, and his destiny. This is a story of betrayal, destiny, love, and lots and lots of betrayal. In the previous sentence, betrayal was mentioned twice. That was not a mistake. It’s the only way to properly evoke the potency of this book.

The First Bright Thingthe first bright thing by j r dawson by J. R. Dawson

Rin is a professional ringmaster who can jump through time, and her circus is a haven for the outcast and the magical. In the aftermath of World War I, times are tough, and the Circus of the Fantasticals is a welcome respite to audiences across the American midwest.But the present is not safe: There’s war in the future and Rin’s past stalks them in the form of a malevolent shadow circus.

Trouble the Saintstrouble the saints by alaya dawn johnson by Alaya Dawn Johnson

“Juju assassins, alternate history, a gritty New York crime story…in a word: awesome.” — N.K. Jemisin, New York Times bestselling author of The Fifth Season

In the dark glamor of New York city, an assassin tries to change her fate on the cusp of World War II. She was drawn from Harlem, bringing her knives to glittering Manhattan for work. She fell in love. She gave up on everything. The ghosts of the past never leave her side.

Ten years later, they show up on her doorstep.

The Frugal Wizard’s Handbook for Surviving Medieval Englandthe frugal wizard's handbook for surviving medieval england by brandon sanderson by Brandon Sanderson

Hard to twist history more than dropping a cost-conscious magic-user into the medieval past.


Books Tor Staff Are Thankful For <3

Where would we be without our books? is a tough question, and not just because we work for Tor. Before we were workers in publishing, we were people who enjoyed books, and we’re still that. We always will be.

In spirit of the season, here’s some of the books that Tor staff are thankful for this year.

one for my enemy by olivie blakeOne for My Enemy by Olivie Blake

Increasingly, I am becoming convinced of the singular importance of vibes, and its verb form, vibing. Vibing is a modification of everything else you do—it’s existing with intention and style. So I’m going to talk about now, a book with impeccable vibes, where rival witch dynasties compete for each other’s affections and dominance over Manhattan’s magical, criminal underworld. It’s One for My Enemy, and it vibes severely.

a cat, Assistant Marketing Manager

Image Place holder  of - 60He Who Drowned the World by Shelley Parker-Chan

I lost my entire mind about She Who Became the Sun back in 2021, so I spent a few months emotionally preparing myself for the emotional sledgehammer of He Who Drowned the World. What I wasn’t prepared for was how laugh-out-loud funny the contrast would be, flip-flopping between Zhu’s point of view (as she happily pursues her desired career path) and everyone else’s narration (angst, vengeance, wallowing in guilt and grief). Iconic, show-stopping, inimitable, unparalleled — I am grateful to Shelley Parker-Chan for simply existing in their awesomeness, for single-handedly writing the queer cdrama they wanted to see in the world, and for illustrating the principle that living well is, in fact, the best revenge. Ming Dynasty China will never be the same.

Yvonne Ye, Ad/Promo Coordinator

lent by jo waltonLent by Jo Walton

This year I am grateful for a book that kept me up way past my bedtime. Lent is full of twists, tormented monks, and demons, demons, demons. Read this fiendishly clever, fantastical take on historical fiction at your own peril and definitely not if you need to wake up early the next morning.

Merlin Hoye, Marketing Assistant

bookshops & bonedust by travis baldreeBookshops & Bonedust by Travis Baldree

This is the year of Travis Baldree. Legends & Lattes was my favorite book of 2022 and he knocked it out of the park once again with Bookshops & Bonedust. It was another perfect, cozy, sapphic fantasy novel with just an edge of bittersweet longing that had me clutching the book to my heart. I’m so grateful for the comfort and joy this book provided me with this year and I can’t wait to re-read this book again. And again. And again.

