Today I’m reviewing three sci-fi releases that vary fantastically in how they approach the genre and its conventions. With giant mecha, a first contact war, and a dark retelling of the Persephone myth – I hope there’s a little bit of sci-fi for everyone.
Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao
Women are sacrificed in giant robots to keep an alien threat at bay in this reimagining of China’s only woman emperor.
The Hunduns, mecha aliens dedicated to destroying humanity are a constant threat to the people of Huaxia. Giant robots known as Chrysalises are their only form of defence, powered by the qi of the men and women who pilot them. Unfortunately, most of the concubine-pilots die from the mental strain of operating them. After her sister is killed by a well-loved pilot Wu Zeitan enrols to enact her vengeance. No one expects her to overpower the pilot, killing him through their psychic link. A woman this powerful must be controlled, but Zeitan isn’t ready to give up her chance at changing the system that devours them. Iron Widow wields its fast pace into an explosive, cinematic read that’s difficult to put down. The Chinese-inspired worldbuilding is wildly entertaining. Although a little more detail would have been useful, the lack of info-dumps kept the pace moving at breakneck speed. The way this book tackled the gritty reality of misogyny and the levels of violence women face in a world that barely views them as human was unflinching. Zeitan was ruthless, powerful, and determined to rip the system down, and that was brilliant to see in a character. Unfortunately, the lack of major women characters was disappointing considering the books anti-patriarchal theme. It gave Zeitan slight ‘not like the other girls’ vibes, which would have been easy to offset if she wasn’t the only main-cast woman. More backstory on her relationship with her sister may also have been effective here. Iron Widow was a piercing, action-packed read, and despite my small criticisms, I believe it’s a sparkling example of how Young Adult Sci-Fi is doing some amazing things.
You can grab a copy of Iron Widow at most major bookstores! This includes Waterstones, Blackwells, BookDepository, Bookshop.org and Hive.co.uk. As always I recommend checking out indie bookshops! Thanks to Oneworld Publications and Netgalley for providing me with an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.
Destroyer of Light by Jennifer Marie Brissett
An Afro-futuristic retelling of the Persephone myth about human colonists on a tidally locked alien planet that tackles violence, resistance, family, trauma, and freedom.
When Earth was invaded by a hostile alien force known as the Krestge the few remaining survivors of humanity fled to the stars, embarking on a journey to the planet of Eleusis. Eleusis is tidally locked; one half of the planet burns in eternal Day, the other freezes in a neverending Night. In the centre, there is a habitable zone where the majority of the humans settled. It was supposed to be a new start, an equal share of resources, but it didn’t happen in reality. The first settlers created the thriving city in Dusk, where humans and ambiguously peaceful Krestge live in plenteous harmony. In Dawn, people struggle as farmers, providing resources for the cities. Deidra, a woman genetically modified to better tend to crops has her daughter, Cora, snatched away by a guerilla militia led by the warlord Okoni. He’s building an army of children to fight back against the Krestge threat, and Cora has a unique ability he can take advantage of, heralded by her strange eye colour. Years in the future, Cora, now known as Stefonie, is sent to Dusk with orders from her warlord husband, but the city also gives her the opportunity to break free from his control. Simultaneously, two twins are hired to find the missing son of human and Krestge parents, their fates intertwined with the events of the past. Destroyer of Light features a non-linear narrative that dips backwards and forwards throughout time as if everything were happening simultaneously, before crashing together in a propulsive conclusion. It uses the mythology surrounding Persephone and Hades to further develop its themes, and the masterful way it ties these strands together was stunning to behold. We’re often faced with romantic retellings of this myth – that’s not the case here – instead, Jennifer Marie Brissett holds nothing back in this unflinching commentary of child soldiers, kidnapping, and intense trauma. This comes with a hefty content warning for sexual violence, including against children. These scenes are not gratuitous, but they don’t steer away from the harsh reality of such events. As such, this book won’t be for everyone. Regardless, I’d recommend Destroyer of Light to those who enjoy powerful, intricate, dark works which use speculative elements to delve deeply into multi-faceted characters and social commentary.
You can grab a copy of Destroyer of Light at most major bookstores! This includes Blackwells and BookDepository. As always I recommend checking out indie bookshops! Thanks to Tor Books and Netgalley for providing me with an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.
To Sleep In A Sea Of Stars by Christopher Paolini
A first contact war breaks out after Kira Navárez discovers an alien relic on a survey mission, now she might be humanity’s only hope.
Kira Navárez is a xenobiologist working on a planetary survey team when she stumbles across an alien relic. Initially excited by her discovery, it quickly turns to horror as ancient dust begins to move, entering her environmental suit and implanting itself into her body. The discovery destroys her previously happy life as she is thrust into a galaxy-wide first contact war. When she joins the crew of the Wallfish, a rogue spaceship filled with an eccentric set of lovable characters, she decides she can’t sit idle in this war. Kira might be the key to ending the fighting, but only if she can learn to control her bond with the mysterious alien relic that’s now a part of her. To Sleep In A Sea Of Stars is a love letter to all things sci-fi. It’s not particularly innovative, but Christopher Paolini has succeeded in creating a fun, action-packed romp filled with memorable characters and moments. It was compelling and endearing – the crew banter was a particular highlight. They even have a cat called Mr Fuzzypants, and a pig named Runcible! The book perfectly balanced the darkness of the life-changing war with lighter moments of silliness, joy, and hope. This book might seem a bit intimidating in its length (over 800 pages!), but it’s a great read that’s worth picking up, even for newbies to the genre.
You can grab a copy of To Sleep In A Sea Of Stars at most major bookstores! This includes Waterstones, Blackwells, BookDepository, Bookshop.org and Hive.co.uk. As always I recommend checking out indie bookshops! Thanks to Black Crow PR and Tor Books for providing me with an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.
3 thoughts on “Mini Sci-Fi Reviews // Iron Widow, Destroyer of Light, To Sleep In A Sea Of Stars”
Ahh thank you for these lovely reviews, I’m especially heartened that you loved Iron Widow, I’ve been seeing non-stop love for Zetian, can’t wait to meet her and bulldoze my way through the book ❤
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Zetian is such an amazing bloodthirsty woman! I hope you love her!
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