Cover Image: Iron Widow

Iron Widow

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Member Reviews

As soon as I read the summary for this book, I knew I had to read it. I pushed it up my TBR list when I was approved for an eARC and was not disappointed. Iron Widow was a thrilling tale of standing up against a misogynist system with unique worldbuilding and amazing characters.

After her sister dies, Zetian volunteers for the same position as a concubine-pilot, intent on killing her sister’s murderer and leaving behind her beloved, Yizhi. She succeeds, becoming an Iron Widow, a feared female pilot who can use boys’ qi to power the giant Chrysalises. In an attempt to silence her, the military partners her up with Shimin, the strongest pilot. However, they all soon discover that Zetian will not be tamed so easily.

From the very beginning, I knew the worldbuilding would be incredibly unique. I mean, read the summary and tell me that it doesn’t intrigue you. Zhao weaves in Chinese mythology with Pacific Rim-esque technology. We see much of Chinese culture, including the casual misogyny that boys are “better” and therefore treated better (something, the author notes, is not unique to her culture but she writes from her own experience). It was interesting seeing this set in a world that is so clearly not ours.

The plot was fast-paced; I never knew what was going to happen next. The ending, in particular, was something I am still recovering from. I also liked following Zetian’s point-of-view. Her voice is so clear, and you pick up on her strong will and stubborn determination. She was born in a world that would prefer to (essentially) sacrifice girls if it helps fight off the mysterious aliens beyond the wall, but she refuses to give in.

I loved the characters most of all, particularly Zetian, Shimin, and Yizhi. Shimin is a renowned pilot, admired only for his strength and persecuted because he killed his father and brothers. However, we soon see that he, too, is victim to the horrible rules of the regime. Yizhi is Zetian’s childhood best friend, who loves and supports her unconditionally.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: three characters equal one love triangle. You know how people joke that all love triangles should just end with polyamory? Well, we finally got what we wanted. I loved seeing how all three of them end up caring for each other so strongly.

Iron Widow was utterly exciting; I couldn’t put it down. I loved the characters and can’t wait for the sequel, especially after that ending. If you want to read a book with unique worldbuilding, Chinese inspiration, and/or a love triangle that ends in polyamory, you should definitely check out Iron Widow!
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i received an arc of this title in exchange for an honest review. thank you to netgalley and the publisher for allowing me the opportunity to read this book in advance of its release.

4.5 stars!!!!! the way i loved this so much????? i'm going to have to wait so long for the sequel i'm gonna cry

as i've stated many times, this was my most anticipated read of 2021 and i still am in shock that i got the arc and i've read the entire book already! there are no words for how happy i was when this came onto my shelf and i'm really really grateful to be able to read this!!!

zetian is the love of my life and i will never be sorry about it. she is the kind of heroine i will ALWAYS want to read about. she has lost her sister at the beginning of this book and that is absolutely unacceptable to her. she is going to do everything she can in order to enact revenge on the person(s) who have done this and she doesn't stop for even a second. there are moments in this novel where you think she isn't going to accomplish this, but she keeps triumphing over all of her enemies and i think that's just neat :)

let's talk about the plot for a second. do you love pacific rim? do you love overthrowing the patriarchy? do you love women who are tired™? then you gotta read this one when it comes out!!! this novel asks the question, why the fuck do women have to do [insert unnecessary bullshit here] and doesn't let up until there's an answer. that answer is usually unsatisfactory to the main characters, so they're going to blow shit up in reply. and it was beautiful to read about. i would go into detail but i don't want to spoil anything and also my pea brain can't recall everything at the exact moment anyway so you're just going to have to read it to find out!!!

i would love a bit more development between zetian, yizhi and shimin. the poly aspect of this book was a huge reason why i wanted to pick it up and, don't get me wrong, i wasn't disappointed by it in the least! so much of this book is like "hey let's do this" and there are no questions asked after and i liked that. i also felt the romantic connection between zetian and yizhi and zetian and shimin, but not necessarily all three of them together nor yizhi and shimin. i would like a tad bit more than i was given and i definitely believe we could/are going to get more of that in the sequel!!!

