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Iron Widow

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Member Reviews

In Huaxia, boys and girls are paired to pilot Chrysalises, the giant robots that make up their country's main defensive force against the mecha aliens beyond the Great Wall. Zetian offers herself up as a pilot concubine, not for glory or honor, but for the chance to assassinate the pilot who was responsible for her sister's death -- and she succeeds at her mission of vengeance by killing him through the psychic link while in the Chrysalis and emerging from the cockpit unscathed. Dubbed the Iron Widow for what she's accomplished, Zetian is paired with the strongest, most controversial male pilot in the force, Li Shimin. There are many who would see them both dead despite the unquestionable asset they happen to be in the war. But driven by her determination to understand and overturn the misogynist pilot system and prevent the needless deaths of more girls, Zetian won't go down without a fight.

I had an inkling that I would, at the very least, enjoy Iron Widow. (And I say that as someone who rarely, if ever, reads sci-fi.) As it turns out, it's so, so good, and very much unlike anything I've read previously despite some familiar elements and tropes! I'm rarely able to just sit back, relax (or stress, depending on what the characters are going through) and let the author lead me where she will with her words, so this was a pleasant surprise. With her debut novel, Xiran Jay Zhao has done something really interesting here; she's taken a historical figure (Wu Zetian, the only female emperor in Chinese history), planted them in unique circumstances and let her imagination run wild with how it all comes together. The plot is the main driving force behind Iron Widow, and while I normally prefer more character-driven tales, I didn't mind it at all in this case.

There are, however, a few elements of Iron Widow that could have used a little bit more development (though I anticipate that happening as the series continues). Like the world, though it's understandably limited considering the position Zetian is in and the heavy focus on the war effort. And the characters, who we only get a limited perspective on and usually through the lens of limitations or trauma. (And yes, this includes Zetian, who readers will mostly identify as an angry young woman who is reckless after losing the person who matters most to her; someone who will do whatever it takes to keep herself and her own safe.) And the character relationships too, especially the romance that blossoms in this story (though I'll definitely give it props for surprising me in a good way).

The thing is, however, that despite my reservations, I really enjoyed Iron Widow. The beginning hooked me immediately, the story was compelling and refreshingly different from anything I've recently read and it totally gave me anime vibes (which is always a good thing in my book). I'm so glad that I ended up reading it and I'm very much looking forward to the sequel!
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Absolutely adored this book. This poly triad has my heart forever, the idea of concubines being killed for power was such an interesting take and the way it was written with forced addiction and imprisonment of those who are inherently more powerful was done really well, glad Xiran memed themself into a NYT bestseller
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I have heard so many amazing things about this book, so naturally I was ecstatic receiving a review copy from netgalley! I will be recommending this book! wonderful author!
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Iron Widow was a thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable read, but I think I walked in with higher expectations that I should have. Xiran Jay Zhao’s debut novel takes inspiration from Chinese mythology and history, reimagining Empress Wu (the only female emporia in Chinese history) as a mecha pilot in a futuristic world where girls service male pilots as concubine-pilots to power Chrysalises (war machines taking inspiration from various creatures in Chinese mythology) in Huaxia’s ongoing war with the Hunduns.

(The concubine-pilots typically die unfortunately.)

I loved Zhao’s take of Empress Wu in Iron Widow and the different figures throughout Chinese history and mythology. When her sister is killed as a concubine-pilot in the army for one of the pilots, Zetian hatches a plan (not the greatest, but hey, it’s a plan and that’s step one) to follow in her sister’s footsteps and enlist under the same pilot that killed her so she can take her revenge. Only things don’t work out exactly to plan (or maybe it did depending on who you ask), the tables turn, and Zetian ends up killing the pilot during a battle where theoretically, she should’ve died from her mind being consumed. She didn’t even have to actually murder him.

(Not gonna lie, I love how that plan turned out.)

