“How do you take the fight out of half the population and render them willing slaves? You tell them they’re meant to do nothing but serve from the minute they’re born. You tell them they’re weak. You tell them they’re prey. You tell them over and over, until it’s the only truth they’re capable of living.”
This book is a scream of rage into the night, and I’m so glad it got published. Even if you don’t normally read YA, I would urge you to shelve your preconceptions and pick up this book in any way that you can (and per the author’s note at the end, if you read it for free, leave them a review!)
In addition to being a science fantasy set on some other planet, presumably in the far future, this is also a stealth historical retelling, as the main character is a reimagining of a real historical figure, whose role in history I won’t spoil if you aren’t already aware of her (as I wasn’t), because then the plot of the book will be that much more fun for you to read.
Wu Zetian lives in a world where women are subjugated. Her feet were broken and bound as a child, and her sister was sold off to become a concubine for a male Chrysalis pilot. Chrysalis are the repurposed husks of the alien beings who invaded this world thousands of years before, and the humans eventually figured out a way for them to essentially be turned into giant mechas to fight back against the alien Hunduns. But in this fight, where men and women (boys and girls) are piloting each Chrysalis, most of the time, doing so kills the girl. Zetian’s sister is killed in this way, so she vows to enact her revenge, selling herself to the same pilot as a concubine, intending to kill him and forfeit her life in the process. But things don’t go as expected, because Zetian’s qi overpowers that of the boy, killing him in the process, and Zetian becomes a rare Iron Widow. Her revenge mission morphs as she goes, and she’s going to fuck up as much shit as she possibly can. I love her so much.
“Perks of refusing to play by the rules: you don’t have to choose between the boy who’d torture a man to death with you and the boy who welcomes you back with pastries.”
Something else I love about this book is the way that it explores gender roles using the metaphor of the mechas. Zetian as a character refuses to do what she’s told, and discovers the lies of the system she grew up in as a result. The three main characters (Zetian provides POV) are exercises in smashing gender stereotypes, and to make things even better, the love triangle here (between the sweet boy from Zetian’s village, who turns out to be the son of a millionaire, Zetian, and the pilot she’s paired with who has killed all his concubines and murdered his own family) morphs into a polyamorous relationship between the three of them, I was so incredibly pleased and elated. This is the best way for love triangles to resolve, in my opinion. I’m spoiling this on purpose because I’m using it as a lure for people to read the book.
I thought I would have a hard time reviewing this book, especially since it’s been two months now since I read it, but the story and the characters are still vivid in my mind, and I have lots of very clear feelings I’m finding easier than usual to express. Perhaps it’s the rage.
“Shame and humiliation are self-imposed emotions, and from here on out, I choose not to feel them.”
Read Harder Challenge 2022: Read an adventure story by a BIPOC author.
CBR BINGO: FONT
The font on this cover is fun and dramatic at the same time, I am aesthetically pleased by it, and also I wanted an excuse to put this excellent book on my BINGO board.