In the world of this book, humans are in constant battle with alien insect creatures. Mecha robots, piloted by 2-person male-female teams, are critical to the battle efforts. However, the female member of the team is mainly used as kind of battery for the mecha – generally dying during battle as their life force is drained by the mecha. Human society is centered around this war – glorifying battle – and in order to ensure a steady supply of women volunteered for battle, their families are paid well after their “noble” sacrifice in battle. After her sister volunteers for service and dies in somewhat shady circumstances, Zetian, the protagonist of the story, decides to become a mecha volunteer herself, in order to seek revenge.
This is not a subtle story – clearly, with this set-up of women being straight up sacrificed for the glory of battle and the male pilots, this story is taking aim at patriarchal and misogynistic structures in society, with lots of cool robot battles to amp up the stakes and excitement factor. There is certainly a lot of anger that comes through in this book – the anger of Zetian at the death of her sister and the predicament she finds herself in, but an energizing anger also in a story that so directly tangles with issues of toxic masculinity. I think that the storytelling benefits from this sense of moral outrage at its core. The main character is sympathetic, and there are also some supporting characters – a supportive boyfriend and the intimidating male pilot she is paired with – who end up having some really interesting and nuanced layers to them as the story progresses. While I was a fan of Voltron and Robotech as a kid, I’ll admit that I zoned out a little during some of the mecha battle descriptions. But overall this is a very engaging story, and the end of the book sets up some intriguing developments for a sequel.