Deep as the Sky, Red as the Sea

Bloomsbury. May 2023. 304p. ISBN 9781639730377. $28.99. F
DEBUT The fascinating heroine of Chang-Eppig’s dazzling debut is inspired by the real-life adventures of Shek Yeung, a badass Chinese pirate who commanded a powerful fleet on the South China Sea in the 19th century. Piracy is an unusual choice for Shek Yeung, not only because of her gender but also because it was an encounter with pirates that led to her imprisonment on a “flower boat.” It is on this floating brothel, however, that she meets swarthy pirate captain Cheng Yat, who, recognizing Shek Yeung’s intelligence and strength of character as well as her beauty, offers to marry her as a way out of sex work. She thrives in the role of captain’s wife, and Cheng Yat comes to rely heavily on her counsel. When he is killed in battle, she immediately understands what she must do to survive and maintain her leadership role—marry the fleet’s second-in-command. Chang-Eppig’s elegant prose flows nicely throughout this carefully plotted saga, which expertly weaves pointed commentary about gender roles, poverty, and colonization into swashbuckling adventure.
VERDICT Well-placed stories featuring sea goddess Ma-Zou make this a good choice for fantasy fans, as well as readers who enjoy strong, complicated women protagonists.
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