anyway i think you should read this novel when it releases and i cannot wait to get my hands on a physical copy <3
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This book was absolutely fantastic. I've already preordered our library collection and will recommend it to students. I plan on talking about it more at length closer to publication on my site.
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An interesting world and a cut-throat badass main character carry Iron Widow through the book. I cannot wait for the sequel
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When I tell you that i absolutely loved this book, my god. In this YA sci-fi novel we follow 𝗭𝗲𝘁𝗶𝗮𝗻, our MC, as she seeks revenge for her sister, and succeeds. 

"𝘐𝘵'𝘴 𝘩𝘪𝘭𝘢𝘳𝘪𝘰𝘶𝘴. 𝘔𝘦𝘯 𝘸𝘢𝘯𝘵 𝘶𝘴 𝘴𝘰 𝘣𝘢𝘥𝘭𝘺 𝘧𝘰𝘳 𝘰𝘶𝘳 𝘣𝘰𝘥𝘪𝘦𝘴, 𝘺𝘦𝘵 𝘩𝘢𝘵𝘦 𝘶𝘴 𝘴𝘰 𝘮𝘶𝘤𝘩 𝘧𝘰𝘳 𝘰𝘶𝘳 𝘮𝘪𝘯𝘥𝘴."

Zetian is a powerful and strong woman that never gives up. She lives in a oppressive society that says that she's lesser than merely because of her womanhood. Because of this she's angry, with every right to be so. Everything that happens to her makes her more determined. The way misogyny is talked about in this novel is incredible. 

"𝘠𝘰𝘶'𝘳𝘦 𝘯𝘰𝘵 𝘴𝘰𝘮𝘦𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘵𝘰 𝘣𝘦 𝘬𝘦𝘱𝘵 𝘰𝘳 𝘵𝘢𝘬𝘦𝘯, 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘭𝘰𝘷𝘦 𝘪𝘴𝘯'𝘵 𝘴𝘰𝘮𝘦 𝘴𝘤𝘢𝘳𝘤𝘦 𝘳𝘦𝘴𝘰𝘶𝘳𝘤𝘦 𝘵𝘰 𝘣𝘢𝘵𝘵𝘭𝘦 𝘰𝘷𝘦𝘳. 𝘓𝘰𝘷𝘦 𝘤𝘢𝘯 𝘣𝘦 𝘪𝘯𝘧𝘪𝘯𝘪𝘵𝘦, 𝘢𝘴 𝘮𝘶𝘤𝘩 𝘢𝘴 𝘺𝘰𝘶𝘳 𝘩𝘦𝘢𝘳𝘵 𝘤𝘢𝘯 𝘰𝘱𝘦𝘯. "

The romance was easily my favorite part of this book. Poly representation we love to see it! It isn't a major plot but way that it's tackled is just delightful. The trust and care between the characters is amazing. You can tell how much they love each other. Their relationship is a wonderful friendship bound by love and it was just so lovely. 

The pacing was perfect, keeping me invested in the story all throughout it. I don't think there was a time whole reading this book that I was bored. The characters were likeable and well developed. I genuinely wouldn't change anything about this book. 

Overall this was a 5 star read and completely worth the read. I desperately hope it gets the love it deserves. Definitely check it out if you want a sci-fi novel with a chinese coded cast + setting, and poly rep! 

𝗧𝗵𝗮𝗻𝗸 𝘆𝗼𝘂 𝘁𝗼 𝗡𝗲𝘁𝗴𝗮𝗹𝗹𝗲𝘆 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗣𝗲𝗻𝗴𝘂𝗶𝗻 𝗧𝗲𝗲𝗻 𝗳𝗼𝗿 𝗮𝗻 𝗲𝗔𝗥𝗖 𝗶𝗻 𝗲𝘅𝗰𝗵𝗮𝗻𝗴𝗲 𝗳𝗼𝗿 𝗺𝘆 𝗵𝗼𝗻𝗲𝘀𝘁 𝗿𝗲𝘃𝗶𝗲𝘄.
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All the stars in the world!!! 