Rachel Taylor, Senior Marketing Manager

Starter Villainstarter villain by john scalzi by John Scalzi

Oh, to be able to read this book all over again with fresh eyes. Starter Villain by John Scalzi is such a fun, fast-paced romp that asks the very important, age-old question: what if my cats could talk (and also I was rich)? The cats would tell you to read this book about inheriting evil empires, unionizing dolphins, many (many) assassins, and one divorced substitute teacher who just wants to be able to keep his house.

Lizzy Hosty, Publishing Strategy Assistant

What books are you thankful for? Let us know in the comments! 


Tor Books’ Startlingly Specific Holiday Gift Guide

Do you hear that??

It’s the sweet, sweet sound of gifts and the necessity of buying them for all of the humans, animals, and unidentified entities in your life. That’s a lot of pressure, but don’t sweat, because we’ve got your back, and more importantly, we’ve got a ton of increasingly niche book recommendations to get you through the holiday season! Check them out here and let us know which ones you’re grabbing in the comments. 

by Rachel Taylor and a cat

Bookshops & Bonedust by Travis Baldree is for the treasured party member who’s saved your character’s life many times on TTRPG night


We all have That One Amazing Player who has pulled our butts out of the fictional fire on D&D night, and what better way to show your endless appreciation than with the gift of LITERATURE?! High fantasy, secondhand books, and first love–what more could you ask for?

Masters of Death by Olivie Blake is for the angsty goth who still wishes it was Halloween


So they’re in denial that it’s not Halloween anymore, but guess what?! In the unbroken face of eternity, time has no meaning! Every day is Halloween!

In the Lives of Puppets by TJ Klune is for the plucky traveler who’s got the whole world to see


There are many ways to see new and exciting worlds, and TJ Klune always provides queer and cozy adventures that you only need to pick up a book to explore. Consider picking up his latest venture for that friend who’s been bit by the travel bug!

Ebony Gate by Julia Vee & Ken Bebelle is for the action movie fanatic who owns a cardboard cutout of John Wick


Assassins, dragon magic, and Chinese diaspora urban fantasy set in contemporary San Francisco.

Book of Night by Holly Black is for the insatiable reader who has way more books to read than hands to hold them


And if you order and submit your receipt before 12/15, you can receive a Book of Night tote bag! Even Charlie Hall needs a safe sling to carry her contraband. Who’s Charlie Hall? A professional thief / bartender who pilfers shadow magic secrets! Read the book!

T. L. Huchu’s Edinburgh Nights series is for the Supernatural fan who’s looking to expand their fandom across the pond


Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghostalker, but she’s not just carrying messages anymore. You talk to one ghost and suddenly you’re spending late nights in the occult library, solving murders, and following trails of huskified children to their sinister spectral source.

The Terraformers by Annalee Newitz is for the science-enjoyer in your life who’s looking for environmentally-conscious fiction


This sweeping, uplifting, and illuminating exploration of the future from a science fiction visionary is the perfect gift to give your non-fiction loving, environmentally aware bestie who wants to dip their toe into a more fictional space.

Tress of the Emerald Sea by Brandon Sanderson is for fans looking for The Princess Bride vibes but just haven’t quite found them yet


Do you have a Princess Bride superfan in your life? They don’t need another fandom-y Etsy gift this year–they need a book that gives them the same emotional rush they got the first time they laid eyes on the fairytale-inspired glory that is their favorite 1987 classic.

Everfair by Nisi Shawl is for the history buff in your life who can’t stop thinking about other paths the world might have taken


After being purchased back from the Congo Free State’s colonizer, Everfair becomes a land of fantastic technologies—of spying cats and gulls, nuclear dirigibles buoyed by barkcloth balloons, and silent pistols that shoot poison knives. What happens when these technological advances are brought to bear against Belgian tyrant Leopold II?

That’s Everfair, and then you can read Kinning (on sale 1/23/24) for the continuation of this expansive alternate history.

Fractal Noise by Christopher Paolini is for the hardcore Trekkie who’s looking for major blockbuster movie vibes in their books


Don’t let the bright and spiffy gif fool you—in this book they boldly go where no human has gone before, equally bold in how they look past the question: Might there have been a reason?

