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Iron Widow

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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 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.


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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 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.

30 review for Iron Widow

  1. 5 out of 5

    Xiran Jay Zhao

    ENFORCE YOUR LAST PATHETIC GENDER ROLE, PATRIARCHY PS You can find more pretty art, memes, and the mecha designs on my website! 😛 Been seeing some confusion about this so thought I'd clarify here: this book is not historical fantasy or alternate history! It's a story set in a totally different sci-fi world with characters who are only inspired by historical figures from across Chinese history (not just the Tang dynasty). Lots of creative liberties were taken for thematic purposes, so the character ENFORCE YOUR LAST PATHETIC GENDER ROLE, PATRIARCHY PS You can find more pretty art, memes, and the mecha designs on my website! 😛 Been seeing some confusion about this so thought I'd clarify here: this book is not historical fantasy or alternate history! It's a story set in a totally different sci-fi world with characters who are only inspired by historical figures from across Chinese history (not just the Tang dynasty). Lots of creative liberties were taken for thematic purposes, so the characters only resemble the historical figures in personality and general vibe. Kind of like comic book adaptations/elseworlds where they play around with the iconic characters' backstories or place them in radically different life circumstances. All historical references should only be seen as Easter eggs instead of attempts at accuracy, since there's no specific era to be accurate to 😂 But if you want to learn the actual history of Empress Wu's life, I've made some videos going into detail about it! Serious PSA: When I wrote this book, I was told by multiple people that I would encounter resistance at every step (publishers, reviewers, libraries) because I'm letting the protagonist enter a polyamorous relationship instead of forcing her to choose between two love interests, and they have basically never seen that done in YA before (though there actually ARE a few! Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton, for example). There's no doubt that my journey would be a lot easier if I had cut the MFM triad into a standard YA love triangle. But, I persisted. Because barriers will not come down unless you BREAK THEM. Only by publishing more poly books can it be normalized, and future authors writing it won't have to go through the same struggle. That being said, if you see any people anywhere slamming this book because of the polyamory, please do NOT engage or harass them. Likely, you cannot change their minds. Please do not start witch hunts in authors' names. Just keep supporting us, and we can ride it out! Because of the harassment and slander that I've received on Goodreads, though, I will no longer be checking this page. I'll still be supporting other books, but if you have any questions about mine, please reach me at my Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, or the email on my website! I literally won't see your question otherwise. Please think critically about what you read. I have never engaged directly with a reviewer, and I never will. Non-Serious Bonus Summary for Weeb Eyes Only: Under siege by monsters beyond the Great Wall like that shitty Matt Damon movie, except the monsters are Cybertronian-like sentient machines, a society that has the fashion, social customs, and beliefs of Ancient China but futuristic tech fights back by pulling a Neon Genesis Evangelion and rebuilding their very invaders into giant mecha. A boy-girl pair in their teens, because of course they have to be teens, pilot the mecha Darling in the Franxx style, except in a much more sensible position (he hugs her from behind). Under command of human pilots, these mecha take on forms inspired by East Asian myth creatures and transform like Transformers through Digimon-esque evolution lines that get more humanoid as you go on. The pilots physically embody them, so it's more Attack on Titan than Gundam. Oh, and they blast qi attacks, so the battles honestly read like a bunch of furries engaged in a Dragon Ball Z fight, and that’s no one’s fault but mine. Catch this in your local bookstore Fall 2021.

  2. 4 out of 5

    chai ♡

    "Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid's Tale in a polyamorous reimagining of China's only female emperor" I have finally gotten around to reading this book and I AM SO GIDDY WITH EXCITEMENT LET’S GO "Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid's Tale in a polyamorous reimagining of China's only female emperor" I have finally gotten around to reading this book and I AM SO GIDDY WITH EXCITEMENT LET’S GO

  3. 5 out of 5

    anna (½ of readsrainbow)

    rep: Chinese-coded cast & setting, disabled bi mc, bi mcs, polyamory tw: gore, murder, torture, mentions of rape, threats of rape, misogyny, femicide, suicide ideation, abuse, alcohol addiction Review also on Reads Rainbow. ARC provided by the publisher. Irow Widow is the feminist agenda, actually. It’s almost impossible to pinpoint one single thing that ensures Irow Widow is such a spectacular novel, and that’s because all the ingredients are equally amazing. Let us start, though, with arguably th rep: Chinese-coded cast & setting, disabled bi mc, bi mcs, polyamory tw: gore, murder, torture, mentions of rape, threats of rape, misogyny, femicide, suicide ideation, abuse, alcohol addiction Review also on Reads Rainbow. ARC provided by the publisher. Irow Widow is the feminist agenda, actually. It’s almost impossible to pinpoint one single thing that ensures Irow Widow is such a spectacular novel, and that’s because all the ingredients are equally amazing. Let us start, though, with arguably the most important part: the characters. The three of them are what carries the story, and they could not be more different from each other, while still sharing some of the same goals & values. Those goals? Vengeance. And possibly world peace, so to speak. First of all, we have Zetian, a truly groundbreaking protagonist. The whole book only happens because Zetian wants to avenge her older sister’s (pointless and predictable) death. But the author doesn’t simply let the readers know that this is Zetian’s heart’s desire; instead they spend a lot of time explaining the circumstances, making sure that the readers realise it’s misogyny that killed that girl. Frankly, misogyny as a concept, embodied by some of the most powerful men in Irow Widow & by the core principles on which its world is built, is the real villain of the story. Some of those misogynistic principles are boldly borrowed from actual Chinese history (like little girls getting their feet bound so they can’t walk and thus remain completely depended on their husbands; and also “beautiful” in their eyes), some are only grown on the echoes of it (like the pilots seats, inspired by the philosophy of Yin and Yang but taking it so much further, to create something ugly). Villains can be defeated, though, and Wu Zetian takes great pleasure in cutting every impersonation of misogyny down, both in a literal, physical sense & by breaking societal norms. No spoilers, but every chance she gets, she spits in the face of power built on suffering of marginalised people. It’s no exaggeration to say she takes everything the society has taught her about how women should behave, she takes her own disfigured body & she molds it into a great weapon to fight injustice with, to avenge her sister and countless other girls. But Wu Zetian is only one part of the trio that every reader will surely become obsessed with. There are also two boys, absolutely nothing alike. A scholar and a pilot; a civilised man on whom people place hopes & dreams and a brute warrior who shouldn’t be thought about too long. But of course, like with almost everything in Irow Widow, those are just the appearances. In reality, just like Wu Zetian, both Li Shimin and Gao Yizhi will fight to the death for what they believe in. It’s no wonder then that all of them fall in love with each other. And it’s not simply a case where we get a polyamorous relationship at the very end, just to avoid a love triangle. Instead, it all happens naturally. Each of the characters falls for the other two at their own pace, and even more importantly: they talk about the implications of loving more than one person. There is no jealousy, but instead one boy gently explaining how Wu Zetian loving someone else as well, doesn’t mean she loves him any less. Their love isn’t a separate entity, running alongside the main plot. On the contrary, their love makes them stronger, in a very literal sense. Their love allows some of the main events in the book to unfold. Their love is the center of the story, in some ways. There’s also something to be said about the very evident gentleness of Gao Yizhi who still, when the time calls to defend/avenge Wu Zetian, can be absolutely ruthless, even to his own blood, compared with Li Shimin being perceived by everyone as a feral dog while actually being the living incarnation of that one Richard Siken line (“We have not touched the stars, \ nor are we forgiven, which brings us back \ to the hero’s shoulders and the gentleness that comes, \ not from the absence of violence, but despite \ the abundance of it”). And, of course, no review of Irow Widow is finished before mentioning the ending. The story does a complete 180 spin in the most exciting and satisfying of ways, and creates the setup for a sequel of monumental proportions. If you have ever read Ender's Game, then you might have some idea of what kind of a mind-fuck we’re talking about here. (Not that I’m recommending Ender's Game.) Irow Widow is, to quote the classics, absolutely unhinged. Which is to say it’s one of the very few novels out there that allow their female (nonbinary?) protagonist to gain full ownership not only of her body, but of her destiny; to be merciless and vengeful, and cold-blooded; to kill people in order to achieve her goals. All that ensures that reading Irow Widow is an experience unlike any other, and even months later you will still want to scream about it at the top of your lungs.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Melanie

    ARC Provided by the Author & Caffeine Book Tours "This world does not deserve my respect. It is not worthy of my kindness or compassion." I’ll be completely honest, when I read the author note at the start of this book I knew I was about to fall in love with a new story. Xiran Jay Zhao lets the reader know that you are about to get a love letter to Chinese culture, Chinese history, and the only female Chinese emperor! The author does not shy away from the ugly things, but always shines ARC Provided by the Author & Caffeine Book Tours "This world does not deserve my respect. It is not worthy of my kindness or compassion." I’ll be completely honest, when I read the author note at the start of this book I knew I was about to fall in love with a new story. Xiran Jay Zhao lets the reader know that you are about to get a love letter to Chinese culture, Chinese history, and the only female Chinese emperor! The author does not shy away from the ugly things, but always shines such a powerful light on all the beauty, and truly crafts such an inspiring tale of a girl who will rise up the ranks and become more powerful than anyone ever let her believe or dream, including her family, her country, and even herself. This story is Asian, queer, and all about abolishing the patriarchy and gender roles that every society tries to make people fit with their judgement, expectations, and laws. “Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid's Tale in a polyamorous reimagining of China's only female emperor” is the perfect tagline for this book! And this story is truly so powerful, so beautiful, and so high on my recommendations lists for you all! Okay, on to the giant transforming robots and what the story is actually about! In this world, Huaxia is trying to protect the Great Wall against Hunduns and their alien mechs (who have already developed and established their own society and way of life on the other side of the wall And Huazia has modified versions of these robots that they call Chrysalises, and constant waves of battle are happening and being broadcasted for the people to watch and be entertained by. The pilots of these mechs are able to transform them into East Asian mythical creatures, and sometimes they are able to gain more special abilities under very specific circumstances when two pilots are able to bond together, weave their qi together, fight stronger together, and have a big adventure in battles together. But there are so few bonded pilots in this world. But in Huaxia, young boys are hailed as heroes for piloting these machines, but it always takes two pilots, no matter how much society wishes to forget about the evils of the other seat. Young girls are given up by their families to serve the army and have their qi tested to see if they would be able to help pilot alongside a powerful boy. The thing is, most times the boy completely invades, using a psychic link, and uses up every ounce of lifeforce the girl has, killing her during battle. "I wouldn’t live and suffer for anyone else, but I would die to avenge my sister." ➽ Wu Zetian - our main character, who is ready to enlist herself in to the army, to the same pilot who her big sister was enlisted to, but only her ashes were given back. On a mission of pure vengeance, and being sick of being held back because of the gender she was assigned at birth, she finally wants to reclaim some semblance of power for her sister, even if she has to pay for it with her life. But when she gets into her first mech as a concubine-pilot, the world is not ready for the power she truly has to offer, even if it could change the war for once and for all. She also uses a cane and sometimes a wheelchair because of the seriousness and pain of her footbinding. ➽ Li Shimin - the Iron Demon, pilot of the Vermillion Bird, and the scariest and most powerful pilots of them all. Not a single girl has made it out of his mech alive during battle. Was on actual death row for murder because his qi power was tested and noticed and now he is forced to endure another type of prison. He also is bisexual and half Rongdi. He is also struggling with alcoholism and immense trauma and grief. (unrelated, but I would give my life for him this very second.) ➽ Gao Yizhi - son of a powerful man who controls many of the social and public relations standards of Huaxia. Yizhi would sneak out and meet Zetian once a month in the forest of her village and help teach her things and just be a good friend to her. When I tell you I would die for this character. I also feel like the author really gave him some 11/10 one-liners. He is also bisexual and really does such a beautiful job teaching Zetian about polyamory. (yes, these three end up in a relationship together, even though it is not the central plot, it is perfect and I hope we are able to see more stories in the future normalize polyamorous relationships in the seamless way this one did!) "love isn’t some scarce resource to battle over. Love can be infinite, as much as your heart can open." But we follow (and fall head over heels in love with) this trio, while they attempt to dismantle the patriarchy and different types of oppression these people have been facing since even before Zhou fell. I know I just gave you a lot of information, but I promise you the author does so much of a better job immersing you in this story and world. Their writing is actually the best writing I’ve read in the past few years and the amount of highlights my eARC has is actually sickening. I also just deeply loved the themes of feminism and how sometimes things can feel exceptionally heavy when you have been raised your entire life to honor your elders and trust that they know best, when we still have so many systems (and corrupt governments) to dismantle in our world today. I’m typing this review in 2021 where you are still unable to get a divorce in the Philippines that isn't an annulment, and how living in the US means constantly seeing powerful men make laws that take away women’s rights to their own bodies. "I close my eyes, picturing myself taking command of a Chrysalis, towering over buildings and smashing the earth with my colossal limbs or luminous qi blasts. I could crush anyone who’s ever tried to crush me. I could free all the girls who’d love to run away." Overall this was just the Asian, queer, polyamorous, feminist sci-fi story of my dreams. The layers were so haunting and deep, the themes were so loud and important, the writing was pure perfection and genius levels of lyrical, and the characters were completely and wholeheartedly unforgettable. And I truly believe that book two, and the conclusion to this duology, will be even better come 2022. Also, this author is just really cool and creates really amazing content on youtube and their blog. I truly think they are just so inspirational, and I believe one day they will have a few stories written about them and the hope and happiness they are giving to so many, including so many Asian kids all around the world who are feeling so seen and feeling even more pride in their cultures. Also (lastly for real), this book being published on September 21st, the Mid-Autumn Festival in China, and celebrating another story about a woman, a rabbit, and their sacrifices brings actual tears to my eyes. Very galaxy brain of this author and pub house and just a really beautiful final touch. Iron Window will for sure make my best books of 2021 list, and I am so truly proud and honored to have been on the blog tour for such a powerful story. Content + Trigger Warnings: murder, death, torture, violence, gore, human sacrifices, thoughts of suicide, a lot of abuse (including domestic abuse and parental abuse), talk of sexual assault, extreme alcohol addiction, lots of consumption of alcohol, lots of depictions of blood, lots of depictions of trauma, depictions of depression, anxiety depictions and panic attacks, many mentions of needles, forced body modifications including footbinding and stolen organs, humiliation, misogyny and sexism, talk of disease, themes of colonization, and war themes Blog | Instagram | Youtube | Ko-fi | Spotify | Twitch The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication. (i'm the worst) buddy read(er) with May ❤