This book might be everything I've ever wanted in a YA book. EVER. 

I always tend to be annoyed when books promise me darkness and bloodshed but fail to deliver. This book, on other hand, lives up to its promises. Zetian is a determined, fierce, young woman with a vendetta. She is not tied down by what society deems as appropriate or the morals and shame they try to force upon her. For all their attempts to oppress her, they only make her more determined to break free. 

She is the sort of young woman I would hope I could be if I was forced under the same circumstances. Zetian is not a monster. But she angry. And she has every right to be. Society deems her less than. Her family treats her as lesser than. Her sister was murdered and her death left unavenged. Rather than break down and fall apart over all of these injustices, she hatches a plan for vengeance. And she succeeds. 

But when she learns of the injustices that have been wrought upon young women such as herself for generations, of the lies created and perpetuated to keep them down, she resolves to overhaul the entire misogynistic system. And through all that, she also finds love and a sense of self. Zetian comes to understand through her relationships that love is infinite and given freely with no conditions. Something she never experienced with her own family. 

She is a true queen in the making, and I cannot wait to see her rise even further. 

It's been a long time since I've praised a book this much. But what can I say, I love this book. And I hope it gets the love it deserves. 

Hats off the author!
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I was very excited about this book and I will say from the start that I still think the story idea is really interesting! I like what's being done with the characters and how certain tropes (for one, the dreaded YA love triangle) are subverted. Unfortunately, I didn't really hit it off with the writing style or some of the ways the book was told. Part of that is just that is a me problem - I showed a friend of mine who reads more YA than I do some of the passages and she said it's just how YA books are written. So, fully admitting I am not exactly in the target audience.  That being said, I still felt some of the story choices were weird. For instance <spoiler>the way that Li Shimin has an addiction forced on him was horrifying, but the fact that it's then used as an excuse for how he kept fighting in the war and incidentally killing female pilots didn't really work for me. I felt like if there was more focus on the fact that he felt the war itself was important enough to save more lives for the sacrifice of one, and the women were volunteering with the hope that they would not die, etc, that might have seemed more logical. In this, it felt more like he had to have his culpability wiped away in order to be a love interest.  I also found it weird to believe that they would keep giving people who have proven very willing to do great harm to the army GIANT ROBOTS to fight in. If they want to make sure these pilots die, then probably don't strap them to a bomb they can use to blow you up in the process? Perhaps the illogical way the military was set up this is explained more in later books, but to me it just felt more and more nonsensical.</spoiler> So in conclusion, cool idea, the execution didn't work for me.
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This was an amazing read that left me wanting more. From the jump it was captivating and the main character Wu Zetian's progression into a powerful and relentless female emperor was satisfying to read. I loved the relationship between Yizhi, LI Shimin, and Zetian. It was an unexpected trio that broke out of the stereotypical love triangle we see usually in YA books and it was a refreshing change that I could not stop freaking out about. The way the characters' sexuality was told is simple and forward and leaves no questions asked. Everyone is bisexual and we love to see it. I am so pumped for the next book I can't wait.
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Every once in a while, a book comes along that feels utterly fearless, sweeping you along for the ride with bold storytelling, brilliant characters, and a rollercoaster ride of a plot. IRON WIDOW is one of those books, and I can't wait to recommend it to everyone I know.

On paper, the premise sounds like a bizarre and unexpected mashup: The Handmaid's Tale meets Pacific Rim plus a remix of several different figures from Chinese history and some serious gender-role-smashing in a world where boy-girl teams of pilots are required to basically spirit/mind-meld to control sci-fi robots that hold off invaders, with the *tiny* detail that the female pilots typically get drained and killed by the process. Wu Zetian is one of my favorite protagonists of the year: fierce and brave and impulsive and maybe a little unhinged in the best way possible. This isn't the kind of YA fantasy/sci-fi that calls itself "dark" for having the protagonist angst over killing someone justifiably - these characters live in a brutal world and are up to the challenge of surviving in it. And yet, somehow, it never feels like "gritty", grimdark misery - it's also a rollicking action adventure that feels like the kind of blockbuster movie you wish Hollywood would make.

