The first book in the Iron Widow YA science fantasy series.

52459864

Publication year: 2021

Publisher: Penguin Teen

Format: ebook

Page count from Goodreads: 394

Hundreds of years ago, the alien Hunduns tried to conquer the Earth. Now, giant robots made from the husks of the aliens defend the remaining humans. Each robot has a psychically linked team of two people: the main pilot, a boy, and his concubine pilot, a girl. The girl dies almost every time. The boy pilots are media superstars.

Wu Zetian is an 18-year-old woman whose older sister became a concubine pilot and died a few months ago. But she didn’t die in battle. Zetian is convinced that the pilot her sister was supposed to be paired with, killed her and got away with it. She’s going to get revenge.

So, she makes herself beautiful by getting rid of her unibrow and then volunteers for the concubine program. She knows that she’s going to die, but she wants to kill the male pilot first. When her spiritual energy which powers the mechas, qi, is tested, she gets a much higher rating than most people. So, she is paired with the pilot she thinks is the murderer. But she ends up killing him in their linked minds and survives, which is extremely rare. Now, the military wants to control her and pairs her with a boy pilot who murdered his own family.

The world is harsh and even more harshly patriarchal. Everyone seems to think that it’s ok to sacrifice girls so that boys can pilot the big mechas against aliens. However, the boy pilots rarely survive past the age of 25 while the girls usually die in their first battle. Society is very much influenced by the old Chinese traditions where girls aren’t valued. Also, the old custom of foot binding has been revived, at least in some cultures. When Zetian was five, her grandmother crushed and bound Zetian’s feet, so it is difficult for Zetian to even walk. Zetian’s family wants her to become a pilot because when she dies, her family gets paid and Zetian’s brother can study. So, Zetian doesn’t like her family.

The plot is fast-paced with lots of fight scenes between the giant mechas and some between people. Unfortunately, that left the characters rather shallow. I would have also liked more world-building and more information about the Hunduns. Also, the other female characters didn’t seem to see the problems in the society or they were just trying to get by. Of course, the novel is in the first person from Zetian’s POV.

Zetian is a very angry character and the more she finds out, the angrier she becomes. She doesn’t dwell on any warm memories with her sister, but instead remembers her father’s belittling words and her mother’s advice to obey and confirm. Her only warm memories are with Gao Yizhi, a rich city boy, whom Zetian met accidentally. They’re in love but they can’t marry. Zetian leaves him to get her revenge on the boy pilot. She’s suspicious of every male character, quite rightly. When she gets power, she uses it ruthlessly. Especially in the end.