It’s no secret that a stunning cover design will immediately draw my attention. I know, never judge a book by its cover, but I do, okay?! But after getting sucked in by the gorgeous cover of Deep as the Sky, Red as the Sea by Rita Chang-Eppig, I read the blurb and immediately knew I needed it.
Shek Yeung is the wife of feared pirate Cheng Yat. When she sees him slain by a Portuguese sailor, she knows that she has to move quickly to secure her position in the fleet. After quickly marrying her husband’s second-in-command and promising him an heir, she finds that her position among the fleet is the least of her worries. With the Chinese Emperor gunning to eliminate piracy and European powers tired of losing ships, men, and money to the pirate alliance, Shek Yeung has to find a way to balance new motherhood and the demands of leadership in order to protect her fleet, her family, and her life.
A Chinese pirate queen. A Chinese pirate queen! I mean, do I really need to say more? Shek Yeung is a fierce leader that does what needs to be done in order to ensure the survival of her fleet. She is the embodiment of starting from the bottom and learns and grows from the hardships she faces throughout her life, rarely letting the atrocities that befell her to deter her from being just as ruthless and cunning. But don't let that fool you, she still struggles internally with finding her place in the world and what she wants out of life. She's not perfect, but she is real and relatable.
We are thrown into action from the opening line of the book which sets the entire mood. Even though the story is not quite as fast-paced as a regular swashbuckling pirate tale, it still felt fairly action-packed to me as we follow Shek Yeung’s journey to command her fleet and evade the Chinese Emperor’s attempts to end piracy. Throw in some underhanded actions by European powers and you've got yourself a story that you just can't put down. Though it presents as a pirate story on the surface, its grandeur lies in the commentary on powerful women in a male-dominated arena and how they manage that balance between hard and soft.
Even though some of Shek Yeung’s actions are morally questionable, her choices and reasons behind those choices are understandable given the world in which she finds herself living. A pirate’s gotta do what a pirate’s gotta do and that is doubly truly for a female pirate who was thrust into piracy through no fault of her own. She'll never be the hero of anyone's story, but she's definitely not the villain that the Emperor and his followers paint her to be.
As a piece of historical fiction (with some bits of fantasy weaved in), this story does what I expect good historical fiction to do - it made me want to fall down a deep research rabbit hole in regards to piracy in China, the real life inspiration for Shek Yeung, and the mythology behind Ma-Zou. The key factor leading the charge into research is the way that Rita is able to effortlessly weave in stories of the sea goddess that perfectly relate to the main storyline. Balancing past, present, and myth feels like a hefty task and Rita expertly navigates this in a way that kept me on the edge of my seat and turning page after page to find what happens next.
Deep as the Sky, Red as the Sea by Rita Chang-Eppig hits shelves May 30, 2023 and you can get a copy for yourself here.
Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book for free and have voluntarily written this review. If you purchase a copy using my Bookshop affiliate link above, not only will I receive a small commission (which will fuel my coffee and tea addiction and help to keep me up all night reading more books to recommend to you), but you will also be supporting indie bookstores like my local fave Linden Tree Books without whom this review would not be possible!