Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid's Tale in this blend of Chinese history and mecha science fiction for YA readers. The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn't matter that the girls often die from the mental strain. When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it's to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister's death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected--she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead. To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way--and stop more girls from being sacrificed.
About the Author
Xiran Jay Zhao is a meme-loving weeb and a first-gen immigrant to Canada from small town China (which, for China, means a town of 4 million people). They wrote sci-fi and fantasy books while they probably should’ve been studying more biochemical pathways. You can find them on Twitter for daily shitposts and Instagram for cosplays and very Extra outfits. Twitter: @xiranjayzhao
Review by Jennifer Adam
In a world where giant transforming robots known as Chrysalises are piloted to battle mecha aliens lurking beyond the Great Wall, girls are often sacrificed as tools of war by their male counterparts. But 18-year-old Wu Zetian refuses to accept the loss of her sister and manages to assassinate the ace pilot responsible by manipulating the psychic link between them. Her strength and power make her a threat to the patriarchal system, so to tame her she is paired with a domineering pilot named Li Shimin. But Zetian's fury will not be cooled or controlled while women suffer.
This is a fiercely feminist book examining sexism, restrictive gender roles, societal expectations, and the costs of war through a blend of Chinese history and science fiction. The fast pace and brutal action kept me flicking through the pages as quickly as my eyes could scan the words because I was desperate to know how things would turn out. The blend of technology and Chinese history/mythology makes the world of this book fascinating, and Zetian is a complex character who faces incredible challenges head-on.
If you are looking for a story that feels like Pacific Rim meets The Hunger Games plus The Handmaid's Tale with diverse rep and a polyamorous relationship, you need to pick this up. It is a boldly thrilling, furiously unapologetic, searingly epic ride.
When she's not wandering her husband's family farm, kayaking on the lake, or riding her (formerly) wild rangebred mustangs, Jennifer Adam can be found surrounded by books, fountain pens, and cats. She believes in dancing through moonlight, celebrating rain, and making wishes. THE LAST WINDWITCH is her first novel.