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ayman

    this book was badass. literally i felt so powerful reading this. Zetian has such a strong and ruthless personality which was so refreshing to read about. she’s morally grey, need i say more? the characters in this book are the best part. i wasn’t invested in the plot but these characters were relatable and fierce which made up for it. between the 3 main characters, there were such cute moments that made me all giddy and happy inside. they have my whole heart. there was romance in here but it was d this book was badass. literally i felt so powerful reading this. Zetian has such a strong and ruthless personality which was so refreshing to read about. she’s morally grey, need i say more? the characters in this book are the best part. i wasn’t invested in the plot but these characters were relatable and fierce which made up for it. between the 3 main characters, there were such cute moments that made me all giddy and happy inside. they have my whole heart. there was romance in here but it was definitely a sub-plot. the main focus was Zetain’s badassery. but polyamory in YA ?!? wow that was refreshing 🤩 TEHHSISNS THE FUCKING ENDING !! GIVE ME BOOK 2 IMMEDIATELY!!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lexi

    Okay, I need to preface this by saying I enthusiastically requested this arc because Xiran is one of my all-time favorite influencers. Their commentary, videos, etc, I love them. But this book is bad. TLDR: -Feminist story - Alt love triangle (MFM poly it seems?) - Scifi/alt-history - Chinese history inspired - Big robots - Bisexual rep Back to the book itself, the tagline is Pacific Rim meets Handmaid's Tale (It does rely a lot on Pacific Rim) Zetian is a young girl who offers herself up to pair with Okay, I need to preface this by saying I enthusiastically requested this arc because Xiran is one of my all-time favorite influencers. Their commentary, videos, etc, I love them. But this book is bad. TLDR: -Feminist story - Alt love triangle (MFM poly it seems?) - Scifi/alt-history - Chinese history inspired - Big robots - Bisexual rep Back to the book itself, the tagline is Pacific Rim meets Handmaid's Tale (It does rely a lot on Pacific Rim) Zetian is a young girl who offers herself up to pair with a mech pilot after her sister is killed in battle ( a normal occurrence, as girls are more or less used as sacrifices in these battles to power the robots) She intends on getting her revenge. If I could describe this book in any way, it would be blunt and thoughtless. They are fighting against aliens, but most of the time this conflict isn't really explained, nor is the technology used to fight them. I still have no idea what any of the world politics are, though they have a pretty gosh darn big impact on the world. Zetian's journey is like BOOM revenge BOOM I'm at the story location BOOM I'm actually more mentally strong than anyone else here. It's all very cliff notes. We don't really get time to marinade in the universe or time to understand it or the people who live in it. It's a lot of telling and not showing. No but for real, it's a frequent blast of the author telling you someone is the strongest, the most powerful, the most dangerous, the hottest, etc. The "why" doesn't matter. The context is irrelevant. Reading Iron Widow is a journey of taking every line at face value and never giving yourself a second to question things like character motivation/development. The structure of the world they are in. This book is a list of an author's favorite tropes with no attempt to pull them together in a meaningful way. A great example is the main character. We know the policies of the world are abusive to women, but the biggest conversations we have about it are "someone says something sexist, and Zetian responds with a cool, feminist thought"- and yes, she always has a cool, badass feminist response to everyone despite absolutely no context for how she became outspokenly defiant in a world that treats women so poorly. She the slightly edgy mary sue character, the Celaena Sardothien of the story if you will. Sure, she has flaws, but they are all framed in the context of making her look cool. Take a moment to ask yourself how this character became so cool and liberated and strong and it all falls apart. There isn't really a lot of world-building. There isn't a lot of character building unless someone gets a monologue where they explain their entire motivations. The romances are both instalove, so feel free to ignore anyone who tells you there is much here in the way of enemies to lovers. The writing is also very surface-level. It reminded me a lot of my own prose as a teenager- it comes off extremely childish and simplistic. It's embarrassing "how did this get allowed to be published" bad. Remember "My Immortal", that Harry Potter fanfic where the angry goth girl is constantly listing her outfits to the audience? Think a few steps above that. If the author wasn't famous, it probably wouldn't have. The prose was probably 40% of my issue with the story, but it was a big one, and it bleeds all over the text. Ive seen this book defended because it's a "popcorn novel", but the marketing, author advertising, and the book itself, and its "cool girl feminist" concept entirely too seriously to be a parody. Make no mistake, Iron Widow was written in earnest. So I've given the book some business. I do want to praise it for having a cool idea for the romance in terms of poly rep. I did not like Zetian's relationships with either love interest and felt that they were rushed, but the whole idea of poly romance is still extremely rare, and very exciting and daring on the part of Xiran Jay Zhao. I could tell they put a lot of heart into this book, and I really try to be honest when I review things. I do hope it finds success so they will make a ton of money, but I was very surprised with how many more objective issues I had with the book itself. I would recommend this for people who really liked Pacific Rim, folks who love all books with queer rep, and anyone who wants a Chinese inspired world. EDIT: Some of my friends have been harassed on other platforms for their negative reviews of this book, which also makes me incredibly uncharitable towards it. If you like this book, someone saying it was bad is not going to hurt you. Keep liking it and leave people alone.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Chloe Gong

    Absolutely epic. This is the historical-inspired, futuristic sci-fi mash-up of my wildest dreams. Iron Widow charges headfirst into a world of giant mechas and uncompromising characters. The brutal beauty of Xiran Jay Zhao’s writing kept me glued to the page from start to finish.

  8. 5 out of 5

    mina reads™️

    Polyam instead of love triangles in YA? I can’t wait! But this is inspired by Pacific Rim and East Asian myth!!!!!! I’m hype

  9. 4 out of 5

    jessica

    i had no intention of reading this - it just didnt sound like a story that would work for me. but i kept seeing all of the 5 star reviews and i ultimately caved into the peer pressure. but i should have listened to my gut instinct saying this wouldnt be for me. i objectively can acknowledge all of the aspects that have made this book successful so far - an interesting sci-fi premise, characters inspired by chinese history, the visibility/representation, and prominent feminist themes. all great st i had no intention of reading this - it just didnt sound like a story that would work for me. but i kept seeing all of the 5 star reviews and i ultimately caved into the peer pressure. but i should have listened to my gut instinct saying this wouldnt be for me. i objectively can acknowledge all of the aspects that have made this book successful so far - an interesting sci-fi premise, characters inspired by chinese history, the visibility/representation, and prominent feminist themes. all great stuff and, on paper, sound like my type of story. but again, that gut feeling i had after reading the synopsis and authors comment. the best way i can describe my feelings is this is too edgy for me personally. that makes me sound like a total wimp, lol, but my gentle soul prefers more subtlety and nuance in my stories and this book is a rebellion forcing you to look at it while it screams in your face. its no doubt effective, but just not the kind of storytelling for me. truly a lot of great content in this, i just didnt click with the delivery of it all. ↠ 2.5 stars

