SHE WHO BECAME THE SUN by Shelley Parker-Chan (Mantle £16.99, 416 pp)


by Shelley Parker-Chan (Mantle £16.99, 416 pp)

This audacious, brilliant debut is a vivid, original reimagining of the overthrow of the Mongol dynasty and the ushering in of the Ming Empire.

At the heart of the sweeping epic are two protagonists who head into volatile, famine-stricken 14th-century China determined to follow their ambitions.

Zhu, a poor peasant girl, takes on the identity of her dead brother and adopts his complicated fate by becoming a monk, a warrior and a calculating strategist who’s a worthy opponent to beautiful, ruthless General Ouyang.

Castrated in a vengeful act of retribution, emotionally wounded but attracted to the powerful Prince Esen, Ouyang is unflinching in his determination to avenge the death of his family and to best Zhu.

Peopled by flawed, fearless characters, and with a dramatically violent storyline, this is immersive storytelling at its finest.


by Richard Smyth (Fairlight £14.99, 336 pp)

In the small seaside town of Gravely, on England’s North-East coast, John and Harriet Lowell are making a loving life. He’s a wistful naturalist, a careful cataloguer of the worlds contained in rockpools and cliff edges, but less observant of his clever, sharp wife, who keeps house and maintains his life on an even keel.

These qualities are sorely needed with the arrival of American whaler Maurice Shakes and his two free-thinking daughters, who, true to their surname, shake up sedate 1920s Gravely.

Bombastic Shakes plans to build a pleasure pier stretching a half-mile into the sea, while his disruptive daughters provoke a different kind of tension and temptation for Smyth’s compelling characters, all of whom are awash with a discombobulating surge of conflicting emotions and motivations.

SEA CHANGE by Alix Nathan (Serpent’s Tail £14.99, 256 pp)


by Alix Nathan (Serpent’s Tail £14.99, 256 pp)

England is unsettled; threatened by the spectre of Napoleon and his planned invasion, the streets of London are in ferment and fear, alive with talk of revolution and riot. Head-strong, temperamental orphan Eve is being raised in this febrile atmosphere by her guardian, depressive painter Joseph Young, who has fond memories of Eve’s mother Sarah, who was tragically lost at sea in a ballooning accident.

In a parallel story line, on the Norfolk coast a woman has been fished from the water and placed in the care of a hellfire preacher and his compassionate, put-upon wife, Hester.

Amnesiac and voiceless, she cannot tell her story; meanwhile Eve searches for people who remember her remarkable mother. It is an intriguing idea, and while the characters are vivid and original, the entwined stories somehow never quite gel.

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