In a futuristic, Chinese-influenced society called Huaxia, humans are in a constant battle with alien creatures called Hunduns. In order to defeat the Hunduns, humans fight in Chrysalises powered by a male pilot and a female concubine. After her sister is killed by a male pilot, Zetian volunteers as a concubine in order to exact revenge on the man. However, she soon finds out that she is stronger than anyone believed and she is set on a course she could never have imagined, fighting back against the rules of her country.
I have seen this book everywhere online, and have really only seen people rave about it, but I feel very ambivalent towards this book. There were parts of the story that I found interesting and I love the overall themes, but I think the book really suffers from a lack of world building and I did not connect with the writing style at all. I felt it was written very casually and seemed to target a younger audience, though the themes are more mature YA. Still, there are some very captivating aspects to this book.
Zetian is super tough and pulls no punches when she speaks. She deeply loved her sister and is willing to sacrifice everything to get revenge on her murderer. Likewise, she pushes back against her country’s belief that women are inferior and made to be sacrificed. She’s fiercely feminist and willing to take on the highest powers in her country in order to stand up for what is right. I think she’s a really enthralling character with strong ideals, even though I would consider her morally grey. Likewise, I thought that Li Shimin, the powerful pilot that she is partnered with, was an interesting character with a deep backstory. I liked peeling away the layers of his personality, peeking into his mind, and discovering why he is the way he is. Yizhi, the third prong of the love triangle, unfortunately does not get as much characterization, so I really didn’t connect with him at all. But, the love triangle is handled in a fresh way that made me like the characters more.
Beyond the characters, I think there is a really interesting story here, I just wish that it had been more fully explored. The Hunduns are an interesting species, but described with very little detail. Similarly, the country of Huaxia itself is really sparselyexplained. It was hard to visualize what the world looked like, who was living in it, and how things functioned. The focus of the book is definitely on the action, but all that action comes at the expense of world building.
So, this book was a mixed bag for me. If you love fast pacing and action in your fantasy, this might be a great choice for you. If you’re all about the world building, I would skip this one.
If you’ve read Iron Widow, let me know what you thought!
CW: misogyny, femicide, abuse, alcoholism, murder, torture, sexual assault