I seriously can’t even form coherent thoughts after reading that because it was just so good?? I can easily see this being the biggest fantasy book of the year. This was art. And I don’t know how to review art. So this post should be interesting.
I’m not sure how to summarize this one because there’s a lot of background info you need about the world for it to make sense. But basically, Zetian is an Iron Widow, a woman who killed her co-pilot while inside a Chrysalis (a chrysalis is a giant battle machine that two people pilot using their qi). She set out to murder him as vengeance for killing her sister, and therefore is prepared for a death sentence. But instead of an execution, the army pairs her up with an extremely powerful and deadly pilot, Li Shimin. Now determined to survive, Zetian will stop at nothing to topple the patriarchal society she lives in.
Let’s start with the characters. Ohhhh my god, so much depth. Zetian was ruthless in the best way possible, I loved seeing her truly go after what she wanted (and deserved) and did not let anyone or anything stand in her way. Even when some of her choices were difficult to read, her absolute raw power and determination floored me. Shimin and Yizhi had so many layers. They were polar opposite bad-boy-with-mushy-insides and soft-boy-who’s-surprisingly-tough and both complimented Zetian perfectly. Shimin’s struggles were especially heartbreaking and his background was so detailed, it really added a whole other dimension to the story.
The message, once again was amazing. This is the kind of book that makes women (rightfully) believe they can do anything. It challenges the view of the male dominated world in every way. And while the author notes this theme is applicable in many places in the world today, they specifically write about misogyny in Chinese culture. They also discuss important issues like substance abuse, sexual assault, physical abuse, sexuality, and so much more. Plus, side note: it was especially cool that Zetian was inspired by the only female Emperor in Chinese history, and knowing that made the book feel even more real.
The world building was extremely vivid, and new to me. I’ve never heard of any book like this, which is amazing because fantasy as a whole for me lately has seemed very cookie-cutter. The Chrysallises were such a cool concept, and I enjoyed learning about different types of Qi and what they mean. I did get a little confused in spots, but I really didn’t care because everything else was just. So. Flawless. That twist ending blew me away. It sets up such an interesting conflict for the sequel, I seriously cannot wait for book 2. And the idea that someone my age wrote this masterpiece??? I could never. So much talent.
Honestly I recommend this book to anyone and everyone. Even if fantasy isn’t your typical genre. You won’t be disappointed.
Happy reading (:
Intended audience: older YA
Content warnings: misogyny, sexual harassment, mentions of sexual assault, murder, suicidal thoughts, abuse