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He Who Drowned the World: the epic sequel to the Sunday Times bestselling historical fantasy She Who Became the Sun (The Radiant Emperor, 2)

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The only way for Zhu to defeat Madam Zhang is to gamble everything on a risky alliance with an old enemy: the beautiful, traitorous eunuch general Ouyang. Arresting, beautiful, grand in scope and yet intimately poignant, readers will be drawn into this deftly written fantasy. Not only did Zhu’s winning streak continue in this book, I also had to suspend my disbelief during some parts.

But, additional scenes and a slower timeline honestly would have made Zhu’s final plan a lot more believable to me. He's maneuverered his way to the capital, where his courtly games threaten to bring the empire to its knees. At the end of the day, I am a simple Wuthering Heights fan who incessantly gravitates towards tormented villains doomed by the narrative. In broad strokes, of course, but enough for me to dust off my memory of it after two and a half years. 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.Overall, it’s a graphic and genuine portrayal of how effortlessly a person can allow grief to overpower and crush to gratify one’s pain for some level of pleasure and contentedness. Stationary and yet soaring on her hilltop, she had the curious sensation of seeing her entire path to her future stretching before her. My husband’s reputation may precede him, but a weak man, well managed, is a woman’s greatest strength. In terms of violence, I think of both She Who Became the Sun and He Who Drowned the World as roughly equivalent to the Asian historical dramas on Netflix: you'll see some splatter during fight scenes, but rarely full-on gore. Both She Who Became the Sun and He Who Drowned the World have relatively slow pacing as the characters arrange pieces to enact their complicated plans.

But to Zhu, whose general was her brother in all but blood, their distant shapes were as easily distinguished as two faces.

There is sex but it is all manipulative, there are alliances, but they are desperations based on lies, there is torture and murder and self-harm and sadomasochism and sexual violence and characters who not only wallow in but celebrate their debasement and cruelty.

I can already tell that the main criticism readers will level at this book is that it’s too depressing and cruel.

She found she couldn’t muster up much regret for the deaths of Ma’s father, or the two Guos: Old Guo and his son Little Guo, Ma’s unfortunate fiancé. A king and queen strolling through their palace grounds proceeded without impediment, since everyone in their way stepped aside and bowed, but the sheer profusion of construction workers in every direction made Zhu think of herself as a boat cutting through a weed-clogged pond. There were still a lot of names (often the same character with two names) but ultimately I loved watching Zhu fight for what she truly wants and taking down anyone in her way.

She Who Became the Sun explores grasping the intent of desire with both hands and claiming your fate, it is the hunt for greatness, it is about the strength it takes to become great, it is the knowledge that you will do anything and suffer anything to achieve that greatness. Madam Zhang is another POV that I enjoyed reading; in palace cdrama you might find characters that look like her, but oftentimes they are painted as one-dimensional villain. We are as connected to them as they are to each other and so we root for this connection to hold true, for it to mean something, for it to forge a new path—a path that we can follow them down. Zhu’s POV was weaker in this read as it was more focused on her building up followers and running between different points or on intense bouts of action. 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.It reached a point where it felt more gratuitous and less relevant, which detracted from my enjoyment. I loved how every new circumstance was solved in a completely new fashion, making you curious about what they were going to come up with next instead of bored by the constant battles. So elegantly and elaborately structured with the most beautiful and horrible cast of characters I have ever had the displeasure of becoming attached to.

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