Hello friends, and welcome to another book review!
Iron Widow has been one of my most anticipated reads of 2021, so you can imagine the way I screamed when I was selected for the tour by Caffeine Book Tours (because some times it’s tough to convince *certain* websites to give us review copies sigh).
I’m super excited to share with you my thoughts on this highly anticipated release. I’m going to elaborate my thoughts on my TikTok (or my blog, not sure yet) after the book is released, because there’s just SO MUCH to unpack there. So make sure you follow me there so you don’t miss my updates! For now, here’s my overall spoiler-free thoughts on IRON WIDOW.
I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book from the publisher and Caffeine Book Tours as part of my participation in their tour. To check out the launch post and schedule, click here.
Author: XIRAN JAY ZHAO
Genre: Young Adult sci fi
Trigger Warnings: loss of family members, murder, torture, mentions/threats of rape, abuse, suicide ideation, alcohol addiction, coercion.
The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls often die from the mental strain.
When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected—she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead.
To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way—and stop more girls from being sacrificed.
My favourite part about this book was the concept.
Who would have thought Chinese history would blend so well with giant robots and mecha aliens? It is absolutely nuts and I LOVE it. I’ve recently been gravitating more towards high-concept novels, and this is the definition of high-concept, so if you’re looking for something that’s really unique, this one is for you.
IRON WIDOW is a tightly-knit, fast-paced adventure that takes a close look at the treatment of women throughout history (especially Chinese and Asian history). What made the read so jarring was how the downright torturous practices towards women was juxtaposed with this high-tech world, which made the whole thing deeply uncomfortable and eye-opening. It not only critiques old traditions but also persisting ones, and challenges patriarchy by grabbing it by the throat. I’ve never read a book that is so unabashedly about toppling the patriarchy. It’s gutsy and powerful and delivers blow after blow relentlessly. It forces you to stop and think and it presents its case without wavering.
My second favourite thing about the read was the setting and the lore. We are quickly introduced to this world where giant robots exit and transform (which is like, awesome), and we are also introduced to the rules of the world, i.e., about the sacrifice of female pilots. A lot of the world-building is derived from Chinese history and lore, which was interesting and refreshing and kept making me want to turn the pages.
For the most part, I really enjoyed Zetian’s character. I enjoy a brutal, raging anti-heroine as much as the next person. What I really found interesting was how this was a reimagining of Empress Wu. I’ve never been a history person but reading this book raised a lot of questions for me about Chinese history and made me sit up and take notice, which I think is a giant plus for this book. It makes you wonder and want to know more about what REALLY happened. It makes you invested and pulls you in. I’ve never been so fascinated by a historical figure so much. That being said, I would have liked to see a bit more development in terms of Zetian’s relationship with her sister. That would be like the cherry on top for an otherwise pretty intriguing MC who pretty much breaks a lot of the regular YA MC stereotype.
Something definitely worth mentioning is the love triangle. I love how well the poly relationship is established so that it doesn’t come out of the blue, but is layered and built up so that when the point is reached, it’s believable and satisfying. I’m also a Li Shimin stan for life, so there’s that. Who cares how formidable he is, I will protect him with my life.
And finally, the twists. So some twists are built up enough for us to guess them but SOME (and I’m talking about the very last one) came as a surprise but a good one, the type that genuinely left me gaping and wanting more.
So yeah, overall, IRON WIDOW was a pretty solid read and I will definitely be investing in this series. I think the book has a lot of potential, and most importantly, it has something to say and it doesn’t shy away from it.
I actually shared my very favourite quote from the book on my TikTok, which you can view here.
“You’ve been Living a dream for long enough! Welcome to your nightmare!”
“You can’t shoot me, I’m rich!”
“Fight no matter how much it hurts. Because this is not how we deserve to die.”
“We can live for more. We can live for justice. Change. Vengeance. Power.”
about the author
20-something meme-loving weeb in disguise as a sci-fi/fantasy author, cosplayer, and YouTuber. I’m in a cow suit because I made a promise to my friends 7 years ago that if I actually get published, this is what I’ll take my author photo in. Follow me on Twitter @XiranJayZhao for posts about Chinese history, Instagram for cosplays and very Extra outfits, and YouTube for videos about Chinese history and culture.