  10. 5 out of 5

    Althea ☾

    You know what… the most accurate analogy for this book really is Attack on Titan but it make it mecha Sci-Fi set in a dystopian era inspired by historical China. By that, I mean the vibe with how vulnerable it can be but also violent, and how the lore is made to be. I do think the writing style could have been a tad more whimisical and nuanced because this one really is in your face with the themes it tackles. Not saying that it's bad but those are just my preferences. There is more telling rath You know what… the most accurate analogy for this book really is Attack on Titan but it make it mecha Sci-Fi set in a dystopian era inspired by historical China. By that, I mean the vibe with how vulnerable it can be but also violent, and how the lore is made to be. I do think the writing style could have been a tad more whimisical and nuanced because this one really is in your face with the themes it tackles. Not saying that it's bad but those are just my preferences. There is more telling rather than showing and in the end, it did bother me a bit even though I enjoyed a lot of other aspects in the book. It does focus more on Zetian’s journey and her own development than the romance. “He will not kill me. He does not get to make me a statistic.” as a uni student that is endlessly tired, this flew by way too fast (in a good way). the amount of things that happened in the span of 50 pages is just crazy. we're also going to pretend that this didn't take me 3 million years to start reading because I got the ARC 5 months ago. The nuances played into the plot (specifically, not in the book as a whole) were well-done in my opinion. It never felt like it was dragging or lagging at any point in terms of the plot progression. It’s fast-paced and just my vibe. I thought it was going to be all fun and games… but Xiran Jay Zhao has guts….. and you know what, we respect the grind. If you know, you know. It does get gritty and violent so fair warning. Zetian and the Poly Power Trio are the Kings and Queen of being morally grey. She definitely is that kind of character that you need to get used to at first because she’s so undeniably herself in every page. But after that moment passes, you realize that this, THIS is that badass female character we all needed. I could see Zetian, Shimin, and Yizhi raising debates about morals again though. ”The only utterly good people in the world are either naive or delusional.” It’s not too heavy on the Sci-FI (don’t worry, friends) but still great on the world-building and details. Which I think was a strong point of the story. I am so IN LOVE with the “magic system” or whatever you like to call the way the technology works, it was perfectly mixed in equal parts magical and scientific. Which was what made it perfect for my taste. I say with no exaggeration that it was a lot more thought out than I expected it to be. You can really see that the author knew what she wanted to do with the world-building and it was executed effectively in my opinion. It’s safe to say that the tech system might be my favorite aspect. ”The entitled assholes of this world are sustained by girls who forgive too easily.” I always say that dialogues can make or break a book for me and although there were lines that were smooth (like butter hehe) there were some that were just too cheesy. I feel like the character relationships could have been more flushed out or arranged to be more satisfying. Especially since the poly relationship was one of the biggest reasons I read the book, I can’t ignore it. I do wish we got more build up towards her relationship with Yishi and Shimin before things happened but I get that, in a way, it gave way to the world-building. I just wished that there was a balance between the two and the character dynamics is the biggest reason for my lowered rating even though I enjoyed the book. You should also be aware that most of the romance doesn’t really play into it until after the half-way point. It would have been nice to see more background with the Iron Widow-Iron Demon dynamic because I really would have loved more. I do have to say….. that when it happened, it was still worth it even just for a millisecond (we are so starved of healthy Poly relationships lmao). It just makes my feelings about the ending that more all over the place and makes me both anticipate the next book and have mixed feelings about the character relationships in this one. “Perks of refusing to play by the rules: you don’t have to choose between the boy who’d torture a man to death with you and the boy who welcomes you back with pastries.” I just…. wow. I really did not think XJZ would actually go with that ending. I acknowledge that it objectively has its imperfections but I also do not care about them. ↣ Recommended if you want some Mecha Attack on Titan style Sci-Fi that’s a little dark and with some morally grey but vulnerable and strong characters. And a Poly Power Trio on the side. ↢ I rest my case. *Thank you to the publicist at -Penguin Teen/Penguin Random House Canada- for sending me an ARC to review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.* — 3.75 — ⇢ content warnings// misogyny & femicide, mention of rape, violence, sexism, sexist microagressions, murder, torture, interrogation, physical and emotional abuse, alcoholism, suicidal ideation, blood and gore depiction ⤜ pre-read review ⤛ my heart is in pieces and my mind is somewhere else and my emotions are everywhere. thoughts incoming in a few hours. ---------------------- 4/27/21 update: i also found out that this is historical fantasy or historically inspired... if I wasn't already in before, I am 100% in now. ---------------------- pilots and pacific rim. those are my key words when it comes to sci fi books now i guess. ALL THESE ASIAN INSPIRED SCI FI BOOKS ARE MAKING ME FEEL ALIVE. ohmygosh she has 2 boyfriends and those boyfriends are also boyfriends. I'M SO INTERESTED. I NEED THIS. april 10 2021: DO YOU GUYS SEE THIS COVER? BEAUTIFUL. 12/03/20: I'm reading this. I'm claiming it. Do yourself a favor and anticipate this east asian mecha story with some healty poly rep with me

  11. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca Roanhorse

    I've been watching a lot anime lately with my teenage daughter and this YA novel, self-described as Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid’s Tale, felt like spending time in some of the best anime. It's a thrilling, heartbreaking, raging rollercoaster of a book, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. This is probably not one of those crossover adult books; the writing style and characters feel squarely YA to me, and that's just fine. The book need not appeal to adults, as it has its own merits. One of them being I've been watching a lot anime lately with my teenage daughter and this YA novel, self-described as Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid’s Tale, felt like spending time in some of the best anime. It's a thrilling, heartbreaking, raging rollercoaster of a book, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. This is probably not one of those crossover adult books; the writing style and characters feel squarely YA to me, and that's just fine. The book need not appeal to adults, as it has its own merits. One of them being a no-punches pulled heroine (Zetian) who is a towering pillar of female rage, and thank god because I loved it. No backing down, bad decisions and all, just like a teenager. I've rarely see a YA author really commit to the dark side like that (or, frankly, write a teen that felt like a teen). Zetian earns that title of Iron Widow. A fun (and hot!) supporting cast in her two male love interests and frankly probably my favorite love triangle in YA. Polyamory ftw! I will say the worldbuilding was a bit confusing and uneven - the mixing of the ancient and modern didn't quite work for me, and the prose tended to be workmanlike, although there were a few lovely metaphors that surprised me. All in all, a great debut.

  12. 4 out of 5

    literarylesbian

    Screaming, shaking, shitting my pants, crying, and losing my mind over this book. I came for the polyamorous and stayed for the absolute mind blowingly crafted world that is the Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Elle

    Now a Goodreads Choice finalist in Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction! Iron Widow is utter insanity. I couldn’t get enough of it. I haven’t seen Pacific Rim, but if it’s anything like monster Transformers beating the crap out of each other while tiny humans operate them from the inside, then yes. Yes, that’s exactly what this was. Zetian has a plan. It’s not a particularly well thought-out plan, but it’s the one she’s sticking to. It’s all really pretty simple; she will volunteer as a concu Now a Goodreads Choice finalist in Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction! Iron Widow is utter insanity. I couldn’t get enough of it. I haven’t seen Pacific Rim, but if it’s anything like monster Transformers beating the crap out of each other while tiny humans operate them from the inside, then yes. Yes, that’s exactly what this was. Zetian has a plan. It’s not a particularly well thought-out plan, but it’s the one she’s sticking to. It’s all really pretty simple; she will volunteer as a concubine-pilot, get paired with the same pilot as her sister….and then murder him. Kill him as savagely and unflinchingly as he did to her older sister months before. The world Zetian and her sister have grown up into is not a kind place to be a woman or girl, and this final act by Zetian will be one small return on investment for a societal practice rooted in cruelty. Though if everything went according to her plan, this would have been a much shorter story, wouldn’t it? Instead of getting the chance to intentionally slay her sister’s killer, Zetian inadvertently does while hooked up to his consciousness in the Crysalis, aka the device used to control the giant, fighting robots. The result is seemingly unprecedented, and as a punishment for her lack of subservience she is paired with the only Crysalis pilot not beloved by the citizens of Huaxia, convicted criminal Li Shimin. A transparent attempt to cow her or kill her all together, Zetian will have to gather all of her inner power to overcome a deck so monstrously stacked against her. I think the biggest concern I had beginning this book is that it would be too sci-fi for me to follow. Though it definitely qualifies as science fiction, fantasy readers don’t have reason to be afraid! It reads like a fantasy novel, albeit set in the future and with pseudo-technology instead of enchantments and curses. There is a good amount of magic present in the story as well, with pilots and concubines’ spirit pressure, aka the measurement of each person’s qi, being what powers the Chrysalises and lends each individual their abilities. It was so fascinating to see the blending of new and old, technology and mythology, especially within a specific cultural setting. Huaxia is a society set centuries in the future, with pieces of historical and modern China pulled together into a hybrid dystopia. Things like the retired practice of foot-binding was present, and like most current and previous human societies, a deeply misogynistic, patriarchal structure dominated nearly every aspect of their lives. It’s been probably over a decade and a half since I’ve read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, but I can’t say reading about foot binding has gotten any easier since then. Still, it’s important to keep in mind that every society on this planet has done terrible things to its people, especially to the vulnerable members of it. Reading this was such a trip, and I was constantly having to slow myself down so I didn’t completely tear through it. Especially since some of the action scenes moved pretty quickly and I would get a little lost. Between that and having a only middling understanding of the different kinds of qi and how they work, I think this book could have benefitted from a little more explanatory portions along the way. Still, I wouldn’t say any of that took away from my overall reading experience since I still was raving to people about it after I finished. Iron Widow is an incredibly inventive fever dream of fantasy, science, history and polyamorous bisexuals, and a challenge to a genre that at times feels overrun by the exact same kind of story over end over again. I haven’t quite read anything like Xiran Jay Zhao’s debut before, and I’m extremely excited to read more set in this universe after that insane twist at the very end. Please provide more of this soon Penguin Teen !!!! xoxoxo 💋 *Thanks to Penguin Teen Canada for an advance review copy! **For more book talk & reviews, follow me on Instagram at @elle_mentbooks!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Elle (ellexamines)

    GOOD FOR HER

  15. 5 out of 5

    luce

    | | blog | tumblr | ko-fi | | “But I have no faith in love. Love cannot save me. I choose vengeance.” Xiran Jay Zhao has written an ambitious debut novel that should definitely appeal to fans of Pacific Rim & The Hunger Games. Iron Widow is likely one of the most creative books that I've read this year (which is saying something given that atm my read count is around 150+) as it presents readers with a unique blend of genres and concepts: fantasy and sci-fi elements are incorporated in a dystop | | blog | tumblr | ko-fi | | “But I have no faith in love. Love cannot save me. I choose vengeance.” Xiran Jay Zhao has written an ambitious debut novel that should definitely appeal to fans of Pacific Rim & The Hunger Games. Iron Widow is likely one of the most creative books that I've read this year (which is saying something given that atm my read count is around 150+) as it presents readers with a unique blend of genres and concepts: fantasy and sci-fi elements are incorporated in a dystopian yet recognizably historical Chinese-inspired setting. Alas, while I liked the commentary and ideas that are at play in this novel, its execution left me wanting. “It takes a monster to slay a monster.” Way back when I used to be quite a fan of mecha anime (fyi my faves were: macross, code geass & eureka 7) so I was rather looking forward to seeing this subgenre translated into book form. The robots in this novel are called Chrysalises and operated by a psychically linked male/female duo in order to fend off aliens invaders called Hunduns. The male fighters are celebrities, their fights broadcasted to the whole of Huaxia. The female fighters, 'concubines', often do not survive these battles, as the boys more or less use them as their own energy bars. The way the girl fighters are treated definitely brought to mind the tributes from The Hunger Games. They are sacrificed without any care or regard, their certain death is deemed necessary for the ‘greater good', an honour even. “If we want something, we have to push back against everything around us and take it by force.” Our narrator, Zetian, has grown up in this extremely misogynistic world. She has been mistreated by her family her whole life, her feet were broken and bound at a young age, and she basically has no freedoms whatsoever. When her older sister dies after being forced into becoming a ‘concubine' Zetian seeks revenge. She wants to kill the male pilot responsible for her death. Zetian does indeed succeed but in doing so reveals to the world just how powerful she is. After earning the title of ‘Iron Widow' she’s paired with Li Shimin, 'Iron Demon', a male pilot with a dangerous reputation. Forced into working together Zetian and her new partner discover more about their abilities and the Chrysalises themselves. The story is very action-driven and has an ‘edgy' feel to it that will definitely appeal to many other readers. While I did enjoy the author’s take on mecha, their take on Yin/Yang, as well as the issues & realties they touch upon (because of her bound feet our mc’s has difficulties walking and often experiences pain), I would be lying if I said that I enjoyed this novel. This is one of those rare cases where I genuinely feel shitty for not liking a book as much as I wanted to (the last time it happened was with lindsay ellis' axiom's end). Because I really love the author’s content on youtube I am not too happy about critiquing their debut novel so I will just list the things that prevented me from liking their book without going into that much detail and without spoiling anything for anyone. Also, I feel the need to say (or write) that I don't want to dissuade anyone from reading this book. I wish the author the best and I do think that they have the potential of becoming a really good writer. They are definitely creative and throughout their novel there are some visually stunning scenes that attest to this (this is the kind of book that should be adapted to the ‘big screen’) as well as some neat-sounding lines that brought to mind the work of Rebecca Roanhorse. But, alas, here are the things that did not work for me: the writing felt simplistic and certain words/expressions (‘ugh’, ‘duh’, ‘wow’, ‘yup’) pulled me out of the story; quite a few phrases had this ‘edgy YA' tone to them that didn't really do it for me either; personally, I would have preferred it if the story had implemented multiple povs or at least had been told through a 3rd person perspective as Zetian's inner monologue struck me as extremely simple and the constant questions she asks herself got grating, fast, (“what's happening? how did i get here? who am i?" “how could i have forgotten him? what does he mean to me?" ); I would have loved more detailed descriptions about the characters' surroundings or their different environments (and maybe less about their clothes/hair styles); I also think that the world-building would have benefitted from being more firmly established earlier on...we get some crucial lore way too late in the narrative & quite a few aspects remain unexplored; the romance (something i was rather looking forward to) also did nothing for me...the relationship between the boys seemed rushed and it struck me as...I don't know, I just would have believe in their relationship more if we’d been given their perspectives (their relationship to mc also was kind of meh); while the story was certainly fast-paced my interest waned early on in the story (there were a lot of repetitive and not-so-clear-cut sequences); all of the characters would have benefitted from some more depth; last, but not least, Zetian...I hoped she would be someone a la Zhu from She Who Became the Sun or like Lada Dracul from the And I Darken series (ruthless, knows what they want, may not be 'physically strong' but they are certainly intelligent)...but Zetian was low-key stupid and annoying, she had this vague OP/Chosen One/Not Like Other Girls/Badass Girlboss quality to her that I find really off-putting...also, for all her talk of girls supporting girls, the majority of the interactions that she has with other women (there are very few) gave me girls-hating-girls vibes (she has one token female friend). There are a few other things that I didn't like but I won't go into them. I think this novel has a lot of heart and I'm sure that over time the author will hone their writing skills. If you want to read this novel I recommend you give it a shot regardless of my review because I’ve been known to have shitty opinions (some people on this wonderful site have called me a 'hater', 'dumb', and 'illiterate', so do read my reviews with a pinch of salt). ARC provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Lucie V.