The Fragile Threads of Power by V. E. Schwab is for people looking to put a different kind of magic into their holidays


Let’s put the magic into the holidays, shall we? V. E. Schwab returns to The Shades of Magic universe with a whole new series, perfect for readers who loved the original and new fans who want to explore magical alternate universes from in front of a cozy fireplace.

Shelley Parker-Chan’s Radiant Emperor Duology is for the unhinged danmei consumer who’s looking for their next great read


Do you have someone in your life that consumes danmei like candy? Are they tired of waiting for their new favorite series to be translated so they can add it to their shelves? Do we have the series for you. She Who Became the Sun and He Who Drowned the World explore a stunning reinvention of the Ming Dynasty’s founding emperor. It’s queer, it’s fantastical, and it’s complete! Snag both books in the duology for them now.

Thornhedge by T. Kingfisher is for the friend with an ill-advised yet much-beloved Shrek 2 tattoo


“Better out than in” on the inside of the wrist, Thornhedge open in hand.

Starling House by Alix E. Harrow is for anyone who has never been disappointed by the combo of Mike Flanagan and a Scary House


Home is where the heart is, and really puts you in a vulnerable position when your house HATES you.

Starter Villain by John Scalzi is for Megamind


If you’re not Megamind, keep scrolling. Just kidding—this book is also for cat lovers and fans of Despicable Me and The Venture Brothers.

The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan is for people who loved Season 2 of The Wheel of Time on Amazon Prime


If you have someone in your life that got sucked into the masterpiece that was The Wheel of Time Season 2, don’t worry, you can help them relive the fun with The Great Hunt, the inspiration for the show and the second book in The Wheel of Time series!


5 Sandy Reads to Peruse at the Beach

by Julia Bergen

Sometimes you want something a little different for a beach read. If that’s you, may we recommend focusing less on the body of water nearby and more on what’s under your toes? Yes, we’re talking sand. Sometimes at the beach you don’t necessarily want a book about people swimming or going on vacation or eating lobster. Sometimes you just want a good SFF with quality SAND.

We just like sand. It’s summer and we write about what we want.

Let’s dive in the deep end of the literary sandbox.

sandymancer by david edisonSandymancer by David Edison

What’s the best kind of magic? Sand magic.

Caralee lives in a world full of sand (lucky), but she’s keeping a secret: she can control sand (lucky), making it do whatever she wants (so lucky). Which sounds awesome, until she accidentally summons a former god king (oh) who broke the world 800 years ago and now takes over her best friend’s body. Not the way you want a beach day to go, UNLESS YOU’RE READING ABOUT IT!

Princess of Duneprincess of dune by brian herbert & kevin j. anderson by Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson

Dune is classic sandy SF&F, and Princess of Dune takes that sandy legacy to the sandiest level. This brand-new Dune adventure follows the two princesses, Chani and Irulan, and explores what pushes the trajectory of their lives leading up to the beloved original trilogy. The story of a sand planet full of sand worms, this is perfect sandy reading material.

The Starless Crown by James RollinsThe Starless Crown by James Rollins

Set on a planet that’s half desert, half ice, this book is appropriate on both a sandy list and icy list, so pay attention for “5 Icy Reads to Enjoy in the Belly of an Iceberg” from us this winter (approval pending).

So who’s in this writ-large, deconstructed beach crew? A gifted student on the run from a death sentence. A broken soldier who picks up weapons he’s forbidden to wield. A drunken prince looking for purpose. A thief who finds an artifact that will ignite a power struggle across the planet. Hope they packed sunscreen with high SPF.

she who became the sun by shelley parker-chanShe Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

Taking place in the Central Plains of alternate-universe Ming Dynasty, China, sand is an important and threatening element at the onset of this epic duology. A girl raised in a parched village full of sand and hardly any food slowly outlives her family, watching them agonizingly perish one by one from drought, famine, raiders, and broken spirit. This  leads her, in time, to assume her deceased brother’s identity, and destiny, which she claims by seeking sanctuary in a monastery, as the departed was once promised such a fate. All the adventure, betrayal, murder, love, machinations, realizations, cunning ploys, and startling developments that follow would never have happened without this drought-ravaged sandy foundation. We think that’s worth considering, especially and perhaps specifically in the context of this listicle.

