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Iron Widow

by Xiran Jay Zhao

Other authors: Shenwei Chang (Sensitivity reader)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Iron Widow (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
5433035,922 (4.14)11
An instant #1 New York Times bestseller! Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid's Tale in this blend of Chinese history and mecha science fiction for YA readers. The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn't matter that the girls often die from the mental strain.   When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it's to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister's death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected--she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead.​   To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia​. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way--and stop more girls from being sacrificed.… (more)
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» See also 11 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 30 (next | show all)
A girl becomes a powerful soldier in a misogynist, magical dystopia.

2.5/4 (Okay).

This is extremely dark. It's not joyless, like dark things usually are, but it was too much for me. Take the content warnings seriously; they're not a list of some extreme points of the book, they're a list of what the book is about. I read it quickly because I wanted it to be over with. The characters are very complex, realistic, and unique, though - enough so to make it an important book.

(May 2022) ( )
  comfypants | May 15, 2022 |
Wow, just… wow! I am speechless!

This book kept on surprising me and I loved every single bit of it. It has become one of my favourites!

The book in one word: EPIC!!! ( )
  sadikshya | Apr 17, 2022 |
If I could give this book 10 stars, I would, or 20. It was incredible, emotional, action-packed, incredible, painful -- I had to read slowly although I wanted to tear through it. It occupied my mind in between reading sessions. This book is a long scream, a powerful, poignant cry, and despite being bittersweet, even sad, it is fierce and there's joy to Wu Zetian's journey. I can't tell anyone what the book is about because it is about so much, although on the surface it is about mecha battles. But it is also about the lies we tell to control our world, and the lies we are told in turn. It is about pain inflicted on others to avoid it ourselves. It is about piercing through all that. And it is about a girl entering womanhood in a culture that sees her only as something potentially useful, maybe, if controlled. I will be preordering the sequel as soon as I can, and even though it cannot match the power of this first book -- and I am not sure I want it to -- I am eager to know more about Zetain's world and her journey. What a book! ( )
  Murphy-Jacobs | Apr 12, 2022 |
Trigger Warnings: Violence, Death, Misogyny
3.5

This book was unique, I knew that going into it, the unfair circumstances were going to make my blood boil and it did, yet I was furious all the same. I was into it but the writing was a little different than expected.

The plot follows Wu Zetian, who, unlike other girls, refuses to be subservient to males and boys, who are regarded as "superior". There are these creatures known as Hunduns who continuously try and invade, it's up to fighters and concubines who use chrysalises, however, the females, the concubines are always the ones who have to die. Wu Zetian wants to avenge her big sister, and so she signs up, aiming to kill her murderer. After surviving, (when no female should), she is declared an Iron Widow.

The plot was relatively fast-paced yet certainly not even throughout the book


This book was different to many I've read, it's science fiction inspired by Chinese history with strong feminism prevalent in the book, it is very in your face with lots of quotes about it throughout the book.

There was something off about the writing, at some points, it flowed and was easy to read yet at other points, it didn't suit the part in the book, at points, it was very heavy. It wasn't helped by the info-dumping at the start.

While I liked the characters, I felt like there wasn't enough background and detail to them, they definitely weren't fleshed out as much as I think they should have.

Zetian was a morally grey character and I love morally grey characters as you don't know how you should feel about them, she was very in your face about the feminism. While I didn't agree with her on a lot, she was alright. I would have liked for more detail, for example, what was her relationship with her big sister like? Did her big sister encourage her to be the way she was? Why does she differ from everyone else with their opinions? How did she find these strong views?

The world sounded so amazing and like with the characters, we got barely anything.
If you don't want to explain every new term, at least add them at the end as a glossary and we got not many details of the surroundings. Also the hunduns, what do they look like? Why was that never described?


Overall, this book was really unique and had a very strong female character, this certainly could have been a 5 star read or at least a 4 if there had been more detailed descriptions and more world-building. I didn’t know how strong this book would be when I picked it up, but I am so glad I got to read it and will definitely be looking forward to the sequel to see if it improves on anything.

I didn't see the plot twists coming, especially the one in the last chapter where where everything was a lie and the hunduns actually were the ones who originally lived there and were invaded, not the other way around ( )
  crazynerd | Mar 30, 2022 |
Iron Widow is a tense, dramatic tale of overcoming war, disability, and patriarchal oppression set in a fascinating world filled with giant robots and monsters.

The first marketing I saw for Xiran Jay Zhao’s Iron Widow claimed it was like Pacific Rim meets Handmaid’s Tale. Pacific Rim because of the giant robots, of course, and Handmaid’s Tale because of the patriarchal oppression. But that comparison fell far short of describing the depth and breadth of Iron Widow, and I wonder if the marketing staffer who crafted it has even read the book.

18-year-old Zetian is a young woman living in a fantasy future world loosely based on Chinese history and mythology who becomes a concubine-pilot for a Chrysalis, the powerful machines Huaxia uses to defend itself from extraterrestrial invaders. Zetian has endured a lifetime of hardship at the hands of her family and society. Zhao spares the readers no mercy describing the character’s pain. But the pain drives her, as does the death of Zetian’s older sister at the hand of a male Chrysalis pilot. Zetian wants revenge, and not even a horde of killer alien monster machines will stop her.

Zetian’s slow-rolling Sisyphean quest swiftly transforms into a fast-moving avalanche. Think Indiana Jones running from the giant boulder in the tomb tunnel. The plot moves along at a break-neck pace, rarely stopping to allow the reader to catch their breath. And Zhao’s prose is sharp-edged and terse, reflecting Zetian’s prickly, revenge-fueled anger. Many of the usual YA tropes are found within the book. But, like the spirit metal machines the characters pilot, Zhao twists the familiar elements into things unique and special to the story. What could’ve been a dull training montage is a spirit realm fight for your life. What could’ve been a run-of-the-mill love triangle is a risky, racy attempt at polyamory. And all the while, the reader is reminded that the strong female character started out broken in mind and body. The feminism in Iron Widow wields a sharp knife, and it's not afraid to cut you.

This book contains mentions of physical and mental abuse, loss of a family member, disability and ableism, and descriptions of violence, rape, and death. ( )
1 vote koreybroderick | Mar 22, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 30 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Xiran Jay Zhaoprimary authorall editionscalculated
Chang, ShenweiSensitivity readersecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Abramson, TaliaCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hayes, ShanaProofreadersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mackenzie, AshleyCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Marjoribanks, CatherineCopyeditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nimmo, TerriArt directorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The Hunduns were coming.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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An instant #1 New York Times bestseller! Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid's Tale in this blend of Chinese history and mecha science fiction for YA readers. The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn't matter that the girls often die from the mental strain.   When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it's to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister's death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected--she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead.​   To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia​. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way--and stop more girls from being sacrificed.

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