Sometimes, very rarely, I stumble upon books where I love and hate the characters equally. There are many books with grey characters but in this book, Parker-Chan doesn’t do grey. She runs this rapid, unpredictable and awe-inspiring zigzag between bad and good – so turbulent that by the end, you’re still trying to figure out what you **really** feel about the lead players.
SWBTS is about Zhu and Ouyang (yea, I know she isn’t Zhu, but she’s Zhu to herself and to me, and that’s that). A starving peasant, Zhu assumes the identity of her brother – fated to be great – after he gives up and dies. Her will to survive, to assume her brother’s mantle of greatness, sees her become a monk… and more. Ouyang is a eunuch general in the emperor’s army. Imprisoned by his past, he marches on, blind to everything except the inevitability of his choices.
The book is hauntingly beautiful. Parker-Chan’s writing digs its claws in your mind making you experience Zhu and Ouyang’s pain, the angst of gender dysphoria, the desperate drive to achieve something that was never supposed to be yours, the aching hope to have someone, anyone, by your side. It’s heart-rending.
I wanted to bookmark (and I think I did) half this book. But here are some of my highlights:
“Most strong-willed people never understand that will alone isn’t enough to guarantee their survival. They don’t realize that even more so than will, survival depends upon an understanding of people and power.”
““Learn to want something for yourself, Ma Xiuying. Not what someone says you should want. Not what you think you should want. Don’t go through life thinking only of duty. When all we have are these brief spans between our nonexistences, why not make the most of the life you’re living now? The price is worth it.””
SWBTS has no heroes. The undercurrent of this book is choices – our past dictates what we choose. Yes, we understand there’s good and bad but majority of people follow the grey path – because IRL you can’t always stick to the good.
But here’s the thing. Greatness, any greatness, should be forged in the fires of goodness. If your path to greatness is by destroying others, there’s nothing great about you. Fulfilling duty without paying heed to wrongness of choices, isn’t inspiring. Ah, I digressed. I’m sorry but this book makes you feel. So, so much.
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Episode 74 – 10 Book Reviews Under 10 Minutes #13thEdition