The Origin of Storms by Elizabeth BearThe Lotus Kingdoms Trilogy by Elizabeth Bear

Set in a sprawling fantastical world, a significant portion of the trilogy takes place in a fantastic desert. This book has so many cool things, dragons, magic robots, wizards, giant birds, fantasy politics, fantasy gender subversion, a character called “The Dead Man.” Bring all three books to the beach and just live there for a bit. Read about sand while surrounded by sand.







Tor’s Sublimely Bananas Summer Quiz

by a bunch of raccoons in a trench coat & a cat

Hey! It’s summer! Why are you wasting time trying to figure out what to read next when you could be on the beach already reading??

We’ve got this quiz to determine which of our summer releases you should read and you should definitely trust us <3

And if you haven’t had enough seasonal content, may we also offer our Severely Unmoored Winter Holiday Quiz and Drastically Off-Kilter Spring Books Quiz?


And while you’re here and thinking about books…. Check out Ebony Gate, because it’s coming out soon, and it’s awesome.

Pre-order Ebony Gate Here:

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Be Gay, Do Crime: 7 SFF Books Full of Chaotic Queer Criminals

Two things we love at Tor: Being gay. Doing crime. And who does gay crimes better than the characters of our authors? Check out this list of queerly criminal stories for your perusal pleasure. 

Check it out!

the-thousand-eyesThe Thousand Eyes by A. K. Larkwood

Eons ago, the Serpent Goddess Iriskaaval destroyed her own empire. Millenia later, our wayward heroes from The Unspoken Name must contend with her re-manifestation. Contained within this book is a multiplicity of crime, yearning, love, action, death, betrayal, and sometimes apotheosis. It’s amazing and incredible and should be read with quickness and haste.

atlas-1The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake

Olivie Blake’s virally sensational The Atlas Six tells the story of six ambitious magicians as they vie for induction into a secret society that safeguards all the world’s most dangerous and forbidden research and knowledge. They drink fancy drinks, create magical wormholes, pour over research, and occasionally gayly pour over each other… and then backstab!

This is a book for lovers of romance, betrayal, and intricate intrigue 😈

Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka AokiLight From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki

In Ryka Aoki’s brilliant debut, Light from Uncommon Stars, love is weighed against Faustian bargains. Shizuka Satomi cut a deal with a demon long ago to save herself from damnation. Now, she must convince seven violin prodigies to sell their souls for success. But! A retired starship captain and a shop that sells warm donuts give her a chance at real love. Don’t miss this defiantly joyful adventure of queer courtship and crimes. 

winters-orbitWinter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell

Look. Sometimes, to solve the big crimes, you need to commit a few smaller, more fun crimes. Kiem and Jainan, our two favorite space princes, need to solve a murder as they fall into mutual pining (despite being married) and that means things like hacking databases and a little bit of light breaking and entering.

ceruleanseaThe House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

Linus works for Extremely Upper Management, and they have a lot of rules. One of the most important is “Do Not Form Attachments”. But that’s pretty hard when you’re soft and gay and you end up on a private island with the mysterious Arthur Parnassus and the cabal of terrifying but adorable children with supernatural powers he looks after.

becaame a sunShe Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

Few people on this list frighten us as much as Zhu Chongba, the titular heroine of She Who Became the Sun. She’s willing to do an awful lot of crime to achieve greatness. Plus she did steal her brother’s identity to masquerade as a man and join the rebellion against the Khans.

book-9781250175359Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Set in gritty alt-history Harlem, the crime in Trouble the Saints is organized! Phyllis LeBlanc is a bisexual assassin, hired to keep the Manhattan underworld in line. Trouble is both a magical love story and a compelling exploration of race in America at the dawn of World War II. And there are also knives. A lot of knives.