On the topic of things we need more of: male characters like Li Shimin and Gao Yizhi. One intense, strong, and damaged, the other soft, scholarly, and sweet; both incredible counterbalances to Zetian (and to each other because oh yeah, this books Goes There and is not coy about it and honestly more love triangles should take the damn hint). Tearing down misogyny and power structures *and* sending sideeye at toxic media tropes? I am HERE for it and you should be too.
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Iron Widow is Xiran Jay Zhao's Chinese history-inspired sci-fi/fantasy debut novel. Just those things about the book alone made this book go sky-high on my TBR. Then I looked into it a bit more and found out it has a strong female MC who's driven by revenge and a polyamorous love triangle which is something you do not see often in books. 

So was this book everything I expected and more? Did it meet all of my expectations? 

I would say it met around 90% of my expectations. Yes, it was awesome and yes, I loved it, but there were just a few parts of the book I didn't like as much as others. But alas (look at me sounding all fancy) I couldn't bear to give this book anything less than 5 stars.

The plot follows our main character Zetain, whose sister has been sacrificed and killed to power a Chrysalis run by a male pilot to fight the mecha aliens outside the Great Wall. She's determined to get her revenge-- so she signs up to be a concubine-pilot. Once she gains the pilot's trust, she plans to slit his throat as he sleeps. But things don't turn out as she plans, and she manages to take control of the Chrysalis and emerge alive. (With the pilot dead, which is a bonus.) She becomes the Iron Widow and the government has no idea what to do with her. They pair her with Li Shimin-- the strongest pilot alive with a qi of 10,000. Zetain discovers secrets hidden from the eyes of commoners like her buried deep, deep down and realizes everything isn't as it seems...

I loved the plot so much that it's almost not ok. It's one of a kind, fast-paced, not boring, thrilling, and absolutely exhilarating to read. Your heart thumps, your breath catches in your throat, and you miss a lot of homework and have to make it up because YOU CAN'T STOP READING.

The characters, the romance were both amazing. Wait. Rephrase that. Zetian was amazing, I didn't care about the rest. Zetian is our amazing feminist MC who is driven by revenge and anger. She's one of the best strong female MCs I have ever seen, and she definitely goes on my list of favorite characters ever. As for the other characters... well, I didn't care much for them. Both love interests were meh and I would have preferred Zetain to be alone.

The setting, the worldbuilding are a lot to take in at first. You've got these qi-powered robot Chrysalises maneuvered by male pilots and female concubine pilots. Confusing, yes? And then there's the Hunduns who are mecha aliens out to destroy everyone in Huaxia. There's a good deal of not-explained info-dumping initially, but once you start to understand what's going on, you begin to appreciate how detailed the world is. I, for one, would love to visit Huaxia and pilot a Chrysalis.

Overall, I loved this book and would definitely reread it someday. I think some parts could have been better, but I still loved it all the same.

4.5/5 stars
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this book was incredible. fast-paced, amazing writing & worldbuilding, endearing characters. i loved the central theme of feminism & watching it play out as wu zetian discovered her true strength. also, i adored her as a character. she is fierce, bold and never afraid to speak her mind and stand up for herself. her character was definitely one of the highlights of this book and also one of the reasons why this has become one of my new all time favourites 

arc kindly provided by netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
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Wow. I am absolutely blown away by this book. I started it last night thinking I would read just a few chapters before I went to bed but before I knew it, I was halfway through and there was no way I could put it down without getting to the end. 

And that ending! 

There were so much about this book that I loved and I still haven't completely processed everything. I loved Zeitan. Her struggles felt so real. First, does she put aside her anger to be with the boy she cares for deeply and may even love, or does she risk everything to get revenge on the man who killed her sister. Thankfully she decides to go after the man who killed her sister or we wouldn't have a story at all. I loved Li Shimin and his relationship both with Zeitan and Yizhi. I loved that Zeitan made the tough choices but she made the ones that were right for her. 