    I received a copy of this book via NetGalley (thank you Penguin Random House Canada). All thoughts and opinions are my own. The quotes may change in the final version of the book. ✅ Characters ✅ Romance (very mild, it does not take much space in the story but it is well done) ✅ Polyamorous relationship ✅ Pace ✅ Plot ✅ Unexpected ending ✅🆗 World-building ❗️❗️ Mentions of rape, emotional and physical abuse, and alcoholism This book is really entertaining and gripping! It's a great story about the uglin I received a copy of this book via NetGalley (thank you Penguin Random House Canada). All thoughts and opinions are my own. The quotes may change in the final version of the book. ✅ Characters ✅ Romance (very mild, it does not take much space in the story but it is well done) ✅ Polyamorous relationship ✅ Pace ✅ Plot ✅ Unexpected ending ✅🆗 World-building ❗️❗️ Mentions of rape, emotional and physical abuse, and alcoholism This book is really entertaining and gripping! It's a great story about the ugliness of misogyny at its worse, taking your place into the world and fighting for what you want and deserve. There are also hints at a bigger picture with the whole aliens have invaded the land, and there is more information about that particular part of the plot in the epilogue that promises a kickass sequel. "Female. That label has never done anything for me except dictate what I can or cannot do. No going anywhere without permission. No showing too much skin. No speaking too loudly or unkindly, or at all, if men are speaking. No living my life without being constantly aware of how pleasing I am to the eye. No future except pushing out son after son for a husband, or dying in a Chrysalis to give some boy the power to reach for Glory. What's remaining of the Asian population has been at war against Hunduns for hundreds of years. Pilots are men with very high spirit pressure resistance that can control Chrysalis with their mind and their qi. However, a pilot cannot control the Chrysalis alone, he needs a concubine only so he can use her qi and drain her. A concubine is not expected to survive her pilot and when she does, it means that she is a "true match" for the pilot, and the pair becomes an icon of hope and strength (and also a media's dream way to make money really fast). This is it, the supposed pinnacle of female existence. What I've been taught to wish for, what so many little girls dream about. I have been permitted to share a pilot's glory, instead of merely dying to fuel it. Wu Zetian, 18 years old, has lived her whole life under the thumbs and rules of men. Her only value is the money her family can get if they sell her as a bride, of the monetary compensation they will get if she enrolls in the army as a pilot's concubine and dies in battle. She is not happy to be treated as a mere possession and wants to be free to do what she wants. When her family sells her to the army to become a concubine for pilot Yang Guang, Zetian plans to kill him while he sleeps as retribution for him killing her older sister. What she was not expecting was to be forced into a battle on her very first night as his concubine, and to not only survive the battle but to kill him during the battle and take control of his Chrysalis, making her what is called an "Iron Widow". Having an unbelievably high spirit pressure, Zetian is then forced to work with Shimin, the Iron Demon that everyone fears. Some of us were born to be used and discarded. We can't afford to simply go along with the flow of life, because nothing in this world has been created, built, or set up in our favor. If we want something, we have to push back against everything around us and take it by force. I enjoyed the writing a lot, there is a lot of metaphors, but it was well done. The plot is intriguing and you get sucked in quite easily in this book. The pace is also constant throughout the book. It is a good mix of politics, fighting, and romance. The unfair way women are treated is the main theme of this book, and it's what drives Zetian. Every decision she makes is to bring her closer to her goal: showing the world that the women are being exploited and treated as objects in an unfair way, and showing women that it can be different, that they don't have to smile and accept every unfair treatment. The world-building is also well done, but I would have like to have a little more details about the history or the status of the rest of the world. I was left with a few unanswered questions, but it did not prevent me from understanding or enjoying this book. How do you take the fight out of half the population and render them willing slaves? You tell them they're meant to do nothing but serve from the minute they're born. You tell them they're weak. You tell them they're prey. You tell them over and over, until it's the only truth they're capable of living. Wu Zetian is a great main character. She is strong, resilient, very determined, and very feminist, but considering her life it's 100% understandable, (I'm telling you, I felt like -almost- all men deserved to suffer and rot in hell while reading this book). She has been treated like shit by her family because she has no value except the money they can get for her, and as a result, she does not really give a shit about them once she leaves her house. She is hell-bent on saving the concubines and destroying the toxic system the army is using to promote women as an accessory meant only to serve men and sacrifice themselves. she's hot-blooded, yet cold and calculating and I LOVED IT. "You need to make sure he doesn't misuse those this time," Sima Yi says, leering at me. "How do you misuse glasses?" I scoff. "Well, supposedly, you smash the lenses, sharpen the biggest fragment on the floor of your bunker, hide it in your collar, and try to slit a soldier's throat with it." The other important characters in this book are Li Shimin, the Iron Demon, and Gao Yizhi, Zetian's only friend (who she also has a crush on). Shimin was sent to jail for the murder of his brothers and father until he showed unparalleled spirit pressure. The army removed him from prison, only to put a collar on him and to force him to fight even though he didn't want to and as the story progresses, we can see that he is actually grieving for all the concubines he's killed. "All right, let me make this clear: Wu Zetian, you inspire me. Whenever I lose hope that the world can change, I remember you. I remember how you fight for what you want, no matter what anyone says, no matter what stands in your way." He draws me into his arms and murmurs into my hair. "You're my polar star. I'll go wherever you guide me." Yizhi is the sweet and empathetic friend that decided to follow Zetian anywhere she went because he believed in her and knew that what she was trying to do was the right thing. He is a great character, and even though he does not seem as important as Zetian and Shimin at first, he holds a key role in the story and in the Iron Widow and Iron Demon dynamic. The romance was surprising, I was expecting some romantic feelings to develop, but I was not sure where this was all going until the last part of the book. I was kind of dreading a typical love-triangle between Zetian, Shimin, and Yizhi, simply because I really liked Shimin and I didn't want him to be cast aside. I don't want to give too many details, but I'll just say that I was pleasantly surprised with the way the relationships between those three developed. (view spoiler)[Their relationship is what I would also call a love triangle, but not the usual one with two guys pinning on the same girl. It's a love triangle in the sense that the three love each other without jealousy (hide spoiler)] . Keep in mind though that the romance is not the focus of this book at all, it is present, but it is also very mild. The ending was unexpected, and a great overture for the next book, and I will definitely read it when it comes out.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Lia Carstairs