Excerpt Reveal: He Who Drowned the World by Shelley Parker-Chan

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He Who Drowned the World by Shelley Parker-Chan

The sequel and series conclusion to She Who Became the Sun, the accomplished, poetic debut of war and destiny, sweeping across an epic alternate China. Mulan meets The Song of Achilles.

How much would you give to win the world?

Zhu Yuanzhang, the Radiant King, is riding high after her victory that tore southern China from its Mongol masters. Now she burns with a new desire: to seize the throne and crown herself emperor.

But Zhu isn’t the only one with imperial ambitions. Her neighbor in the south, the courtesan Madam Zhang, wants the throne for her husband—and she’s strong enough to wipe Zhu off the map. To stay in the game, Zhu will have to gamble everything on a risky alliance with an old enemy: the talented but unstable eunuch general Ouyang, who has already sacrificed everything for a chance at revenge on his father’s killer, the Great Khan.

Unbeknownst to the southerners, a new contender is even closer to the throne. The scorned scholar Wang Baoxiang has maneuvered his way into the capital, and his lethal court games threaten to bring the empire to its knees. For Baoxiang also desires revenge: to become the most degenerate Great Khan in history—and in so doing, make a mockery of every value his Mongol warrior family loved more than him.

All the contenders are determined to do whatever it takes to win. But when desire is the size of the world, the price could be too much for even the most ruthless heart to bear…

Please enjoy this free excerpt of He Who Drowned the World by Shelley Parker-Chan, on sale 8/22/23

Chapter 1


“Surely it requires no extended consideration,” the woman’s voice said from behind the stirring gauze curtain of the carriage. “Why not give me your answer now, Zhu Yuanzhang, and save us both the time?”

Even here, far from the sea, the plain beneath the carriage’s hilltop vantage point blazed white with salt as though the wealth of the woman’s kingdom overflowed without restraint. The hot tiger tail of the southern summer had vanished the shal­low lake that usually lay here on the border between the two territories. Above their armies, quickening flags dashed colored reflections onto the expanse. Yellow, for the rebel army of the Radiant King. Green for the Zhang merchant family, the former loyalists of the Empire of the Great Yuan, who had finally bro­ken with their Mongol rulers that spring and proclaimed their rule over the salt and shipping lanes of the eastern seaboard.

Zhu Yuanzhang, her golden king’s armor and gilded wooden hand matching the color of the grass under her horse’s hooves, saw the generals of the opposing armies walking towards each other with deliberate courtesy. Their small noonday shadows sliced over the shattering crust beneath their boots.

To the casual eye there was little between the two generals to set them apart. Two winged helmets in the Nanren style, two sets of lamellar armor with the dark leather taking in the sun and the metal lion’s-head bosses on their shoulders sending it flashing back like mirror signals. But to Zhu, whose general was her brother in all but blood, their distant shapes were as easily distinguished as two faces. That was Xu Da’s unmonkishly tall frame, his joyful stride that of a young man eager to taste the world. The other, General Zhang, of lesser height and build, but carrying himself with the reserved confidence of a man with the life experience of Zhu and her general put together. Zhu knew just how quickly General Zhang had moved after his family’s separation from the Yuan. In the space of a few months he had taken all the remaining cities along the southern reaches of the Grand Canal and moved the Zhang family’s capital to walled Pingjiang on the eastern shore of Lake Tai. Now all that sepa­rated the Zhangs in the east from Zhu’s own kingdom in the west was a stretch of flatlands in the curve of the mighty Yangzi River as it wound its way to the sea.

