An individual vendetta fuels a systemic challenge in a war-torn world.
In Huaxia, a Chinese-influenced futuristic society, humankind is in a constant war with the Hunduns. These giant buglike aliens fly and attack with frightening power. In response, humans have built Chrysalises, war machines that take the shape of mythical animals and are powered by the qi of two pilots, one bringing the female yin force and the other the male yang. The female concubine-pilot typically dies in the battle, having been entirely drained of her qi. This sacrificial attitude toward females results in the death of narrator Zetian’s older sister. Bent on revenge, Zetian, a frontier girl who chafes at the idea of rigid gender roles and imagines the freedom of “giving onlookers no easy way to bind me with a simple label,” voluntarily becomes a concubine-pilot. She proclaims herself the nightmare these careless, selfishly ambitious boy pilots deserve to face. When she is paired with Li Shimin, a pilot and murderer with powerful qi, she must be strategic to survive the war and take down the patriarchy. Things become complicated when her forbidden love interest, wealthy, protective Yizhi, gets involved. The action-packed plot, involving battles both physical and mental, is original and incorporates queer themes and Zetian’s unwavering, cathartic feminism. However, lapses in worldbuilding and characters’ relationships result in some events feeling random and forced. The epilogue promises a sequel.
A pleasurable read despite some inconsistencies.(content note) (Science fiction. 14-18)