    I got some Skyward vibes from this and I just loved it so much. Also Zetian, please marry me. ↪ The Hunduns who are dangeous creatures and are trying to destroy society which lies in the Great Wall ~ the Krell who are also dangerous and mysterious creatures trying to destroy the human race/ ↪ Fighter pilots who use Chrysalises (aka mechas) to battle against the Hunduns to defend their home ~ Pilots who use fighter jets to battle the Krell and defend their land ↪ Society is against this one girl I got some Skyward vibes from this and I just loved it so much. Also Zetian, please marry me. ↪ The Hunduns who are dangeous creatures and are trying to destroy society which lies in the Great Wall ~ the Krell who are also dangerous and mysterious creatures trying to destroy the human race/ ↪ Fighter pilots who use Chrysalises (aka mechas) to battle against the Hunduns to defend their home ~ Pilots who use fighter jets to battle the Krell and defend their land ↪ Society is against this one girl who managaes to kill one of their pilots and has too much power ~ society is against this one girl whose father was branded as a coward and now view her as one too. Seriously, if you loved the plot of Skyward, then I definitely say you'll probably love this too! The similarities I saw sdfgsdfs it was so cool but I have to say that the idea of giant mechas was even more interesting than what Skyward had. And like the fanart designs??? THEY LOOK EPIC. Design by Setodra Design by Gio Manning I will say that the only reason this didn't get five stars was because of that I was a bit confused in the beginning with the information given but that could just be me and my dumb brain and some pacing issues throughout the story but other than that !! EVERYONE MUST READ THIS. "But I have no faith in love. Love cannot save me. I choose vengeance." So before reading this I actually had no knowledge of footbinding, so finding about it here in this book... oh god. Just shows another way with how cruel society can be to women istg. And seeing Zetian with this disability and not letting it define her?? I love it. Of course, there were still moments where she did admit to needing help due to her feet and she wasn't embarrassed about it at all, not being stubborn about the whole situation which made me respect the queen even more.🔥 "If we want something, we have to push back against everything around us and take it by force." The way Zetian had men fall at her feet (literally) made me cackle in delight. They all had it coming and deserved so much worse <3 Xiran created such an amazing female protagonist like I would fall at Zetian's feet gladly all day, every day. SUCH A QUEEN. Also can I just say how much I wheezed reading so many scenes where this book made fun of other typical cliche tropes?? yes, i say this liking said cliche tropes I loved it so much pleasee. A glimpse: "Do you honestly expect me to believe you're some misunderstood, secretly sweet guy?" *wheezing* now isnt that the case always?? and i love that trope "Yes, because love doesn't solve problems. Solving problems solves problems." oh how other YA protagonists wouldn't agree "You'd better not be tangled up in a love triangle." I CANT PLZ I LOVED THIS BAHAHAHA Anyways, Xiran is such a legend and if this is only just their debut, I can't wait to see more of their books!! AND THE WAY THEY ENDED THAT BOOK- THAT IS ILLEGAL HOW DARE YOU, XIRAN. You'll be paying for my therapy bills if I think what happened at the end actually truly happened 🔪🔪 ALSO CAN I JUST SCREAM ABOUT THERE BEING A POLY RELATIONSHIP???? I LOVE THEM ALL SO CUTE UGH. Yizhi and Shimin are such cinnamon rolls sdfdsgs plus Zetian the queen, I swear they're perfect it hurts. And the fanart I've seen on Xiran's page isn't helping at all😩 Zetian and Yizhi by 辞客ck Shimin and Yizhi by Guilu Zetian and Shimin by 妄猫Sama All I feel is pain, please give me book 2 right now. *sobbing* ____ Thank you Penguin Random House Canada for sending me an ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review!!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    Take a shot every time you read the line "nipple eyes" Let me preface this review by saying I am genuinely a fan of Xiran’s other content. I have been following them since their book deal was first announced and I love their insights into Chinese history, so naturally I was so excited for this novel. To say I'm disappointed is uh... a severe understatement. I wanted to like this. I could have forgiven a lot for this book. But when I finished, I ended up feeling like Zetian – full of feminist rage, Take a shot every time you read the line "nipple eyes" Let me preface this review by saying I am genuinely a fan of Xiran’s other content. I have been following them since their book deal was first announced and I love their insights into Chinese history, so naturally I was so excited for this novel. To say I'm disappointed is uh... a severe understatement. I wanted to like this. I could have forgiven a lot for this book. But when I finished, I ended up feeling like Zetian – full of feminist rage, wanting to burn the world down, starting with every word I had just read. Let’s break this down. (with spoilers, because nothing i say makes sense otherwise) THE CHARACTERS I am a character reader. To me, bad characters are a book’s greatest sin. As far as I’m concerned, this book needs to go to confession. It doesn't help that most of the characters act and talk like young teenagers, including the mature adults in professional situations (*cough* Sima Yi *cough*) I will start with the smallest offenders, leading to the biggest ones. “You can’t shoot me, I’m rich!” Gao Yizhi – we all know I love a soft boy, and I love healers even more. He seemed to be the only beacon of hope in a bleak world and I liked that he was given a more gentle, nurturing role in the story, so when he killed his father at the end, I was left scratching my head. Is this really the same boy who was compassionate towards a convicted murderer when even the main character herself was not? It was incredibly out of character. In the end he just turned into a Zetian fanboy who enabled her murderous rampage. “We barely have to do any rebranding for you. You’re the baddest of bad boys. The ultimate alpha male.” Li Shimin – nothing to say, really. Just your stereotypical bad boy with a ridiculously tragic past that feels like a trauma bingo card and never really gets explored properly. He just got tossed aside at the end. He was fleshed out so little that I didn’t even feel sad when he died. And neither did Zetian, really. “Can I really call myself a strong girl if I’m relying on two boys?” Wu Zetian – I… I don’t know where to start. I hated her from page one: she was cruel, disrespectful, and was perfectly fine letting her entire family die for petty revenge. She went on paragraph-long feminist spiels (which don’t make sense, since we have no foundation as to where she got her ideals from), but then the moment she met other girls her age, the first thing she did was assume the worst of them and scream in their faces (honestly, "I scream" was used so many times in the wrong context). Also, she is constantly being rescued by men. Even at the climax of the book, her problems are solved by finding another man. Very little of her success actually feels earned. “In hindsight, I was such a fool to have assumed Qieluo would stand by me just because she’s also female.” Nearly every conversation she has with women is about men. That’s right, at 50%, this novel barely passed the Bechdel test. It says something about this novel's supposed feminism that Wu Zetian murders the only two women she has any relationship with. First is Xiuying, a fellow pilot who turns against Zetian. Horrible, right? Well, it's actually because the government is threatening to kill her two toddler sons. As for the second, it's actually her mother. Her mother, who tries to care for her in the best way she knows how, who in the end asks Zetian to spare her brother if she must take her mother and father’s life. And what does Zetian do? The logical thing, of course! She murders her entire family in cold blood. “They might die from the fall or get crushed by the battle. I don’t care.” The narrative does not frame any of Zetian’s actions as morally questionable. She maims her fellow soldiers, constantly disrespects her superiors (with no consequences to be seen), and is judgmental to other women - especially women who follow the rules of their society. You know, like most people in a society do. She is a villain, but her actions are written like they are heroic. That's the thing about this novel. Iron Widow's protagonist doesn't only hate men. She also hates women, and she seems to hate being a woman. This book has nothing positive to say about womanhood, and it does not empower its own women. I think in many ways, Xiran is using Zetian as a mouthepiece, and I think they need to re-evaluate the message they are trying to send, because it borders on harmful. THE WORLDBUILDING I’ll keep this brief because there was barely any. This book moves at such a fast pace that I genuinely have barely any understanding of the world at large. Nothing is fleshed out – not the history, not the hunduns, not the development of Chrysalises, and especially not the magic system. There are different types of qi, I gathered that much, and they all work differently, but I could never keep any of them straight. I just wish we had time to explore and understand all of it. The worldbuilding is the coolest aspect of the book, but it has no time to shine. Instead we had to spend every moment with Zetian in her head as she hates on everyone around her except the two lead men, who are the only positive influences in Zetian’s life. “My pain is solely due to being born a girl.” Zetian's world is a patriarchal, sexist society where women are treated as subservient commodities. Normally, this sort of structure means that a narrative has to have nuance, showing how such a society came to be and how these women are forced to remain in such conditions. This book does not have that nuance. It just beats you over the head with abusive men who are flat out terrible, who show no other personality traits other than being evil. Every man in this book is moustache-twirling villain except for the two love interests. THE PLOT “I’m rising, rising above that collective bullshit.” I wouldn’t even call this a plot. This is a random series of events that seems like the author just made up as they went along. The catalyst of the plot is the murder of Zetian’s older sister (I don’t think we ever learn her name), who seems to have taught Zetian all her rebellious values? But we know nothing about said sister and are never shown why Zetian loves Big Sister so much that she is willing to sacrifice the rest of her family to avenge her. As a consequence of the lack of worldbuilding and fleshing out of the magic system, events just seem to happen without rhyme or reason. None of Zetian’s accomplishments with her Chrysalis (like the different forms) ever seem rewarding, because we don’t know how she got there. Even the final act is lackluster – Zetian just has the solution to their problem handed to her by a random nomadic tribe. THE GOOD STUFF Unsurprisingly, one of the few places this book shines is when Xiran is diving into their knowledge of Chinese history. I really appreciated the idea of combining ancient Chinese traditions and culture with futuristic tech and pacific-rim style mechas. I really liked the visuals of all the different powers and suits, and though I've never watched mecha anime, this makes me want to watch some. There are also some lovely location descriptions that really put you in the situation and make you feel the grittiness of the world. A pity the worldbuilding and dialogue don’t reflect this at all. Also, the plot twist at the end was neat. I genuinely liked that, and it took me by surprise. I don’t know if I will actually pick up the sequel though, because I don't want to sit read another 400 pages of poorly-writen and often infuriatingly detrimental feminist rants. IN CONCLUSION/TLDR; Iron Widow is a book that needs work. It also needs a better editor, and at least 10k more words. And during that edit, it needs to decide what it wants Zetian to be: a villain, or a hero? Because the author presents her as a feminist icon, while in reality all she does is harm other women and gush about her two male love interests. This book is not at all good, but the foundations for a good book are in here somewhere. This a debut novel, which are often rocky anyway – the only place the author can go from here is up, if they only give themself time to evaluate their story's messages and world. 1/5 stars

  19. 5 out of 5

    Shealea

    Y'ALL!!! ✨ Inspired by East Asian mythology? ✨ Pitched as Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid's Tale? ✨ A young woman trying to smash the patriarchy with her own two hands? ✨ A love triangle that ends with a healthy, polyamorous relationship? ✨ Revenge-driven plot? This book is so queer and Asian, and none of us is ready for the flavor it's about to bring to the world. - Iron Widow to the straights: Y'ALL!!! ✨ Inspired by East Asian mythology? ✨ Pitched as Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid's Tale? ✨ A young woman trying to smash the patriarchy with her own two hands? ✨ A love triangle that ends with a healthy, polyamorous relationship? ✨ Revenge-driven plot? This book is so queer and Asian, and none of us is ready for the flavor it's about to bring to the world. - Iron Widow to the straights:

  20. 5 out of 5

    J (Midnight Book Blog)

    The characters, the plot, the historical inspiration, the message, the absolutely amazing female lead, and THAT ENDING??? Faith in reading ✓ restored. Plot: Everything about this world was so fun to read. The Chrysallises were such a cool concept, and I enjoyed learning about different types of Qi and what they mean. I did get a little confused in spots, but I really didn’t care because everything else was just. So. Flawless. I loved the female empowerment, and urge everyone to read the author n The characters, the plot, the historical inspiration, the message, the absolutely amazing female lead, and THAT ENDING??? Faith in reading ✓ restored. Plot: Everything about this world was so fun to read. The Chrysallises were such a cool concept, and I enjoyed learning about different types of Qi and what they mean. I did get a little confused in spots, but I really didn’t care because everything else was just. So. Flawless. I loved the female empowerment, and urge everyone to read the author note before diving in. Plus, that twist ending blew me away. Characters: Zetian was ruthless in the best way possible, I loved seeing her truly go after what she wanted (and deserved) and did not let anyone or anything stand in her way. Even when some of her choices were difficult to read, her absolute raw power and determination floored me. Shimin and Yizhi had so many layers. They were polar opposite bad-boy-with-mushy-insides and soft-boy-who’s-surprisingly-tough. Overall:Honestly I recommend this book to anyone and everyone. Even if fantasy isn’t your typical genre. You won’t be disappointed. Content warnings: misogyny, sexual harassment, mentions of sexual assault, murder, suicidal thoughts, abuse ————————— I’m counting on this book to restore my faith in reading (:

  21. 5 out of 5

    Cindy ✩☽♔

    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 fre 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 enlists in the army to kill her sister's murderer and she does exactly that. 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! I cannot wait for the second book. - - - On another note, I read the author's post on here about how she was met with resistance over the fact that she included a polyamorous relationship in this book. To which I say, I AM GLAD YOU PERSEVERED. While I can truly only speak for myself, I do not think I am alone in thinking that traditional love triangles are so overrated. And if everyone in the relationship is happy, which is in fact the case here, why does it matter how many people are in it? No one is forcing you to take part, just let people be happy. It harms you in absolutely no way whatsoever. --- I received a free ARC copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Huge thank you to Penguin Teen Canada for providing me with a copy!

  22. 4 out of 5

    solanne

    ayo so this was absolutely brilliant????

  23. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Schaeffer

    I was lucky enough to read an early draft of this book, and you guys are not ready. Zetian is the take no prisoners heroine we all need, and she will crush everyone who dares to try and push her down.