“Surrender to me,” said the woman behind the curtain. Her voice had a throaty quality, low and flirtatious. It was a voice for a closed room, velveted with suggestion: that though they were strangers who had only just met, perhaps they were mo­ments from becoming as known to each other as two bodies could be. It was one of those tactics that worked only as long as the calculation underneath it remained unseen. Zhu, who not only saw it but also considered herself generally immune to the urges of physical desire, was interested to feel a mild tug in re­sponse. As someone lacking in femininity herself, it had never occurred to her that it could be weaponized. The novelty of hav­ing it wielded against herself amused and impressed her in al­most equal measure.

On the plain the two generals inclined their heads in respect; conveyed and received the formal message of surrender; and withdrew. Their tracks lay bruised blue behind them.

Zhu finally turned to her interlocutor. “Greetings to the es­teemed Madam Zhang.”

“I see you refuse my title,” the woman said archly.

“Why shouldn’t I, when you refuse mine?” Zhu returned. The snap of words sent a current of vitality through her. It was the delight of power mixed with play, as thrilling to her as the tang of brine in her nose and the hot wild wind that snapped her banners and sent the grass rushing and leaping down the hillsides. In a tone of matching archness, she added, “Perhaps my surrender is better given to he who holds the true title. Your husband, the king. I would rather be received face-to-face by my equal than by his honorable wife speaking from behind a cur­tain of propriety.”

The woman gave a manicured laugh. “Don’t worry. Your sur­render will be given correctly. My husband’s reputation may pre­cede him, but a weak man, well managed, is a woman’s greatest strength.” A shadow rippled against the gauze, as if the woman had leaned close. Her lowered voice issued an invitation for Zhu to lean down from her horse, to let her ear drift so close to those murmuring lips that she might have felt each syllable on her skin had it not been for the thin barrier between them. “I don’t think you’re a weak man, Zhu Yuanzhang. But your position is weak. What hope can you have against my larger army; against my general who was even hailed as an equal by the Yuan’s own feared General Ouyang?

“Give me your surrender. Bring your forces under my com­mand. Instead of waiting for the Yuan to send their Grand Coun­cilor and that central army of theirs to put us down, we’ll march on Dadu together. We’ll take their capital, and the throne. And when my husband is emperor, he’ll grant you the title of your choosing. Duke, prince? It will be yours.”

Zhu responded dryly, “When the histories are written, such a title will surely commend me to their authors as a great man.”

The men she and Madam Zhang had each brought here were only for show. This was a meeting, not a battle. But Zhu was under no illusions about her situation. Her army, an infantry­ dominated force built from the former Red Turban rebellion and additional peasant recruits, was barely half the size of the Zhangs’ well-equipped professional army. And with the excep­tion of her capital, Yingtian, none of the dozen cities she held in the south could match even the poorest of the Zhang family’s canal-linked economic centers. It was clear what the outcome of a battle would be. Had their positions been reversed, Zhu would have counted herself the victor and demanded surrender, just as her opponent was doing now.

Madam Zhang murmured, “Is that what you want? To be great?” Her tone was as smooth as the trailing caress of finger­ tips along skin. “Then accept me, and let me make it happen.”

Greatness. Zhu had wanted it her entire life. With a certainty as crisp as shadow cast across salt, she knew it would always be everything she wanted. She straightened in the saddle and gazed eastwards over the sweep of the Zhang family’s realm. The wind rushing against her from that distant tawny horizon seemed to bring it close; it turned that abstract line into something palpa­ble, something fiercely visceral. Reachable. The thought filled Zhu with sharp joy. Stationary and yet soaring on her hilltop, she had the curious sensation of seeing her entire path to her fu­ture stretching before her. From her eagle’s vantage she could see there were no true obstacles on that path—only small bumps that would barely check her as she ran headlong towards her goal.

With a surge of delight, she said to the faceless woman be­hind the curtain, “I don’t want to be great.”

She savored the pause as Madam Zhang’s mind churned, wondering what she had misunderstood about Zhu’s character­, where she had gone wrong with her seduction.

