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Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

Iron Widow

by Xiran Jay Zhao

Series: Iron Widow (1)

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2231196,109 (4.15)2
Title:Iron Widow
Authors:Xiran Jay Zhao
Collections:Your library
Tags:read, own, hardcover, genderqueer author, canadian author, LGBTQ+, poly, urban fantasy, sci-fi, ya, series, read in 2021

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Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao


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Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
  MikeFinnFiction | Sep 24, 2021 |

Iron Widow is the best book I’ve read this year by far.

After finishing this book, I felt exhilarated. After reading about the battles between the Humans and the Hunduns, I felt like I had been in a chaotic battle myself. The book pulled me in and fully immersed me in the human’s part of the world near The Great Wall.

Author Xiran Jay Zhao wanted to combine The Handmaid’s Tale with Chinese legends. Mission surpassed. I highlighted so many sentences in this book that addressed the position of women in society through narrator Wu Zetian’s experiences.

Zetian is sold off to the army so that her qi could be used to power their battle robots. Young males are the pilots, and girls are the concubines whose qi is used in battle until the girls’ energy and life force is completely absorbed by their pilots. Zetian’s initial goal is to kill the pilot who murdered her sister, but the aftermath of her first battle takes the story into unexpected and exciting directions as the war between humans and Hunduns continues.

Xiran Jay Zhao introduces characters that leave a reader guessing about their plans and motivations. After each cursory introduction, she beautifully fleshes out the characters into three-dimensional people. It is not easy to label a character good or bad, because their circumstances and choices show different sides of them. The characters are human, not cardboard cutouts.

I went through a period of time where I’d read ahead in books. DO NOT READ AHEAD in Iron Widow. There’s so much to savor along the way, and after reading a chaotic story that appears to be resolved comes a jaw-dropping ending that is worth the wait.

Science fiction fans, fantasy fans, Asian literature fans, LGBT fans, and Young Adult book fans are just a few of those who would enjoy Iron Widow.

If you’re wondering what I’m doing, it’s simple – I’m waiting for book two to be published!

Thank you, NetGalley and Penguin Teen for providing me an Advanced Reader Copy of this wonderful book. ( )
  life2reinvent | Sep 21, 2021 |
Shattering excitement and brutal realities!

A startling concept! Humans blended with machines becoming part of that vehicle as pilots of frightening entities drawing on the pilot’s vital essence, their Qi. The merging of the pilot and his consort/concubine creates a machine with power deserving of anything Lucas has created. (Well to my mind) The relationship between pilots and their concubine-pilots, their consorts, is complex and flawed. Many of the concubines die, burnt out! One who died was Ruyi, our lead character Zetian’s Big Sister.
All this takes place in Huaxia where Chinese Hunger Games meets Transformers. (author Xidan Jay Zhao uses the analogy of The Handmaid’s Tale meets Chinese stories.)
Humans have endlessly battled the Hunduns, “invaders from the cosmos who’d pulverised the height of human civilisation some two thousand years ago and shattered humanity into scattered tribes. “
Animae and manga pictures meld in my mind juxtaposed with the awful humanness of pilots and their concubines. Hunduns are entirely something else.
Zetian a young woman is sold by her family for the purpose of being matched with a pilot, if she doesn’t die in the process. Sexual joining supposedly increases their abilities. Zetian however has a goal, to take revenge for the death of her sister and beyond that to make the male pilots pay for the unceasing death of all young women, concubine pilots, lost in the meld with male pilots, their energy being sucked out of them in battle until they are no more. Like what happened to her sister, with, as she learns, the favoured pilot Yang Guang. Zetian is so close to achieving her goal of vengeance when an attack happens…and she finds herself in the midst of battle and a whole different realm.
Later Zetian is partnered with Li Shimin known as the Iron Demon. A frightening character, and yet there’s a story. There always is…
What Zetian discovers in this amazing, violent, bloody journey is secrets within secrets, layers of corruption and hidden knowledge feeding women to the cause without them knowing their truth. They are all sold the Big Lie! “I’ve been told endless lies since I was born.”
Zetian realises that women were “devalued precisely because we’re so valuable. The world is too afraid of not being able to obtain and control us to respect our true worth.”
I did enjoy the reference to a Being ensconced deep underground for his protection where “Rows upon rows of unnerving clay statues stand guard, facing us. They look like the guardian figurines that would go into the mausoleum of someone rich and powerful, except they’re life-sized.” (A lovely use of the Terracotta Warrior image in a land resplendent with fantastical Chinese images and inferences.)
Twists and turns in the story leave us hanging on a completely new and mind bending possibility for what might come.

A Penguin Random House Canada ARC via NetGalley
Please note: Quotes taken from an advanced reading copy maybe subject to change ( )
  eyes.2c | Sep 14, 2021 |
Okay… so I tried to read this book a few weeks ago, and I just couldn't dive into it and relate to the characters as much as I wanted. But for my endless love for dystopian books, I thought to give it another try, and I'm so glad I did. I actually found myself enjoying the story more than I thought I would.

The primary issue I had previously with this book was with the prologue. It threw me to a battlefield without me knowing anything about the characters, and that was why I couldn't relate emotionally to the story to keep on reading. But once the scene was over and Zetian came along, it was another thing. The action scene in the prologue was vivid, and it was written brilliantly, but I think that starting with chapter one might help get the reader's attention much better.

I liked that Zetian was a strong female who wants revenge and justice for her sister. Even when she was a gray character and always angry. I found myself rooting for her since she talked about her lotus feet. Aside from the plot, I found it eye-opening when the author talked about that particular subject. I knew, of course, that in China, girls tend to have smaller feet, but I never thought to learn about how and why they were like this, so I went to search for answers, and what I read was heartbreaking.

Back to the story, the plot was fascinating, action-packed, and well-paced. I was glad that there was no "love triangle" as most of the YA books are. I laughed and cried with the characters; my favorite was Zetian, of course. The story ended with a cliffhanger, and I can't wait to read the next book!

Overall, this book was enjoyable. I recommend it to everyone who likes action-packed sci-fi/fantasy stories. ( )
  Asiellavie | Sep 9, 2021 |
I received a free copy of this on netgalley. Thanks to the publisher for this arc. I follow xiran on twitter and was really interested to see the kind of book she had written.

Read with caution: I don't know how much of what bugged me was a feature of ya as a category and how much was more universal. I don't read enough ya to be confident of that distinction.

Lots of things I liked : the love triangle trope being turned into a functioning poly relationship. The retelling of Empress Wu and the colourful mechas. The twist reveal at the very end. The realities of bound feet.

Things that knocked down the rating for me: the writing felt rough, like a first draft that hadn't been polished. It was functional but clunky and repetitive, and not evocative. I don't know if that's a stylistic thing but I have also read very beautifully written ya books so I don't feel I should give a book a pass on craft just because of its age category.

The mc also struggled with nothing. She was just effortlessly good at everything she tried and endlessly better than everyone else, in a way that was linear without tension or suspense. Some folks will enjoy this and find it empowering. But it fell flat for me.

I would like to have seen more positive women characters, too. The not-like-the-other-girls vibe wasn't quite working for me. ( )
2 vote Sunyidean | Sep 7, 2021 |
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