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ARC Review: Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

Book Cover


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.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Wu Zetian has more rage in her than any character I’ve ever encountered, and I love it. She – and this book – are basically seething smash-the-patriarchy anger in book form, with dry humorous aides and a perfect polyamorous love triangle.

Halfway through, this was my reaction: I LOVE this book. Talk about smashing the patriarchy. Wu Zetian lives for nothing else. She is sharp and cutting and so, so relatable with her sudden wry asides. I’m calling it now – 5* and a new addition to the year’s top ten

Now that I’ve finished, I can confirm that this sums the book up quite well. There is also an absolutely gorgeous love story happening on the sidelines of all the anger. As Wu Zetian tells us, a triangle is the strongest shape.

The ending twist(s) were breathtaking. I’m honestly still reeling, and also desperately need the next book. There were some seriously disturbing moments when recalling the hell Li Shimin and Wu Zetian have lived through, so be aware that this book doesn’t shy away from describing various forms of physical and mental torture.

Now that the book is over, I have to say that I love Zetian, Shimin, and Yizhi and I desperately need them to end up happy together. Anything else is unacceptable. Also using their combined rage and resources –honestly, Yizhi’s first reaction to any problem is to throw money at it until it goes away — to smash the patriarchy would also be nice. And, really, I don’t think they’d accept anything less.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Teen for providing an e-arc for review.

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