Cover Image: Iron Widow

Iron Widow

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Member Reviews

This book. THIS FREAKING BOOK Y’ALL. It’s been two months since I finished it - which took me ages because I was mildly intimidated by it because it was so hyped up and what if I didn’t like it?

Oh I liked it. It lived up to the hype and exceeded it. Honestly not a day goes by that I don’t think about this book at least once. Constantly just in the back of my mind.

Firstly this book is marketed as “Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid’s Tale” and if you go to read it (which you should 100% do) heed that warning! This book is heavy - it’s brutal and dark. It’s full feminine rage in one completely twisted tale. Briefly this contains mentions and scenes of: murder, torture, rape, misogyny, mental illness and many other hard topics. This isn’t a light read but god it’s just so good that none of it stops you. 

The reason none of that stops you - the violence and the pain? The characters who are going through it - the main three in particular. Starting with one of my new favorite characters of all time - Zetian, our main character. The girl who set out to avenge her sister and now is in a position to possibly completely topple the misogynistic system that has been killing women off like they’re nothing but replaceable tools for so long. She’s wild and the embodiment of an anti-heroine. She knows the power she holds and uses every ounce of it to destroy that which wants to see her fail. I could honestly go on and on about her because I love her that much. 

But, I have to talk about her support system - and that’s truly what they are. Shining and Yizhi. Two men who love her and support her in every step of her mission. Li Shimin - a murderous pilot and Gao Yizhi - a wealthy intellectual. Polar opposites who come together in their joint admiration for Wu Zetian. Love them and adore them and the end of the book HAS ME STRESSED to say the least.

Also, the three of them getting together? A beautiful representation of a polyamorous relationship? No obnoxious love triangle to distract us from the violence and mayhem the three of them leave behind them? Made the book even better. Made them even better - made them stronger. 

The last bit of this book were absolutely wild and unhinged. I basically read the whole ending with my face just stuck in a permanently shocked expression. I know I screamed. I’ve sat on this review for months because my brain was very much just in shambles(sorry NetGalley).

I cannot recommend this enough. Yes it has a cliffhanger and yes I will be internally screaming until the next book is out. But - pick it up. Read it and feel the rage. I also just want more people to scream about this book with.
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This book is unlike anything I've read before or would have ever thought to read. Xiran Jay Zhao's TikTok is a work of art and I was so enamoured with her videos that it convinced me to pick up her debut novel.

It's basically Pacific Rim, but angrier and defiantly feminist. There are a lot of manga/anime overtones, 70% of which was lost on me.
I did love how brutal and visceral and utterly furious the writing was. You felt every moment of Zetian's pain, which made the softer moments all the more poignant.
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I finished this and then immediately started listening to the audiobook. A science fiction re-imagining of historical Chinese figures that reads simultaneously like a fantasy adventure story and no piece of YA literature I have ever read. In a futuristic world overrun by giant alien beetle-like creatures called Hunduns, Zetian signs up to become one of many concubines of a Chrysalis pilot -- one of the few boys who have a high enough spirit pressure to pilot the giant mecha warriors forged from the spirit metal of the fallen Hunduns. Most concubine pilots are not strong enough to withstand the spirit pressure of their partners and die in battle, but Zeitian -- filled with rage at her older sister's murder -- overpowers her pilot in battle and kills him instead, becoming known as an Iron Widow. When she is subsequently paired with the Li Shimin, the Iron Demon, a prisoner pilot with exceedingly high spirit pressure who serves as punishment for killing his father and brothers, they miraculously both come out of battle alive -- a balanced match. Forced together, Zetian and Shimin try to learn how to work together, joined by Zetian's friend and crush Yizhi, who helps them bond and discover the triad's true strength. There is so much good in this story that it is hard to list it all -- scathing and unyielding criticism of misogynistic gender roles, a "love triangle" that actually turns into a healthy consensual supportive polyamorous relationship, a corrupt and mysterious government, are-they-actually-evil aliens, giant mecha robots...I could not put it down. And want to read it a third time. Brutal and nonstop while also containing moments of tenderness, with a twist at the end that will have readers immediately wanting more. Just wow.
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Iron Widow is my new favorite young adult book. Once I started reading it I could not put it down. There were so many unexpected twists and turns. The last few pages left me in utter shock. The characters were amazing. Zetian was everything I wanted in a strong female character. I was so excited to see a subtle nod to polyamory in this book. My biggest and only disappointment is having to wait on the sequel.
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Whew. This book was a RIDE. I honestly don't know that I understood what was happening at every point (especially during the fight scenes) but did I care? Absolutely not. I was INVESTED. I loved this characters and this world and the writing and I am dying for the next book and Answers. Obsessed.
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This book says that it's feminist yet the MC judges every women she sees and only depends on men. She is also way too cruel and lacks nuance.
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For the first half of this book I was a bit wary, because if you know my reading habits at all you all know I’m not a Sci-fi person….like at all. So finding a Sci-fi book I actually like is really difficult, but let me tell y’all about Iron Widow, because WOW. 

