Iron Widow was such an excellent read.
Compelling, action packed, female antihero, blisteringly well delivered themes — it did everything right. I also had the pleasure of listening to the audio a few months ago before this review copy surprised me in the mail, but I hadn’t reviewed the story. So it’s high time! This one is definitely going on my Top Ten Of 2022 list. However due to experience this via audio, please be patient with my spelling!! 😂😭 Everything is phonetic in my head (though I’ve tried to look names/words up).
Zetian was amazing. She was absolutely feral and unhinged and I loved that for her. This took the corruption arc and went for it with its whole chest, but more than that: it did it right. By the end I totally feel like Zetian had snapped but at the same time, pfft, I was 100% rooting for her. We support womens rights and womens wrongs here. Something I usually am wary of with #girlboss characters is how their focus is only inward, but it wasn’t the case here. Zetian had such a fervent focus on the other abused and discarded girls forced to face worse fates even than she. She did not bring any “not like the other girls” vibes, and was in fact convinced her high-spirit pressure wasn’t a fluke…other girls were like her and being crushed so the boys could always prevail. Her fight, her willingness to make herself think passed “limitations”, the way she endured and reclaimed her autonomy and her mind and her love for herself — all so well delievered on page.
It’s violently and ferociously feministic. And I also loved how Zetian isn’t just fighting for the other girls: she’s discovering the boys who are abused and suffer too, like Li Shimin.
It’s also refreshingly queer and features a polyamory romance, which is so rare in YA (is it anywhere?!). Finally we get a true triangle 😂 It discusses gender and I appreciated how Zetian frequently mentioned how she didn’t vibe with the concept of gender. Did I mention I love her. I do wish Shimin x Yizhi had more space to develop, especially their feelings toward each other, but fingers crossed that’s coming in the sequel.
It has lots of fight scenes and big magic robots that you control with your chi. I thoroughly enjoyed the concept. At first it felt like straight up fantasy to me, but then the END HITS and wow. I see where it’s going and it’s brilliant and horrible, and I’m craving the sequel like nothing else. It also serves up some hunger games vibes were Zetian and Li Shimin realise they need to win public favour in order to help stay alive, and that sense of self that is sacrificed as they mould themselves for the cameras contrasted with the reclaiming of autonomy that goes down as they gain momentum. Loved that.It is overall quite dark too, and doesn’t hold back from realistically discussing abuse and torture and rape and murder.
it’s a vicious book with a lot to say and the best part is: it says it loud and it says it excellently. Throw in a good dash of bloody vengeance and you have a YA that is thoroughly worth the hype.
Thanks to One World Publications for the review copy!
Title: Iron Widow (#1)
Author: Xiran Jay Zhao
Date Published: September 8th, 2022
Genre: YA Fantasy, Sci Fi
Publisher: One World Books
Purchase: Book Depository, Dymocks
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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.