In an effort to control her, the army places her with Li Shimin, who we’re first introduced to as a monster who killed his family and would be executed if he weren’t so useful to the army (even if every girl he’s paired up with ends up getting killed, unless you’re Zetian, who miraculously survives, much to his surprise). But as the book progresses and Zetian works with him more, Shimin turns out to not be so monstrous as everyone makes him out to be (still looks like he would stab though). Completing the trio is Yizhi, a soft cinnamon roll who really deserves better in life and regularly met with Zetian monthly before she enlists.

Iron Widow moves at a rapid-pace, going from one moment to the other quickly, and there’s never a dull moment. Zhao’s novel is fun and entertaining as Zetian schemes her way up the ranks while taking down powerful figures who want her to be subservient and compliant (or better off, get killed). She doesn’t hesitate with bending and breaking rules to make demands and exposing the corruption of the system, and Zhao doesn’t shy away from making the novel dark. However, I personally feel the fast pace of the novel bounces from point A to point B quick enough that I feel like it misses on some of the world building, and focuses more on progressing the plot and moving the story along. When it does take time, it’s like a sudden stop with an info dump of sorts before starting up and repeating the cycle. Despite that, I still found myself fascinated and absorbed into the world Zhao built around the mechas.

While the pacing didn’t work out for me and world building felt like it was lacking in some parts, I still enjoyed Zhao’s debut with the concept, characters, and themes explored throughout the novel. Iron Widow unfortunately didn’t turn out to be a new favorite like I hoped it would since it was one of my most anticipated releases, but I’m still looking forward to the sequel and diving back into the world.
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I was truly unsure how I would feel about this book going in but I was too intrigued to not see. NO REGRETS. The MC is hardcore. I am a huge fan of books that make sure the main character whom is a girl doesn’t come off as fickle. She’s strong, hardcore, I enjoyed this book immensely. It pulled me in instantly! It shows the inequality of women in not just their culture, but everywhere. How we are ‘disposable’. I don’t want to say too much without giving too much away but READ IT.
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If you've ever identified, completely and wholly, with Beatrice Muchadoaboutnothing's iconic line, "I would eat his heart in the marketplace," then this book is for you.
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*4 stars* 

Iron Widow is a young adult sci-fi reimaging of China's only female empress. We follow 17 year old Wu Zetian who enlists as a concubine-pilot all too aware of the fact that women hardly ever survive. She need revenge upon the pilot who murdered her sister and is willing to do anything to get it. When events go awry, Zetian finds herself in a precarious position of major power with major consequences. 

This was a pleasant surprise. YA sci-fi and I have struggled in the past but there were a lot of elements in here that worked really well for me. 

What I liked: 
*Our MC. She is ruthless, fierce, and unapologetic. Zetian is solely focused on her goals and nothing (I mean nothing) will get in her way. I also love how she actively attempts to combat the internalized misogyny she has been fed since birth.
*The themes! There is so much packed in hear in regards to Zhao's themes. They are very present throughout the story, but not spoon-fed to the reader. This book will definitely make you angry with what the characters are forced to face.
*Loved the developing poly relationship. Both of the love interests have a lot of depth. I'm especially impressed because one of the relationships start pre-book and sometimes I don't find enough to root for throughout. Also, I love that their choice to be together actively explores the themes of the story. 
*The mech elements were super cool, but definitely hard to conceptualize at times (again could just be a me thing). 
*The ending was a wild ride, with a ton of reveals and major implications for the final book.

What I struggled with:
*The world needed a bit more development, especially regarding the gods/religious(?) elements
*I could have appreciated a bit more instruction with how the mech worked. With there being multiple types with different weaknesses I was occasionally left confused.
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Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao is the vicious science fiction historical retelling that captivated me from the very beginning. I couldn't put it down. This world is fantastic and infuriating. It's easy to see the parallels between this fictional world and our world, particularly the disregard for women, which we've seen throughout history. With Iron Widow, Zhao pushes back on the misogynistic treatment of women and gives readers one of the strongest female protagonists I've ever read.