The stump of Zhu’s arm ached inside the too-tight cuff of her wooden hand. But that discomfort, and the daily repercussions of being a one-handed man in a two-handed world, was merely the cost of her desire, and Zhu was strong enough to bear it. She was strong enough to bear anything, or to do anything, for the sake of what she wanted.

“Then—” Madam Zhang began.

“I don’t want to be great,” Zhu repeated. Her desire was the radiance of the sun, an immensity that filled every part of her without exception. Who else understood what it was to feel something of this magnitude; to want something with the en­tirety of their self, as she did? “I want to be the greatest.”

Sparkling crystalline eddies scrubbed across the bare surface of the plain. Life-sustaining salt that, in such concentration, be­came life-denying.

“I see,” Madam Zhang said after a moment. Her flirtatiousness had taken on a sheen of disdain, and Zhu had the mental image of the door to a private room slamming in her face. “I forgot how young you are. Young people are always too ambitious. They haven’t yet learned the limits of what’s possible.”

Lacquered fingernails tapped the inner frame of the carriage, signaling the driver. As the carriage moved off, Madam Zhang said, “We’ll meet again. But before we do, let this elder tell you something. Cast your eye upon my general down below. What respect does he lack from the world around him, for his man­ner, his appearance, his accomplishments? The natural place of a man like that is above others. You would do well to consider your own natural place, Zhu Yuanzhang. If the world can barely stand to let its eye fall upon a man as lacking as you, do you think it would accept you on the throne? Only a fool would risk everything for the impossible.”

Zhu watched the carriage wheel away down the hill. If Madam Zhang had known the true extent of Zhu’s physical lacks-which, as far as matters of masculine anatomy went, included more than broad shoulders or a right hand—no doubt she’d have considered even Zhu’s present accomplishments to have been impossible. But if you were determined to want the impossible, there was a better way to get it. Zhu thought with amused defiance: Change the world, and make it possible.

Copyright © 2023 from Shelley Parker-Chan

Pre-order He Who Drowned the World Here:

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Our Favorite SFF Characters And Their Tragic Flaws

Ever hear the story about the very good character who did everything right? No? Good, because we don’t care about that either. Check out this rundown of our favorite tragically flawed faces of science fiction & fantasy!

she who became the sun by shelley parker-chanGeneral Ouyang from She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

(kicks down the door) I GOTTA represent my boy (derogatory)

If we want to talk deeply flawed characters, no one is out here doing it like my boy General Ouyang in Shelley Parker-Chan’s She Who Became the Sun. This boy can fit so much (self-)hatred, vengeance, and violent tendencies in his tragic backstory, and I can’t wait to see him flounder in the aftermath of his choices in the upcoming sequel this summer, He Who Drowned the World.

  • Yvonne Ye, Ad/Promo Coordinator

Cover of Empress of Forever by Max GladstoneVivian Liao from Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone

So I’ve for real had it about up to here with tech innovator celebrity people by now, but Vivian Liao in Max Gladstone’s fantastic Empress of Forever space opera is the exception. She’s reckless, dagger-smart, and displays a heavy bias towards action. But, it is these qualities that make her such a compelling lead that also ultimately result in her displacement into a far-flung future where a tyrannical Empress lords over all facets of reality. These are the traits that would also keep her from coming together with her new friends and allies to forge bonds strong enough to withstand the wrath of the future’s terrible queen.

  • a cat, Assistant Marketing Manager

Flint & Mirror by John CrowleyHugh O’Neill from Flint & Mirror by John Crowley

This gorgeously written historical fantasy novel by one of my all-time favorite authors tells the story of Hugh O’Neill, a man caught between two worlds. Ripped from his childhood home, an Ireland still alive with magic and touching the land of faerie, Hugh is thrust into the role of courtier in Elizabethan England. As the last Irish rebellion against the Tudor conquest wages on, Hugh is torn between his queen and his homeland. This is a tragic tale of rebellion, magic, and a man whose divided loyalties leave him perpetually estranged from both worlds.