And now back to that ending... I'm still reeling from it. Although the fight with the Hunduns is central throughout the book (I mean, that's why girls are sold to the army after all), the big twist really surprised me. I was so focused on the human aspect of Zeitan's story and her attempts to overthrow the patriarchy that I didn't see that coming at all. Don't get me wrong, the hints were there, I was just so wrapped up in the story that I left it take me where it wanted instead of nitpicking things that annoyed me. 

Everyone should read this book. It's wonderfully written, and both the characters and the story are compelling. I'm just kind of wishing I hadn't read an early copy of this book because now I have to wait even longer for the sequel.
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I was super excited for this book. Unfortunately, my Adobe Digital Editions app was not working. It constantly crashed everytime I tried reading it. I still highly recommend this book because it is really interesting and the author's note really drew me into this creative fantasy world. It's nice to see fantasy YA novels not inspired by Europe.
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Thank you to Netgalley and Penguin Random House Canada for this early eARC. All thoughts and opinions below are my own. 

Okay this book wow. It was a roller coaster of just twist and turns. It is described as the Handmaid’s Tale mixed with Pacific Rim and I can completely see that. The action and plot just never quit and my gosh the ending was just mind blowing. I really did not see that ending coming. I absolutely loved the story. As a Chinese American woman I felt so empowered reading this book. Zetian was fierce and took control of her power and her body and her vengeance. It threw the typical love triangle trope right out the window and said F that let’s make this a real triangle where each corner is connected and balances each other. It was a bright and refreshing story even with the dark themes. I really appreciated how the book handled the themes of misogyny and the abuse of women. My only small issue was that the ending felt slightly rushed with just so many themes and events happening. I hope there will be another book. I highly recommend this book and Zetian is the take no prisoners anti-hero we all need.
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I'm not even sure how to review this book... It was beyond amazing, it was everything I expected and yet it surprised me at every turn, it was an easy read and yet it was in-depth and showed the character's growth. This book is everything! I am beyond excited to read more books about this storyline even though this book isn't out yet. This book is set in a completely different world, it seems almost futuristic dystopian, and it is based a lot on Chinese history. The book follows Wu Zetian in her adventure becoming a concubine pilot and more. We read as she figures out the world, its injustices, and the lies of politicians and people in power. I found this book insanely interesting and it took me longer to read than I thought it would because I had to put the book down occasionally to process what was happening in the story. To say this book surprised me is an understatement, it was everything that I look for in a book but better!!!! I had to look up a pronunciation guide so that I knew how to pronounce all the Chinese. All in all, I can say no bad things about this book, phenomenal writing, plot, and execution, with an amazing cover and title to top it off.
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Thank you to Netgalley for an ARC! 

Alright everybody – gather ‘round for me to gush about what is my best book of 2021 so far. This fall is going to be a doozy, if only for the release of Iron Widow, which I am giving five solid stars. I was interested because I follow the author on twitter, and am now so glad I do. 

Honestly, I have zero complaints. This book hits and keeps on hitting until the very last lines. I found Iron Widow unique in that it is overall greater than the sum of its parts, which include elements of wuxia dramas, vibes from franchises like the Hunger Games and Pacific Rim, and what it means to be a celebrity in modern Chinese entertainment, all rolled into one feisty girl’s battle against an oppressive patriarchal establishment. It was incredible. 

In general terms of plot, I was amazed at the courageous storytelling. This book is not afraid to Go There, whether There is romantic plot lines culminating in canonical polyamory, action reminiscent of childhood favorites like Gundam and Power Rangers, or the dismantling of an authoritarian society rigged against girls. I found Zhao’s willingness to drag cultural skeletons out of the closet, like foot-binding of young women, ridiculous rhetoric about female virginity, and the nonconsensual keeping of concubine harems, absolutely refreshing. 
I was equally enthralled when it came to the characters. Wu Zetian’s rage is familiar, even if her circumstances and social context are not, and it was thrilling and satisfying to watch her crush enemies. Li Shimin and Gao Yizhi were a perfect yin and yang of male protagonists to pair with Zetian’s might, and I was just wholly satisfied with the dynamics. These characters’ relationships really examine what masculinity and femininity are, if they can even be pinned down to specific concepts, and it was fantastic to read as someone who majored in gender studies! 

