I meant to review this awhile ago, but life got in the way. This has been sitting in my Drafts folder for too long.
I really wish I could read this book a second time before I review it. There is a lot to chew on and I hope on a second reading I’ll catch more. Edit ~3 months later – this is still true. I WILL read this a second time, when I have “spare time.”
I found this author on YouTube when the new Mulan movie came out. She did a review of “historical accuracy and cultural influences.” She has now done both Mulan versions and some others. She also sometimes puts out historical tellings of Imperial China. One of these involved Wu Zetian, the only woman to rule as “emperor” of China. Fuuuun.
So this book is an alternate world, the main character, Wu Zetian, is “based” on the actual empress. However, throw everything else about the real woman (and world) out. Because that is what Xiran Jay Zhao does. And it is fun. I think she does one of the best versions I have read in a long time of taking something futuristic (mechas) and smooshing it into a rural/low tech world. It makes sense by the end.
I’m worried about saying much because of spoilers. There are a few things I really liked. I loved that Zetian is angry. Like she’s not happy about her circumstances and she tells people. She isn’t a “sweet gentle rose” who must rise to her occasion. She is an tiger who lashes out at those who dare to attempt to cage her.
I liked that the “villains” were people with their own thoughts and goals. Evil perhaps, but they have their reasons. There were people who were cruel and benefited from a cruel social system. There are people who realize what they’ve been a part of is “wrong” and work to change it. There are people who never learn and people who do. Believable? Maybe.
The plot has some fun twists. Without spoilers I can’t go into details, but there are definitely some things which are not obvious plot moves. I was thoroughly engrossed and by the end I was trying to devour the words faster. I sincerely hope there is a sequel – maybe set either in the distant past or future from Zetian’s story to do more world exploring.