  • Merlin Hoye, Marketing Assistant

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. SchwabLuc from The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab


(Though also if you haven’t, what are you doing?!)

As many of my friends can attest, there is nothing I love more in fiction than a Morally Grey, Misunderstood Sad Boy (TM) and Luc from The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is all of that and more. Well, okay maybe he’s just a villain and a demonic entity and has fairly minimal redeemable qualities BUT STILL. His dynamic with Addie, the mystery surrounding who (or what) he is, and the incredible back-and-forth he has with all the characters he interacts makes it really hard not to at least slightly root for him and Addie to become the incredibly compelling, yet probably incredibly toxic couple that SFF dreams are made of. So will they? Won’t they? Read the book to find out.

  • Rachel Taylor, Senior Marketing Manager

Place holder  of - 45Antigone from Arch-Conspirator by Veronica Roth

Antigone, or Tig, was born into a doomed world in a city where no one believes she has a soul. Based on the classic Greek tragedy (Antigone by Sophocles, it’s a banger), Arch-Conspirator is also about tragic choices. It’s about staring your doom in the face and walking toward it anyway because the other options are worse. Tig doesn’t have a tragic flaw so much as a tragic belief that it’s better to choose your end than to have it chosen for you.

Read it and be sad with me.

  • a bunch of raccoons in a trench coat, Assistant Director of Marketing


Our Top 5 SFF Retelling of Old Favorites

Retellings offer the chance for authors to take a new perspective on classic tales, from fairytales gone wrong to history with a twist. Read on for some fresh new takes on old favorites! 

And check out Destroyer of Light by Jennifer Marie Brissett, on sale in paperback now!

By Lizzy Hosty

Destroyer of LightDestroyer of Light by Jennifer Marie Brissett by Jennifer Marie Brissett

This Afro-futuristic retelling of the Greek myth of Persephone is set after the Earth was destroyed from an alien invasion, and the rest of humanity has been sequestered to the planet Eleusis. In this world divided into four habitable zones – Day, Dusk, Dawn, and Night – a young girl is kidnapped from Dusk by a violent warlord, leaving her mother desperately searching. On another side of the planet, a search for a child born from a human and alien in a criminal underground trafficking ring for unknown purposes, and a young woman with inhuman powers rises through the ranks to become a soldier. These stories build to a boiling point when the fate of humans and aliens will be determined.

The Genesis of Misery by Neon YangThe Genesis of Misery by Neon Yang

Joan of Arc with mechas in space. Do we have your attention yet? This retelling delivers devious politicking, high-stakes ship battles, and ruminations on queerness and the nature of identity.

Image Placeholder of - 65She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

Reimagining the rise to power of the Ming Dynasty’s founding emperor, She Who Became the Sun follows an unnamed girl who is destined for nothingness, while her brother is destined for greatness. But when her brother, Zhu Chongba dies, the girl decides to steal his identity to flee to a monastery and escape her own death. After her safe haven is destroyed, however, Zhu realizes she also has the chance to claim another future: her brother’s abandoned greatness.

In the Lives of PuppetsPlace holder  of - 44 by TJ Klune

Inspired by Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio, and like Swiss Family Robinson meets Wall-EIn the Lives of Puppets is a masterful stand-alone fantasy adventure from the beloved author who brought you The House in the Cerulean Sea and Under the Whispering Door.

Image Place holder  of - 91Lady Hotspur by Tessa Gratton

In this genderbent retelling of Henry IV, the Lady Knights are sworn to defend the prospective heir, Banna Mora. But when a rebellion ousts Mora and replaces her with leader of the Lady Knights, Hal Bolingbrooke, Mora is forced to choose between letting a king-killer rule, or taking up arms against her childhood best friend. War between the two Princes is inevitable – but Lady Hotspur could turn the tides with her support.

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