Zetian is the fierce, cunning, vengeful young woman that I've been longing for. Her inner strength coupled with her intelligence and unwillingness to be crushed, silenced, or tossed aside had me cheering her on and cursing her enemies. Shimin is the misunderstood kind-hearted murderer, a gentle soul masked by a violent past. Shimin is a cautionary tale for readers, showing how the military could use not just women, but men deemed unworthy or worthless as pawns in their war. Shimin is someone they are prepared to sacrifice, especially if they can't control him. Yizhi is the high-born noble that's hopelessly bound to Zetian and later to Shimin, willing to aide them in any way he can. Watching these three slowly learn to comfort and care for each other is just delightful. Through these three characters, Zhao explores gender roles and sexuality. Zetian, Shimin, and Yizhi form a polyamorous relationship. Watching these three come together and break with the traditional heterosexual pairing was such a special experience.

Overall, Iron Widow is glorious. The world building is incredible, the characters feel real, and the giant mecha chrysalises are insanely cool!  This book is fast-paced, smart, unapologetic, and vicious. I would recommend it for anyone looking for a powerful female lead, morally grey characters, giant mechas, and strong, kind-hearted young men. I absolutely cannot wait for the sequel!
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3.5 stars -- 

Wow. This book was...ALOT.

Firstly, I have to say that IRON WIDOW really wasn't for me. I liked it less and less as the book went on, and it felt heavy and more of a shout of a book than storytelling. I likely won't continue with the series as subsequent books are released. 

But, that being said, I really respect the author because this was a powerhouse of a debut. It was intense and creative, filled with incredible world-building and deep thematic elements. There was some really beautiful writing.

But overall, this book was kind of jarring for me, and it left me feeling wrung out and emotionally exhausted. An immensely impressive book, but just not to my taste.

A thank you to Penguin Teen and NetGalley for the e-book in exchange for my honest, unbiased review.
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5 stars!  Had to preorder and buy it immediately!  Can't want to see what else Xiran Jay Zhao comes out with!  Will definitely be an author I buy from again!
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This futuristic YA novel is a very dark read, that sometimes brings to mind The Handmaid's Tale.

On another world, giant robotic transformers are piloted by young men partnered with young women - the former get the glory while the latter die very young. They fight mecha aliens beyond this world's Great Wall.

18-year-old Wu Zetian offers herself as a concubine-pilot, seeking vengeance for the death of her beloved elder sister. It turns out that she's a very rare (and feared) Iron Widow, a female pilot who can draw on male psychic power.

Will she be able to stop her society's sacrifice of girls?
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First thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an arc of this book. Iron Widow is the first book in a new serie by Xiran Jay Zhao. The cover of the book is really beautiful. I had a bit of a hard time to get into it but that might be because I don't really read sci-fi books.

Zetian is 18 years old when she offer herself  as a concubine-pilot. Her sister was killed and for her its the only way to get revenge, to assassinate the ace male pilot. In Huxia, the boys pair up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that attack them. Often leading into the dead of the girl  from the mental strain but as long as the guy live, who cares. But Zetian will have her revenge not in the way she was planning.  She will kill the pilot throught the psychic  link unarmed. Now people call her the Iron Widow.
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Imaginative and full of fantasy but this book just wasn't for me.  I think that maybe Zhao was trying to jam a little too many ideas into one book so it felt bogged down and complicated.  I did appreciate the uniqueness of the story and will definitely look for Zhao's next title though
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Sadly for me, for some reason this book didn’t work for me. The premise, world, elements were all great but I just couldn’t get on with the book at all. 

A shame but I guess that’s how’s the cookie crumbles sometimes we all can’t love every book
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Nothing but fierceness. I learned much from Iron Widow -- history, culture, and a sense of familiarity at the exhaustion and pain of the layers and roles heaped on genders throughout history. In a dystopian society where females are used as mental (and physical) concubines to pilot a war machine against planet invaders. Zeitan plans to become a concubine to get revenge for the murder of her sister and forcibly breaks her own chains to become the Iron Widow - and everything that entails. I can't wait to keep reading (if it's a series). One of the most memorable books I've read in some time and it gripped me from beginning to end. Read it in almost one sitting.
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Wow, what a ride!