I don’t want to say much more, but I could gush all day. I’ve been yelling about this book the entire time I read it, and expect I will continue to do so. If you haven’t pre-ordered it yet, I would certainly do that now.
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I cannot stop thinking about this book. It handles female rage, polyamory, and original fantasy elements and sci fi elements so well. This is so much more than just your standard YA fantasy.
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Wow this book surprised me! I thought it would be a standard YA fantasy but it was so much more. The heroine is so angry and fed up with society and it was so amazing to see her become ruthless and unforgiving with each chapter. And this is my first time reading a poly romance, and I will def be picking up more! It was handled so well and felt SO much better than reducing it to a hettie love triangle.
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What. A. Ride. Seriously. This blew me away similarly to how The Poppy War did. I went in knowing very little and was absolutely stunned by the worldbuilding, the characterizations and the pains and trials each character goes through, how fleshed out and unique their perspectives are. 

This is one to watch out for.

Thank you for the e-arc!
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Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for this eARC! It's been a while since I've read a book all at once, was it really 400 pages?! I don't even know, it just flew by! I was nervously glancing at the clock wondering if I could finish it all before midnight last night (I did with just a half hour to spare!). My dreams were full of the world of this book too! I had read 13 percent a few days ago and stopped as I finished up another book, but finished off the rest of this all in one yesterday.

This book is like a lot of things, Pacific Rim, The Handmaid's Tale, Darling of the Franxx, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Gundam, Digimon, Attack on Titan, and Transformers are all mentioned on Xiran Jay Zhao's website or in the book.

I knew this afterwards, but I first wanted to read it for Wu and mechs and the possibility of something I am not sure I have words for? I have come to love dramas like Guardian (queer subtext of a professor and a detective taking on the supernatural/aliens), The Untamed (two cultivators uncovering mysteries and power imbalance and each other), Eternal Love (ancient fox goddess finds love and a young prince), Ashes of Love (a flower goddess unable to feel love caught between dragon and phoenix princes) and Oh My General (a masculine woman general marries a feminine prince). I wanted it (wuxia?xianxia?) with aliens, or science fiction and fantasy. Iron Widow is that and more!

Wu Zetian's loss of Big Sister, loved and sold to be a concubine pilot who's mysterious death had not been in battle, ensured she won't submit: so she chooses death, the death of the pilot that killed Big Sister -and the death of three generations of the family that hates her for not submitting to be their ideal. Only Gao Yizhi is told her plan, a sweet rich city boy, who goes to meet her in the mountains and tries to offer a marriage to him instead. Zetian's not swayed and meets the Nine Tailed Fox Prince class pilot Yang Guang, unexpectedly she is tossed into battle as his Consort against the Hundun before he can bed her and before she can kill him. Unexpected to all, she survives becoming known as the Iron Widow.

Sages and Strategists don't give her the Nine Tailed Fox, instead they make her concubine pilot to the Vermilion Bird's Li Shimin, a criminal Chrysalis pilot, who's known as the Iron Demon for the dozens of concubine pilots he's killed while going into battle, each death he's felt and who's memories and thoughts were linked to his mind. Just as pilots feel the emotional deaths of the Hundun their Chrysalis once were.

To survive Zetian, Shimin and Yizhi plan a counterattack that takes them and the Chrysalis army to the Kunlun Mountains in the lost Zhou territory the supposed resting place of Emperor-General Qin Zhang in his Yellow Dragon, frozen and awaiting the cure to his pox. On such a legend as that and the mysterious unseen gods who demand tributes of girls, seeds, and Hundun metal husks in exchange for lost science, may all their fates rest.

May the triumvirate power coupling of Zetian, Shimin and Yizhi rise and thrive!
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