July 26, 2021

ARC REVIEW: Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao
Rating: 5 Stars
Format: eARC
Release Date: September 21, 2021
Publisher: Penguin Random House Canada/Penguin Teen

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Holy smokes. Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao is a beast of a book. Part futuristic dystopian sci-fi, part historical commentary I was entranced from start to finish. I wasn’t planning on finishing this in one sitting, but I simply could not stop. 

At the start of the story, Wu Zetian is recovering from the recent death of her Big Sister. Determined to avenge her sister’s murder, she enlists as a concubine pilot so she can get close to the one who killed her.  In general, most female pilots are killed when they go into battle with a male pilot in control of a Chrysalis (giant robots modeled after various figures, like Nine Taled Foxes or White Tigers). However, when she rides into battle, her mind overpowers that of her male co-pilot earning her the title of “Iron Widow”. After the battle, the advisors decide to pair her up with the only other pilot who has a stronger spirit force than her. Li Shimin, the “Iron Demon”, was convicted of patricide and is only alive because of his usefulness on the battlefield. Things get complicated when she experiences some of Shimin’s memories and has to question everything the media and the army have said about him. Things get even more complicated when her previous love, Yizhei, comes to the base as a strategist determined to do anything he can to help Zetian. 

There are so many things to talk about in this book. I loved the polyamory. They genuinely care about each other, and the growth of their relationship was heartwarming to see. Who needs things like separate teams in fandom (*cough* Twilight), when you can root for everyone being together? A triangle is the strongest shape, after all. For those who might be wondering, this is NOT some reverse harem type relationship. It is a polygamous trio where all three members are in consenting relationships with each other. The magic system and the premise are also amazing. The synopsis compares the book to the Pacific Rim movie, but this is SO much better. For one, all of the robots in Iron Widow are unique and have personalities (compared to the cookie-cutter Jaegers in Pacific Rim). Secondly, it actually explored more of how pilots are matched (and where problems might arise). Both have absolutely epic action scenes, and there were definitely times when I felt like I was in the cockpit of the Vermillion Bird right alongside Zetian and the others. 

The ending was mind-blowing, and I was completely shocked by the cliffhanger (definitely did not see that coming). Please tell me the next book comes soon? I need to know what the Iron Widow is going to do next, and the wait till 2022 for the next installment will be agonizing. 

Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada (Penguin Teen) and NetGalley for providing me an eARC of Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao in exchange for an honest review. 

CW: scenes of violence and abuse, suicide ideation, discussion and references to sexual assault (no on-page depictions), alcohol addiction

About the Book

Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid’s Tale in this blend of Chinese history and mecha science fiction for YA readers.

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.

About the Author

Xiran Jay Zhao is the #1 New-York-Times-bestselling and award-winning author of the Iron Widow series and Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor. A first-gen Hui Chinese immigrant from small-town China to Vancouver, Canada, they were raised by the Internet and made the inexplicable decision to leave their biochem degree in the dust to write books and make educational content instead. You can find them on Twitter for memes, Instagram for cosplays and fancy outfits, TikTok for fun short videos, and YouTube for long videos about Chinese history and culture.







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