  24. 4 out of 5

    may ➹

    Zetian is so terrifying and merciless and maniacal…… and I think she’s very cool for that! rtc but the bottom line is read it for very Neat very Cool very Hot Zetian // buddy read with melanie!! Zetian is so terrifying and merciless and maniacal…… and I think she’s very cool for that! rtc but the bottom line is read it for very Neat very Cool very Hot Zetian // buddy read with melanie!!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Silvia

    I was sent this book as an advance copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 3.5 stars This was one of my most anticipated releases of this year and I'm so happy that I got to read it early. Sometimes looking forward to a book is because it sounds cool as fuck as opposed to how good you expect it to be on an objective level, if that makes sense? Iron Widow was definitely a book I expected a lot from in terms of the cool concepts (the comps, Wu Zet I was sent this book as an advance copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 3.5 stars This was one of my most anticipated releases of this year and I'm so happy that I got to read it early. Sometimes looking forward to a book is because it sounds cool as fuck as opposed to how good you expect it to be on an objective level, if that makes sense? Iron Widow was definitely a book I expected a lot from in terms of the cool concepts (the comps, Wu Zetian, the polyam relationship), and I feel like it really delivered there. Like with any debut, it's hard to know what you'll get in terms of the actual writing, but what I'll say is that the writing was engaging and it served the plot and characters well. The author definitely didn't shy away from writing about the ugliest aspects of being a woman in this fictional world, which makes it more powerful since this is all stuff that has happened in recent past and happens currently in too many parts of the world. All of this makes the book an emotional and powerful reading experience that, in my opinion, justifies the pre-release hype. With that said, while I genuinely enjoyed the time I spent reading, I also wish I had liked all aspects of this book equally. My first issue was that I didn't always feel like the dialogue flowed smoothly in some parts, and sometimes I couldn't reconcile something a character said with what was told back as a reply. That always made me pause for a couple of seconds at the beginning, and once I got used to it I was able to just keep reading without worrying too much about it, but it was a little distracting. My second issue is a sense of general disbelief in the figure of Wu Zetian and how she goes from peasant girl who has no "feminist role model" to learn from to this powerful badass feminist icon who overnight unlearns everything the patriarchal society has taught her and is able to deliver powerful analyses on the way the patriarchy keeps women down etc etc... you get where I'm going. I'm all for a powerful heroine with badass and over-the-top speeches (after all, if villains can, why not main characters?) but thinking about it while I wasn't actively reading the book I just couldn't get over how all out of the blue it was. Zetian herself actually later in the book cringes a little at her first badass outburst and like, I say it with love, but yeah fdhsfhs. Because I don't want to end the review on these slightly negative notes I'll end by saying that I'm so happy we got a YA fantasy book with a polyam relationship (instead of your usual love triangle). I loved seeing how Zetian, Shimin and Yizhi all brought different things to the relationship, so that where one had hard edges the other was soft, and that they all have different strengths and they just work together. Yizhi's speech about love and how loving someone doesn't have to mean taking away the love you have for someone else was one of my favorite things in the book (he said it better than me, I'm paraphrasing badly). I seriously hope other publishers will see that there is a place for polyam relationships in traditionally pulished books and that we'll see a lot more of them. With all of that said, even without feeling 100% positively about all aspects of the book, I still loved reading this and will remember it as such a fun book to read (when it wasn't raw and painfully honest) and I'm highly recommending it.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Era ➶

    Thank you to Netgalley for providing me an ARC! Wow. This is probably the best ARC I’ve gotten. To be honest, I didn’t really know what I was getting into with this. The synopsis sounded very futuristic/postapocalyptic sci-fi, but as is my custom, I forgot the entire synopsis when I started the book and went in thinking that it was an ancient-Chinese based fantasy. In reality, “Iron Widow” is somewhat a combination of both those genres, and it’s amazing. The plot: Wu Zetian lives in a misogynis Thank you to Netgalley for providing me an ARC! Wow. This is probably the best ARC I’ve gotten. To be honest, I didn’t really know what I was getting into with this. The synopsis sounded very futuristic/postapocalyptic sci-fi, but as is my custom, I forgot the entire synopsis when I started the book and went in thinking that it was an ancient-Chinese based fantasy. In reality, “Iron Widow” is somewhat a combination of both those genres, and it’s amazing. The plot: Wu Zetian lives in a misogynistic society at war. The boys of Huaxia are enlisted to pilot Chrysalises, using their reserves of qi (spirit power) to defeat the Hunduns, which are something like metal aliens. These pilots have concubines, girls who offer their bodies and qi. Only the male pilot returns from battle. Zetian offers herself up as a concubine, too - but not because she wants to help the war effort. She enlists to find and kill Yang Guang, the pilot responsible for the death of her older sister. But when she goes into battle with him, the other pilots find her alive and victorious in the cockpit. Next to Yang Guang’s corpse. The authorities name her an Iron Widow, a concubine-pilot with the strength to kill her male counterpart and offer him as a qi sacrifice instead. She is placed with Li Shimin, the strongest male pilot. He’s also a convicted murderer. Guys. This storyline was addicting. I was so damn invested in what Zetian did and how it turned out for her. It might have taken me a bit to get really into what was going on, but I got so swept up in all the plot twists and the actions of the characters. And yes. The plot was so damn fast and unpredictable that it was all I could do to keep up with whatever the fuck was going on. Iron Widow. Even if that’s not what I really am, even if this is just a fluke, the mere possibility of girls like that sends my heart racing and my head spinning. But what happened to them? Would the army really rather kill them than use their power? Do they honestly fear girls more than Hunduns? The world-building was so intricate and well-done that I just couldn’t believe how realistic it was (wow look at that paradox). I’ve seen some of Xiran Jay Zhao’s YouTube videos, and they do so much amazing research that I can’t say I was surprised at how precise and complex Huaxia was. I lowkey regret failing Mandarin lessons for so many years because I wanted so badly to know everything about this world. As we all know and expect, it took me a long time to really understand the world of Huaxia, but damn it was worth the effort. The misogyny of this society was just on point. It was accurate and realistic and based on real events, which was enraging to say the least. I’m so obsessed with how much emotion this book made me feel just with the implied societal workings within the text. Female. That label has never done anything for me except dictate what I can or cannot do. No going anywhere without permission. No showing too much skin. No speaking too loudly or unkindly, or at all, if the men are talking. No living my life without being constantly aware of how pleasing I am to the eye. No future except pushing out son after son for a husband, or dying in a Chrysalis to give some boy the power to reach for glory. Xiran Jay Zhao did an incredible job creating a culture that just embodied the misogyny and the circumstances of the whole world. I’m aware that they didn’t create it from scratch and that it was primarily based on Ancient China, but they did such a fantastic job of it. I loved how infused the culture was with everything. The names, the places, the characters and the expressions just reflected the entire society in the most perfect way. My village elders say girls shouldn’t touch these heavenly devices, because we would desecrate them with, I don’t know, our wicked femaleness or something. Add to that the general atmosphere that Zetian’s perspective created and I just couldn’t help loving and hating Huaxia at once. I love it because of how accurate and strangely beautiful it was, but I hated it because of how accurate and repulsive it was. It’s hilarious. Men want us so badly for our bodies, yet hate us so much for our minds. I don’t think I’m supposed to call it a magic system, since this book is actually sci-fi and dystopian, but I think the system of Qi and Spirit Metal worked almost like a fantasy book. The way it was written drew so well on Chinese mythology and history, and I really loved the mix between lore, tradition and engineering concepts. Xiran Jay Zhao’s writing style was so engaging and they brought out Zetian’s perspective so damn well. I loved reading Zetian’s narrative. The metaphors and descriptions were crafted so beautifully, but the edge and aggression and underlying emotions behind the characters came out just as hard. I don’t think the writing was particularly unique, but the way it matched perfectly with the story just brought it to another level. There was something about how it sometimes felt “historical” and then threw in modern slang. Add to this the characters and how absolutely vivid their personalities were. But I don’t care how indebted I am to the elders or the gods. If they don’t respect me just because I’m from the “wrong” half of the population, I’m not respecting them back. Wu Zetian. Oh my God. This bitch was named after the only female empress of China and let me tell you, she fucking deserved it. She was such a fiery, dynamic and intense heroine. She’s an absolute feminist icon and I was living for her sass and badassery and internal conflict. I loved that her focus nearly never strayed from her goals, and I was so obsessed with her character arc and how she learned to differentiate what she’d been taught and what she believed. I hate this armor. Every time it appears, it takes a girl’s life. Mine is next. Unless I win. Unless I kill that boy first. ...I’m becoming no less than a monster, but that’s okay. It takes a monster to slay a monster. Her perspective was so powerful. I fell in love with her sarcasm and defiance from the first few chapters. This bitch was intimidating and cunning, yet oblivious in some very deep, flawed ways. Her character was by no means perfect, but she was so relatable and so realistic. “There’s no such thing as karma,” I say, enunciating every syllable like I want to crush them with my teeth. “Or, if it does exist, it sure doesn’t give a shit about people like me. Some of us were born to be used and discarded. We can’t afford to simply go along with the flow of life, because nothing in this world has been created, built, or set up in our favor. If we want something, we have to push back against everything around us and take it by force.” She wasn’t a typical knife-wielding assassin with a perfect body. She was empowered, despite having a handicap. She was stubborn and remorseless and emotionally oblivious and easily enraged. I hate the way I’ve contorted myself into what people think a girl should be, ready to please, ready to serve. But I love the power it’s given me, a power that lies in being underestimated, in wearing assumptions as a disguise. I love that Zetian wasn’t the kind of character to shy away from bloodthirst and moral compromise. She was power-hungry and ruthless and rarely felt moral guilt for it. Li Shimin adjusts his glasses, a jarring move in this animalistic madness. The bloodlust in his eyes rouses something primal and deep-rooted in me, something that finds it so… Utterly relatable. Li Shimin was such an amazing character and I was stunned at how slowly his personality was revealed over the course of the story. He went from an emotionless, suspicious murderer who everyone thought would kill Zetian, no questions asked, to this flawed and layered cinnamon roll who I wish I could give books to. This scarred, quiet boy was just so deep and flawed and traumatized. He’s a precious killer with terrible eyesight and I just love how he was created into this misunderstood, conflicted, war-torn person. “How do you misuse glasses?” I scoff. “Well, supposedly, you smash the lenses, sharpen the biggest fragment on the floor of your bunker, hide it in your collar, and try to slit a soldier’s throat with it.” Sima Yi shakes his head at Li Shimin, who turns back to the window with a much duller gaze than before. “Seriously, I will not be able to get them back for you a second ti -” Sima Yi does a double take on me. “Don’t look impressed!” “Wh - I’m not impressed!” Yizhi was so sweet and yet full of so many conflicting emotions and I love that his character got so much development and pagetime. I thought he would be a minor pick-me boy character who pined after Zetian, but he turned out to be this cunning, understanding person with much-needed personal insight. “Yizhi, do you believe girls are naturally predisposed to sacrificing themselves?” I mutter. “Well, that can’t possibly be true, because you’re a girl and there’s no way you would ever do that.” He was wise and yet a bit of an immature teenage boy, strong mentally but not physically, selfless and yet oblivious. He was sweet and clever and philosophical, but also cunning. I loved that he was brought out so well and I loved the role he played. “Where does jealousy come from, if not an insecurity that I’ll lose you because of him? But that’s not how it works, no matter how many people believe it so. 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. I mean, when you think about it, love is fueled mostly by compatibility. Whether two people make each other happy by being close. So it’d be pointless of me to resent Shimin. However compatible you are with him, it doesn’t have anything to do with how compatible you are with me.” Sima Yi was lowkey annoying but I guess it was in a good way? He struck me as very pompous and stuck-up and nagging and basically a lot like my mom combined with a misogynistic teacher. He gradually improved into someone much stronger and more engaging, but I don’t really know what to think about him. He’s trying to worm into my mind and shackle me down with morals, so he can feel more comfortable with my existence. Too bad. I am exactly the kind of ice-blooded, rotten-hearted girl he fears I am. And I am fine with that. May he stay unsettled. The romance was also swoon-worthy, and I don’t think I’ve ever used that phrase before. It started out as something that I was terrified would be a love triangle. It had the classic setup: Yizhi, the hometown boy who could have swept Zetian off her feet if he had gotten the chance, and Li Shimin, the brooding boy who Zetian hates right off the bat and yet is stuck partnered with. Stereotypes who? “Choose? Why do I have to choose only one of you?” “You can’t...cheat...on him [Yizhi].” “Cheating is deception. He and I have talked about this. He’s secure enough to know it’s not a competition. That any feelings I have for you don't cancel out the ones I have for him. He’s okay with however close you and I get.” “He’s just saying that.” “No. There's something he told me: love can be infinite, as much as your heart can open. And my heart is open to you, Shimin.” I’m sorry, let me just scream for a second. POLY RELATIONSHIP POLY RELATIONSHIP POLY RELATIONSHIP. THERE ARE THREE SHIPS IN ONE BOOK AND THEY’RE ALL PERFECT. THERE ARE THREE TIMES THE AMOUNT OF ROMANCE QUOTES THAT WE’RE SUPPOSED TO GET OH MY GOD. This relationship is so perfect. Yizhi was right when he said that jealousy is a product of insecurity, and the fact that there was no reason for any of them to feel that jealousy??? “I don’t pity you, you dork,” I say with a small laugh. “I cherish you.” I skim my hands to his collarbones, feeling his rapid heartbeat at the bottom of my palms. “I cherish who you've managed to be, despite the world telling you over and over that you’re wrong. You may have some undeniable monstrous parts inside you, but that’s okay. I have them too. No matter what anyone says, I’m proud to call you my co-pilot, Iron Demon.” Let me tell you, I was fully prepared to take Shimin’s side here and go down with it (he just won my heart I’m sorry) and then I realized that there were no sides here and - I flipped my shit. The relationships in this book were just so perfectly written and I could not be happier with the character dynamics. Even the awful ones, like Zetian’s family. The way the abuse was shown was done so horrifyingly well. In hindsight, I was such a fool to have assumed that Qieluo would stand by me just because she’s also female. It was my grandmother who crushed my feet in half. It was my mother who encouraged me and Big Sister to offer ourselves up as concubines so our brother could afford a future bride. The toxicity and toxic masculinity were portrayed in the realest, most accurate way possible and I’m kind of amazed at how well-done it was. “Appeasing them would only make it worse.” I crush the blessing doll. Its stitched smile bloats up. “It has only ever made things worse. My mother and grandmother have been appeasing my father and grandfather for a lifetime. They haven’t changed one bit. You cannot appease someone into loving or respecting you.” The representation of this book covers so damn much: victims of abuse, victims of society, handicapped characters, and Asian culture. And it’s all written out in such amazing detail. It’s so realistic and so incredible and I will die obsessing over how this book shows so many people so well. “You know, there’s a kind of predator that disguises itself as prey. That’s the most dangerous kind to people like us.” I pause. I swear my towel grows colder against my neck. “People like us?” “People who refuse to break under any number of harsh strikes and any amount of loud words, but crumple as soon as someone touches us gently or speaks to us softly.” Qieluo dropped some truth there and I don’t know how to accept it - One of the most important aspects of this book was the fact that Zetian had her feet bound. That old Chinese tradition is seriously terrifying and grotesque. Zetian was written with chronic pain and mobility issues, and she was so empowering despite being constantly affected by it. Xiran Jay Zhao really said “fuck all social norms” and made Zetian a bad bitch and I am here for it. So many emotions spill free inside me that I have no idea how to handle it, to control it, to keep it from overflowing from my eyes as windblown tears. Sobs wrack my weightless body so hard that I whirl off balance, one wing higher than the other. Li Shimin pulses up after me and catches me by the waist. …“Even walking was a luxury for me,” I croak, hammering my fist on his feathery breastplate. Then I outright lean against it. The heat of his qi warms my cheek. He says nothing. Just holds me, bobbing in midair, in the unthinkable distance between heaven and earth that humans are not supposed to reach. Other than Six of Crows, I think this is the only other book I’ve read where a character has a relevant physical disability, and I love it. How do you take the fight out of half the population and render them willing slaves? You tell them they’re meant to do nothing but serve from the minute they’re born. You tell them they’re weak. You tell them they’re prey. You tell them over and over, until it’s the only truth they’re capable of living. This book was so important and so good. The characters and the plot were crafted almost perfectly, the plot twists were confusing as fuck, and the world-building? Don’t even get me started. I can’t believe how relevant this book was to our current society while still being a whole YA novel. Generally, books that are targeted as societal messages revolve around those messages, and while Iron Widow really did that, it had such an incredibly engaging storyline that it didn’t feel contrived. Since the day I was born, the world has told me I must accept whatever worth men assign me. And maybe, despite my nonstop rebellion, I did. They told me to choose between accepting their doctrine or dying, and I did. I chose death. It was the surrender that made me fearless. Overall, this book was so, so good. I gave it a 4.5 stars, because while it was amazing (as I’ve said over and over), it wasn’t quite favorite-level. When I finished it, I NEEDED the next book. But I finished this book last month and it came out like a week ago so the second book is definitely not close - BUT I FUCKING WISH IT WAS. I was blown away by the ending and there is no way I’m going to rest until I see the next cover. This is wrong. All wrong. He and I are the two most powerful pilots in all of Huaxia, by a gigantic margin. He should be the Iron King, and I should be the Iron Queen. Yet Iron Demon and Iron Widow is all they’ll let us be. This will not do. I will not let this power go.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Toni

