Did not live up to the hype, at all.
Reviewed in the United States on February 2, 2022
While the Author is very talented and engaging when it comes to her youtube video essays, the same level of skill can not be seen in this book.
Of note, the story is written in 1st-person ppresent tense.
The writing is stilted, and unnatural. The entire story seems to rely on telling the reader everything, instead of showing it. Much of the dialogue feels stiff and clunky, to the point of pulling you out of the any kind of immersion.
Wu Zetian as a character is incredibly flat and static, we never find out where her progressive views come from which is made clear are not a common sentiment at all, she also doesn't seem to ever reflect on her stance to bring clarity for the reader, instead just bulldozes every problem in her way with no finesse.
Wu Zetian often seems to act rude and nasty to anyone who interacts with her, which feels like an attempt to make her seem strong and empowering but ends up feeling awkward and making interactions feel exhausting. Yes this even includes her two romantic partners or "friends" it's really jarring, when you're supposed to believe that she cares for them. Tender moments end up almost feeling OOC.
This story is also ripe with YA tropes, which will hit you the moment the story starts, some of which seem to go against the feminist ideas which are constantly mentioned. From Wu Zetian being "not like other girls" being "extremely special, and more interesting than other girls" with her record breaking power levels, and first being "average" after having her monobrow plucked she's suddenly beautiful , pardon "much prettier in the conventional way".
The main character is claimed to be feminist, but literally seems to hate any of the female characters she meets throughout the story, be that her family or other pilots. The only female character who is left in a positive light by the end, is the dead sister, who's fridged before the story even starts, and is wholly forgettable, to the point I've seen people not know she's named Ruyi.
The two male leads just exist. Yes they have their own "story" but it feels more tacked on out of necessity than actual character building, in the end they still just feel like they're Wu Zetian's arm candy, above all else.
This story falls very flat in almost all aspects it tries to achieve. There is no real substance behind any of the ideas thrown around, they exist, and it feels like they never get truly explored, it's like a large chunk is missing while reading. Some get mentioned more often, but still not explored at all.
A large issue I see while reading is also how Wu Zetian always has to comment something when another character is in a scene. While reading it basically feels like she can't just let anything speak for itself, you need to be told what to think, or how you should feel at every opportunity. It becomes really exhausting, especially when the parts that you'd actually like commented just get ignored, glossed over, or just not really mentioned. The main enemy the "Hunduns" get described a few times but not in detail, even until the end I had no idea what to actually imagine besides something beetle-like, and I still have no idea what the actual difference is between the different classifications of Hunduns.
The lore and logistics of the world are also completely beyond anything that could be considered sustainable when it comes to the female sacrifices.
Without adding to many spoilers, this is mentioned in the first two or three chapters, every time a male pilot is active he kills a girl, rarely the girls survive to do a second round. Try imagining the logistics of keeping 327 Chrysalis active, when the guy kills a girl every two weeks. Two weeks being the mandatory recovery period for the guy before he can go out and fight again. Not to mention the girls who also just get killed at random outside battle because their male pilot got aggressive with them, which the story makes clear does happen.
It reads like a power fantasy story, where the Author had a general idea for what they wanted, but didn't know how to make the elements work together as a concise and polished story. The novel gets constantly described as a fusion between pacific-rim, and Handmaidens tale, though I feel like it is all a bit surface level, at least in terms of the latter. And I will be honest and say that while reading, it felt very much like the darling in the Franxx "inspiration" for the novel was a bit too obvious, especially when certain plot twists were basically a mirror from said anime.
When it comes to what I felt the best description of the story it would be "Angry revenge fantasy, with random ramblings and pointless pop culture references. And throw in a poly couple or whatever" an apt summary. There are issues in the writing I think an editor should have caught while reading through the story, because of how simple it would have been to fix some of the more awkward issues in the story. Although some issues are just so hardcoded into the story, I'm not sure if those issues, like Wu Zetian's constant commenting and telling us how to feel, could have been fixed. The Chinese culture elements are certainly there, but if you're only here for the Chinese influences, there are probably other officially translated books out there by Chinese authors, that'd fulfil that role just as well. Maybe even better, since at some points this book feels very much like it just throws elements at you without rhyme or reason, feeling like they've just been added to be there, instead of really flowing with the story.
All in all, this book felt like a waste of time. Which honestly makes me quite sad, because I had been looking forward to this book when I first heard of it. This books reads like a draft rather than a finished book, and I think that if this story had been given more room and time, maybe it would have helped.
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