Wu Zetian is a girl, a daughter of a poor family on another planet, in a culture that strongly resembles traditional China. Like the women of traditional China, her feet were broken and bound when she was a child, and she is expected to kowtow to her father, brother, and eventually her husband - unless she volunteers as qi fodder for the army, as her older sister did. So begins a journey that ends in reshaping the world. I have trouble imagining how the sequel will equal this volume - but I'm waiting, impatiently, to find out!
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A diverse and fantasitical novel that incorporates elements of science and magic to create a powerful read.
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A book that was a goddamn powerful dose of futuristic robots, powerful strategies, and a female lead to bow down for.

A corrupt pilot system where male pilots never die, and female pilots are recruited as a sacrifice, she goes ahead with their plan but with sight set on only one thing VENGEANCE. The plan to kill the star pilot, no matter if it means her death, her heart beats for revenge. She kills him but does not die herself. Confused herself how did she not die when all the other concubine pilots do? At one point of time she was ready to face her death, but now after she has tasted what power feels like, death is not longer her wish. What she wants is to destroy this system internalized misogyny. She announces to the whole world on camera, "Welcome to your nightmare."

Like I said again, what a badass book. Superb writing style and by that I mean it won't let you go, it will hover over your head until you finish the story (personal experience), top tier story. Also the Enemies-To-Lovers, Cinnamon Roll Yizhi, my badass boy Shimin and my queen for whom I'll be on my knees and serve forever Wu Zeitan, if I had the opportunity to give more then 5 stars, I would've done so. How can I not mention the way historical elements were blended with future ones, like flowing robes of silk while powering a 80 feet tall Chrysalise robot, letting the mountain wind linger on your face while flying on your hovercraft. You can take my soul and I will not wince if this is what takes to get the sequel.

Yeah that was me being very dramatic but it's true. Anyway, I'm going to bug each of my friend to read Iron Widow, until I perish.
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There are so many exciting elements to Iron Widow which made me really excited to read this. First of all, the tag line is Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid’s Tale loosely based on the first and only female Chinese Emperor. That alone made me immediately add this to my TBR. But also, it features mech pilots, fighting the patriarchy, and a polyamorous relationship.

Iron Widow started out strong and quickly hooked me into its story. Zetian can only be described as a badass. She’s hellbent on vengeance and is willing to do whatever she needs to to achieve those goals. She’s unapologetic and incredibly well-written. In fact, the strength of Iron Widow lies in the characters. Xiran Jay Zhao not only did a great job with writing her heroine, but the side characters as well are extremely fleshed out. 10/10 I would lay down my life for Li Shimin.

The plot throughout the book was very fast paced. It worked well for the first half of the story, but by the second half it only caused confusion. My biggest issue was that not much of the worldbuilding and science was not fully explained. Coupled with the fast pace, it felt like a whole lot was happening in the plot, but at the same time I couldn’t follow along.

I really loved the overall themes of feminism and the protogonist, Zetian. However, my brain started to get fatigued by the end of the book trying to figure out everything that was going on.
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Huxia have been tasked with protecting the Great Wall from the Hunduns. They have created large mechs they call Chrysalises, that the use to battle the opposing Hundun mechs. These battles are broadcasted for mass entertainment. It takes two pilots to work these machines, one male and one female. The male is the stronger of the two, often resulting in the female being sacrificed during the fight. After the death of her sister, Zetian has made it her mission to become one of the concubine-pilots, and take down the man who killed her sister.

This story was pitched as “Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid's Tale in a polyamorous reimagining of China's only female emperor” which I'm not going to lie... I have not seen either of those nor do I know the story of China's only female emperor - but nonetheless, this was such a fun book. The Chinese history interwoven into this sci-fi world was a non-stop action packed thrill ride. I found the idea of qi, the individual's spirit power that powered the Chrysalises, so interesting and I wanted to know so much more about it as I continued reading. The story itself was addictive and fast-paced, and hard to put down. I became so invested in these three characters and their relationship with one another. I loved how these three played off one another so well, and how they truly rounded each other out. I loved Zetian, she was fierce, stubborn and definitely deserved her title of the Iron Widow. 

I am definitely going to be picking up the second book in this duology when its released, that epilogue through me for a loop!
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