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This review contains spoilers & profanity. I was angry. (still am) This was one of the worst YA books I’ve ever read. And I have to admit, if it wasn’t so hyped and pitched as an uber feminist take on Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid’s Tale I feel like I would be less fired up. I’m a writer. I understand how hard it is to write a book. I don’t mean this as a personal assault on the author, more the publishing industry and how things are marketed. There are way too many problematic things in this bo This review contains spoilers & profanity. I was angry. (still am) This was one of the worst YA books I’ve ever read. And I have to admit, if it wasn’t so hyped and pitched as an uber feminist take on Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid’s Tale I feel like I would be less fired up. I’m a writer. I understand how hard it is to write a book. I don’t mean this as a personal assault on the author, more the publishing industry and how things are marketed. There are way too many problematic things in this book, a book getting thousands of rave reviews, which is prompting me to write this. In short, this book is one confusing wtf moment after another. I only started taking specific notes around page 235, and by that time I was skim-reading just to finish this thing. If this book was marketed as a villain’s origin story about an unhinged girl who wants to fuck the patriarchy by literally smashing it to pieces, and that it was going to be a cheesy popcorn mess that also contains attempts at romance and comedy, I would feel differently. Maybe. I still wouldn’t have enjoyed reading it, but I would be less angry? Also, just drop The Handmaid’s Tale comparison. There is nothing Handmaid’s Tale about this book. It is Pacific Rim + The Hunger Games, with none of the good things about The Hunger Games. I personally don’t think a book about a teenage girl going on a murderous rampage should be considered feminist and it troubles me that it’s aimed at young teen readers who might get the wrong impression. I keep bringing up the feminist things because it totally feels like the marketing slant was going towards that, especially with the The Handmaid’s Tale comparisons and talking about how the piloting system works in a mysteriously misogynist way in the book’s blurb, and how figuring out its puzzle is Zetian’s main mission. Also, the author’s own post on GoodReads begins with this: ENFORCE YOUR LAST PATHETIC GENDER ROLE, PATRIARCHY So…………………………………. ANYWAY. This whole book is set off by Zetian’s sister being murdered by a Chrysalis pilot for no reason, so Zetian goes off to avenge her sister by killing said pilot. The why and how of the sister’s death are never explained - unless I seriously missed something? It’s just like...yeah, he killed her because he’s a man and he could, so he did, and Zetian should totally kill him in return. I kept thinking the “plot twist” at the end was going to be something revealing about her sister or specifics surrounding her sister’s death, since it was always so murky and undetailed. But nope. The sister’s death was completely pointless and never explained. Well, it served the point of Zetian setting off on her mission to smash the patriarchy, but that’s about it. Zetian gets a Hunger Games makeover, because this whole thing is televised and commercialized - fighting in giant robots against...alien robot-things? The whole war thing is barely explained. We learn more about her outfits and hairdos than the actual logistics of the war that apparently the entire novel exists because of. (Just to be clear: No war = no fighting robots. No fighting robots = no girl becoming a co-pilot of a fighting robot. No co-pilot girls = no story.) After the makeover, Zetian gets in a bitch fight. The very first time she interacts with other girls her age = bitch fight. The fight is over a hairpin and a boy. Fuck me. This may have been one of the first times I considered tossing the tablet? She gets picked by the boy the girls were fighting over and gets all swoony even though he’s the dude who killed her sister. And she’s like, Ooohh, why am I all swoony? What’s wrong with me? He’s being so nice, guess I’ll lose my virginity to him, that’s what’s expected of me, right? But they get interrupted by the red battle lights - which happens WAY too often - then she learns he really did kill her sister (she had doubts since he was soooo nice) then she kills him, then she shouts over his dead body and into the camera: “Welcome to your nightmare!” WTF. Seriously. This needs to be marketed as a villain origin story, not a kick-ass girl heroine story. She never shows any remorse for killing this guy, the first person she has ever killed. She never shows any remorse or self-doubt about any of the murders she commits. She goes on to kill MANY people and never shows remorse. She even kills her entire family as they beg for mercy. In order to be a part of this book’s love-triangle-relationship, you need to kill your own father. All three of them do. I feel like maybe only Shimin’s was warranted, and he’s actually kind of fucked up about it and was thrown in jail, while the other two father-killers make themselves rulers of the world...and laugh maniacally about it...right after both of them kill their fathers. So is this a villain origin story or not? I really want to know. It would just make so much more sense if it was. If anyone knows the answer to this please tell me. Murder list: -the first pilot guy, who she killed because he murdered her sister. -she ejects two soldiers out of the Chrysalis mid-battle and flippantly thinks they’re probably going to die, oh well. -she kills that one woman pilot who she was kind of friends with, but Zetian is all, “You manipulated me to be your friend so you could use my family against me! Typical woman move! Bitch!” Meanwhile, this same woman is like, “They’re going to kill my two young children if I don’t comply.” And Zetian is like, “So sad. Don’t care. You die now. And your husband/father of your children/co-pilot too.” Boom. Crush. Dead. Actual lines from the book for above part: 'Is this the real reason she urged me to make up with my family? So they could be used to control me? I can't believe I've done the one thing I've raged at everyone else for doing: underestimating a woman.' And then kills her. Is she impressed this woman (her only female friend) was able to trick her? Or does she think she's a bitch for manipulating her? It's unclear and she just kills her, either way... -she tortures and kills that strategist guy to get the truth about the pilot seats and how they’re using women, etc. They tell him they’ve murdered his only son. They don’t actually murder his son, but they tell him, listen to him cry and be broken, then kill him. Then they skip home to their house-husband where this tablet-tossing line appears: “Perks of refusing to play by the rules: you don’t have to choose between the boy who’d torture a man to death with you and the boy who welcomes you back with pastries.” That is actually word-for-word copied out of the book. These are the thoughts of an insane person! And this book is dealing with big, crazy things - like torturing a man to death for information, and then cracks jokes about it? This book cannot decide what kind of tone it wants to be. Dark comedic villain story? Twisted and fucked? A fun, YA romp? Make a decision and stick with it! -and later, when the three of them finally realize they’re in a polyamorous relationship and not a love triangle battle, she thinks to herself: “My murder boy, my sweet boy.” Come. The. Fuck. On. This chick is unhinged. All three of them are. I feel sorry for Shimin, because I think he has legit reasons for being fucked up, and these two waltz into his life and just fuck with him even more. Just to be clear, I have zero qualms about the polyamorous relationship or bi-sexuality. I think overall the relationship and characterization was written poorly, but that’s not my beef about this book. Murder list, continued: -an entire watchtower of people -her own family, while they beg her to spare her brother (she doesn’t spare her brother) -the entire capital-building-palace-thing -Yizhi kills his dad and Zetian’s just there, watching -btw, Yizhi kills his dad because he’s threatening to release a nudey tape of Zetian. Yizhi, you can’t blast your father to smithereens then joke about your inheritance and taking over the world. How are you any different than the asshole you just killed? How are you going to do a better job of being “ruler” when that’s how you choose to gain power? -they also threaten to kill everyone’s families if they disobey them? Wow. So excited for the reign of Empress (*cough*cough*dictator*) Wu. This is going to be great. (dies of sarcasm. would rather die of sarcasm then be ruthlessly murdered by Zetian) -I know there are more but wtf, who cares at this point? I want to compare one of these murder scenes with a popular YA series about a female assassin: The Throne of Glass series. Now, I read these books a while ago, and I remember there were certain things I did not like about them, but overall I think I remember liking them enough. The character Aelin is an assassin, BUT - she was stolen away as a child and raised to be an assassin, so she’s pretty fucked up to begin with. I’m fairly certain she doesn’t murder innocent people. And if the above situation was presented to her, the one where a woman is sent to kill her, and then the woman explains she has been sent to assassinate Aelin because if she doesn’t the evil dude will kill her children, Aelin would not shrug and kill her anyways, as Zetian does. Aelin would most likely stop, ask for clarification, ask who is threatening her children, and then team up with this woman to hunt down the man who uses innocent children as leverage for murder, and the two women would work as a united team to kill the evil dude. I know, Zetian is in the middle of a robot battle and probably couldn’t stop and do all of this but...still. You can write a YA character who kills people, but does so with remorse and has demons about it, and you can help them out with a decent backstory Figure fucking skating. They have a guy named Sima who is like their Hunger Games social media coach and he insists they learn how to figure skate to help their relationship/bond. I just...I can’t take the skating scenes seriously. (Like the baseball stuff in Twilight. my god.) It doesn’t help that Sima is sort of the comic relief character (I think?), so some of his amazing lines get delivered at the ice rink including this gem: "You'd better not be tangled up in a love triangle." = actual fucking line. I burst out laughing when I read this, and not in a good, appreciating the humor way, but in a my-god-how-was-this-even-published way. Sima also makes remarks about consummating their relationship and tries to convince Shimin she isn’t too chubby to fuck. The whole thing reads incredibly juvenile, even for a YA book. This ENTIRE book reads like a juvenile first draft written by a fifteen year old that has never had sex but they can’t stop thinking about sex. YA books don’t have to be juvenile garbage. Most of them aren’t. Oh, and Sima’s teary eyed, “I still remember when…” speech at the ridiculous “wedding”. For fuck’s sake. Are you trying to add humor again? It doesn’t fit the entire rest of the tone of the book and always feels incredibly ridiculous. I don’t even want to talk about the magical wedding scene. Here are some more lines from the book: “Gao-zong, why do you hate women so much?” Walking right into an expository conversation about the sexist state of the world. This happens a lot, where it just feels like the author is stepping up onto their soapbox and broadcasting their world views into the reader’s face and it’s clunky and awkward with a whole lot of telling and very little showing. “Wow, the horror! As if I wasn’t naked when I was born.” STFU. She often acts offended one second, or horrified, and then completely flippant and pro-anti-body-shaming the next second, and for the record: she plans on murdering this person for making her take her clothes off. The fact she shrugs it off, with the above line, and the next second she’s planning his murder? I just can’t with this “heroine”. There’s also a scene at this branding party where someone brings up the “Welcome to your nightmare!” line and she’s like, “Oh geeze, was that too much?” And she suddenly feels silly and embarrassed about it. SILLY AND EMBARRASSED. About delivering some epic sounding line after making her first kill. She is a psychopathic murderer. But this book is not written as if she is a psychopathic murderer, this book is written as if she is the savior of all women-kind. Even though she hates every woman she meets. Why is Zetian the ONLY woman who wants to fight back? Where is the rest of her girl-team? Why is she the most infuriating girl-power-not-like-other-girls-Mary-Sue I have EVER encountered? Feminism is about equality. Feminism is not about one power hungry girl ripping the world apart because she hates being a girl. Moving on: in one breath she’s deemed too chubby to be fuckable (but why is she beautiful and slim on the cover???), and in a scene later on she’s being dressed up as a sexy fox on a leash being held by her co-pilot, all for the sake of branding. AND THEN her bashful tough guy is all embarrassed about the pictures, and instead of seeing her inner thoughts on how she feels about being dressed up as a sex-fox, the scene is all about her comforting her man who feels bad about holding the end of her leash and looking sexy himself. Because all men are evil bastards in this story, unless you are one of the two men she is in banging and needs to coddle. And this whole sexy-fox-photo-shoot is somehow to promote the...war? Huh? Wait, there’s a war? I kind of forgot. And can we talk about Shimin? I am so over the tough guy who gets talked about as being the devil himself, blah fucking blah, but he’s actually a sweet teddy bear, once you get to know him. He’s an alpha male who’s practically blind and has to wear nerdy glasses, but only when he’s not on camera, because you know, branding, and his eyes got that way because he reads too much. Because he’s a nerdy genius. Oh my fucking god. And btw, he murdered his father. But isn’t he just the hottest, sweetest tough guy you’ve ever met? *throws tablet* The part where she acts coy and asks to be carried to her bed so she can coerce him into fucking her. *throws tablet* Am I the only one reading this shit? What else is everyone reading who is raving about this book? Fuck. *throws tablet* This book owes me a new tablet. Let’s talk birth control, because this book sure as fuck doesn’t. Many times Zetian thinks about how much she does not want to have children as if not wanting to birth children is the apex on which all feminism stands. You can’t possibly be anti-misogynist AND want to have children. And on the flip side, she’s angered that she feels that throughout her whole life sex has been portrayed to her as this dirty thing she shouldn’t do, but something ALL men will want from her, and that she should be willing to give it to the men who essentially own her, such as Shimin (who actually takes the time to mansplain to her that men won’t actually die if they are sex deprived and they don’t have to constantly rape women in order to stay alive, as it seems one is led to believe in this fucked up sex-driven-ya-book). The girls who get sent to be co-pilots are subjugated to virginity tests. Zetian offers to have another one done at some point, to prove she hasn’t slept with anyone. Yet, she almost sleeps with the very first pilot guy she meets (the one who killed her sister, who she kills). She eventually sleeps with both Yizhi and Shimin, although willingly and because she is in love. Swoon. *gag* And it’s supposed to be empowering, a woman taking control of her sex life and not feeling guilty about it. And these are very PG sex scenes where they makeout and feel horny and it’s obvious what they’re about to do, but it fades to black. BUT it would be nice to acknowledge at some point, in her own thoughts and musings, that having sex means she could potentially get pregnant and that’s something she has already decided she doesn’t want, because heaven forbid you want to have a family and also be a feminist. Way to shit on all the girls who actually want to get married and have kids. I’m really fucking tired of tough girls also being anti-marriage, anti-mom women. You can be a mom and you can choose to marry a man and you can still be a fucking bad ass feminist. So, is Zetian just dumb and doesn’t know that’s how babies are made? Are they using some sort of birth control? It just never gets mentioned? It doesn’t have to be some awkward pre-sex conversation, but there should be SOMETHING. Especially since this is a YA book. YA fantasy books that understand fucking = babies and mention bc: the Alanna books by Tamora Pierce, the The Girl of Fire and Thorns books by Rae Carson, the Graceling books by Kristin Cashore. These are all books that kick Iron Widow’s ass and they star people with vaginas being cool. There are so many other books out there that are so much better than Iron Widow and it upsets me that they don’t receive the praise they should. This book is such a mess it should never have been published. I don’t understand why everyone is losing their shit over this book and praising it as if it is the Holy Grail of girl-power YA fiction. I’m actually super curious about the R-rated draft the author mentions in their acknowledgements. If they went full R-rated villain story, this may have been better? Maybe? If it was a villain story with more mature sex stuff and was super dark = yes! Bring it! I guess my closing note is that it saddens me that this is what is being published and marketed towards teen readers, specifically girls. Reading this and coming across all the marketing blitz and rave reviews just makes me feel like I’m re-living the Twilight years. Yes, I honestly think this book ranks at the very bottom of my least favourite YA books that don’t deserve their hype, right next to Twilight.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Nenia ✨ I yeet my books back and forth ✨ Campbell

