Review: Iron Widow

Holy. Shit.

I just finished this book. My mind is blown. I didn’t think I could read a book so intense with an ending that made me want to scream, but here I am. Literally screaming.

Thank you to Penguin Teen and NetGalley for providing me with an e-ARC for review! This is a spoiler free, honest review and all thoughts and feelings are my own.


Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao
Release Date: September 21, 2021
Publisher: Penguin Teen
Genre: YA Sci-fi/Fantasy
Pages: 400
Rating: starstarstarstarstar

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.

Zetian is my hero.

She is a badass, kicks ass, takes no shit, kind of person and I am obsessed with her.

From start to finish, I was in awe of Zetian and everything she did and can do. From her confidence, to her power, to her ability to basically singlehandedly smash the patriarchy. This girl is not someone to mess with, but I want to be her friend!

This world that Xiran has built is amazing. We have spirit energy that can power machines to fight aliens. We have amazing imagery in and out of the mind. Though this is a patriarchy, and women are basically powerless, Zetian fights back with everything she has. And it starts with getting revenge for her sister.

No joke, I am obsessed with this book. I cannot fathom a world where I didn’t get to read this, because this is an instant favorite of mine. The history, the battle scenes, the romance, the feminism – this book took me on a wild ride and I’m not mad about it.

Though I’m still screaming from the ending.

The characters were amazing – at least, the three main characters. Along with Zetian, we have Shimin and Yizhi. Yizhi is a friend Zetian made in secret, because he’s the son of a very rich, very powerful man and Zetian is the daughter of peasants. But, even with their class differences, the two become friends. Yizhi is a man I would want to marry. Respectful, kind, attentive, caring, I mean what more could a woman want??

Then we have Shimin, Zetian’s co-pilot. While a murderer, Shimin is the most gentle, kind person I have ever met. Literally and figuratively. His protectiveness over Zetian made me weep it was so sweet and genuine. I couldn’t decide who I wanted Zetian to be with more: Yizhi or Shimin!

The romance was so good, but the star of the show is Zetian. Her power is unprecedented and what she does with her power is insane. There are a lot of things in place to prevent her from being a powerful person, but Zetian works past those barriers, with the help of her friends, and does the most unthinkable things. One thing that I really admired her for, was her persistence and ability to keep moving forward: literally.

In this world, foot binding is still an accepted and encouraged practice. If you don’t know what foot binding is, I don’t recommend you look up pictures, it’s pretty grotesque. But it simple terms (because I’m not an expert, nor do I claim to know everything about it) it’s the process of breaking the bones in a woman’s foot in order to basically wrap it under itself to make it smaller in size. It’s a horrifically painful process and leaves the woman permanently disabled and in pain for the rest of her life.

Aka – break your foot and smush all the bones to make the foot as small as possible. Then be forced to walk on it for the rest of your life. It’s horrible.

And poor Zetian has to live with it.

I could not, and don’t want to, imagine having to walk on two broken and misshapen feet. Zetian is an insanely impressive person and I just can’t get over how much I am in awe of her. She’s a fierce, angry, bloodthirsty woman who wants to watch the world burn so she can rebuild it herself. A fucking icon.

I seriously cannot wait for the next book and will be shoving this book into my friend’s hands until the end of time. I didn’t even go into how amazing the magic of this world is, all run by qi, but if I keep gushing this review is going to be never ending. It’s probably too long already lol

Anyways, READ THIS BOOK. Seriously. Preorder it. Trek over to your local bookstore or library. Beg them to have it in stock. Read it. Force your friends to read it.

You’re welcome!


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