Received to review; publication date 7th October 2021
Well, this was a heckuva ride! This is a world protected against an invading force by pilots in giant mecha suits which transform according to their particular mental capabilities. Two pilots are required, yin and yang: the stronger male pilot, and the balancing female pilot… who often ends up a sacrifice, drained of her life force by her fellow pilot to power the suit in battle. Wu Zetian has volunteered as a pilot in order to kill the pilot who killed her sister, not in battle but somehow outside of it. Now she’s expected to become his concubine…
Think you know where it’s going? Well, the book has some surprises coming for you, about which I shouldn’t say too much for fear of spoiling them! However, I think it’s worth mentioning the fact that this features not a love triangle but a poly relationship: Zetian ends up with two boyfriends, and her boyfriends are boyfriends, too.
It is worth noting as well that this isn’t a nice world, and Zetian isn’t a nice girl. It’s a world loosely based on ancient China, meaning that Zetian has had her feet bound to become “lotus feet”, and the effects of that aren’t shied away from. And of course, our heroine starts the book planning a murder, and has few hesitations throughout the book about making life and death decisions for other people. We root for her because we also see the helpless position she’s put into, but we also know she’s not someone we want to know. There’s a line in one of Thea Gilmore’s live albums where she describes the personality of someone she wrote a song about: “She has the kind of personality that’s a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.”
Well, Zetian’s personality is an entertaining place to visit, but you definitely, definitely don’t want to live there. That you can root for her at all works because you can sympathise with her motives and reasons.
On a final note, oof! That ending! I’m guessing there’s more to come from Wu Zetian, and I intend to read it if so.