    I am a simple bitch. If I see a book about fighting robots, I add it to my shelves. 🤖

  29. 4 out of 5

    Robin

    ↠ 4 stars In Huaxia, while boys dream of piloting Chrysalises, the girls dream of an escape from the nightmare that comes with copiloting the transforming robots. Used as little more than energy sources in the fight against the alien forces at the Great Wall, they are tools in the hands of the men who discard them with no regard. When her sister is killed at the hands of a pilot, Zetian takes on the role she has feared for most of her life in order to enact her revenge. In offering herself up, sh ↠ 4 stars In Huaxia, while boys dream of piloting Chrysalises, the girls dream of an escape from the nightmare that comes with copiloting the transforming robots. Used as little more than energy sources in the fight against the alien forces at the Great Wall, they are tools in the hands of the men who discard them with no regard. When her sister is killed at the hands of a pilot, Zetian takes on the role she has feared for most of her life in order to enact her revenge. In offering herself up, she is immediately thrown into battle at the side of her sister's killer, but in the aftermath, Zetian emerges having overpowered her copilot psychologically and is dubbed the Iron Widow — A female pilot who can overcome her male counterparts. As punishment, Zetian is paired up with Li Shimin, the most ruthless pilot who is sure to harness her unruly strength. Instead, the two form an inseparable bond and set out to leverage their combined power to fight the rules holding the pilot system together and stop the unnecessary sacrifice of young girls. Iron Widow is a masterful fantasy debut accurately likened to The Handmaid's Tale and Pacific Rim. With an exemplary nod to Wu Zetian, the only female emperor in Chinese history, Jay Zhao crafts an artful representation of female rage that sinks in deeper than any blade. The intertwined elements of historical China with fantasy and science fiction was an ambitious order to fill, but one that Iron Widow accomplished ingeniously. An epic cross of genres creating the brutal revenge narrative of my dreams. While all of the science fiction elements present throughout held my attention, I found the pilot program and the war driving the central conflict particularly interesting to follow. There were so many moving pieces of history and mythology at play within the story, making for an intricate window into this fantasy world. Enough to satisfy just about any SFF reader. Although there was quite a bit of information piled up at the beginning of the novel, after climbing that initial info-dump hurdle the rest of the story flew by relatively quickly. Despite that, what stands out about this debut, is the unique relationships explored within. Specifically, the polyamorous relationship between Zetian, Shimin, and Yizhi which completely outsold the entire book for me. Even though I can say I would have loved more relationship development between these three characters, overall it worked within the parameters of the novel and its scope. Iron Widow promised a ruthless woman with a vendetta at the center of a polyamorous relationship and wholeheartedly delivered. Main character Zetian was a calculating and powerful force to be reckoned with. Along with the addition of an epilogue that completely threw me you can absolutely count me in to be keeping up with this series in the coming year. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing this arc in exchange for an honest review Trigger Warnings: death, gore, violence, blood, rape (mentioned), abuse, torture, suicidal thoughts, alcohol consumption

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ashlee » libraryinthecountry

    This is one of the best books I’ve read all year. I can already tell you this review won’t do it justice, because I’m still a little at a loss of how to fully express how much I loved it. It deserves all the stars. If you loved Pacific Rim, or really any anime with mecha, look no further than Iron Widow. Honestly, I never would have thought a book with mechs as one of the primary aspects of the story could be pulled off so seamlessly, they just feel like something that only works for the screen, This is one of the best books I’ve read all year. I can already tell you this review won’t do it justice, because I’m still a little at a loss of how to fully express how much I loved it. It deserves all the stars. If you loved Pacific Rim, or really any anime with mecha, look no further than Iron Widow. Honestly, I never would have thought a book with mechs as one of the primary aspects of the story could be pulled off so seamlessly, they just feel like something that only works for the screen, but Xiran Jay Zhao pulled it off! Zetian is, by far, one of my favorite protagonists I’ve encountered in a book this year. She’s a force to be reckoned with on her own but together with Li Shimin and Gao Yizhi, they’re unstoppable. Also, on that note: POLYAMORY! I’ve been screaming that I would love to see more polyamory in books, beyond adult romance, and this book delivered. This is an action packed story about a girl who isn’t going to just sit down and follow the status quo. I can’t wait to see what comes next!

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