I really enjoy this book! It’s a clash of Pacific Rim and Chinese Mythology, and was a whirlwind of a time. I’m a big history person, so I love reading books that make me want to scroll through Wikipedia for hours on end to try and read about all the historical influences of a book. And do you ever read a book and just FEEL the history that went into it??? I’m not very familiar with Chinese mythology/history, but I could just feel it in the pages. The time and care that went into this book and making it right, that is something I appreciate. 

Can we also talk about how good it feels when the book lives up to the cover?? *chef’s kiss*

And the ending…..wasn’t expecting THAT lol
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I knew from the very beginning this book was different from anything I've read before. The fast-paced plot drew me in automatically, and it gave me the feeling of perhaps finding for the first time something that reminded me of watching my favorite anime as a child, but more fierce and for older young adults.
I truly love this book and I think Xiran Jay Zhao is now one of my automatic buy authors.
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This is one of the best books I’ve read all year. I can already tell you this review won’t do it justice, because I’m still a little at a loss of how to fully express how much I loved it. It deserves all the stars.

If you loved Pacific Rim, or really any anime with mecha, look no further than Iron Widow. Honestly, I never would have thought a book with mechs as one of the primary aspects of the story could be pulled off so seamlessly, they just feel like something that only works for the screen, but Xiran Jay Zhao pulled it off!

Zetian is, by far, one of my favorite protagonists I’ve encountered in a book this year. She’s a force to be reckoned with on her own but together with Li Shimin and Gao Yizhi, they’re unstable. Also, on that more. POLYAMORY! I’ve been screaming that I would love to see more polyamory in books, beyond adult romance, and this book delivered.

This is an action packed story about a girl who isn’t going to just sit down and follow the status quo. I can’t wait to see what comes next!
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This was surprisingly awful for the amount of 4 and 5 reviews it has received.

The writing is poor and childish, even for YA.

This is NOT my kind of feminist. 

It actually kind of hurts knowing how many people like this and this particular brand of "feminism". It HURTS. It makes me want to punch things. WHY ARE THERE SO FEW ONE STAR REVIEWS?

What the eff, world? What. The. Efffffffffffffffffffff. 

I've been scratching my head in utter confusion since reading this book and knowing how well it was received....I don't feel like wasting any more of my time and there are plenty of great one star reviews on here explaining EVERYTHING WRONG with this "book", so I'll leave them to it.

But, I say it again: WHAT. THE. EFFFFFFFFFFFFFF.

Thank you to NetGalley and the Publisher for the ARC of this book.
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This was an action packed fever dream. The heroine Xetian has nothing to lose so shes really doing The Most. This was really reminiscent of the spicy elements of The Hunger Games, specifically the manipulating of the population through the media to gain favor.

Sometimes the writing felt truly empowering and striking. Sometimes it was a bit too heavy handed. I felt sympathy for but didn't connect emotionally with Xetian. I think it's because I watch the author's youtube videos and could hear her informative tone coming through. That voice is excellent in that medium but didnt click as well here. Like when she notices the spark between Shimin and Yizhu, both times she internally thinks something along the lines of "I have always wondered if he likes more than girls" and she really didn't have to spell it out so blatantly, twice.

I adore both male love interests (shimin is my favorite character in the whole book) and the concept of the Iron Triangle is lovely but it's unfortunate that in a book geared towards female empowerment, the heroine doesn't really have any meaningful, positive female relationships. 

There's good shocking moments and I like that the author isn't afraid to shed blood. All in all, it was fun mind candy.
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This book is what you get if you cross Pacific Rim with Jennifer's Body and a healthy dollop of Mulan.

Wu Zetian is a woman on a mission. To avenge the needless death of her elder sister. To escape...

A lowly peasant girl, she chafes against the strictures of her patriarchal society. She rages against the family expectations for a daughter, marriage to bring wealth to her father or as a concubine for the army.  She has already had atrocities committed upon her body by her family to make her more marriageable, the ritual crushing and binding of her feet as a young girl to make her a more attractive match.

After years of dodging her families expectations and refusing to allow them to further 'pretty her up' she turns totally opposite upon the death of her sister.  Her ashes returned to the family, with no explanation for her death and no death bonus that would have been received if she had died honorably in battle.

Upon her arrival in the army camp and her testing for suitability as a pilot/concubine it is discovered that she has an 'amazing' amount of spirit density and is an excellent candidate for the driving of a divine chrysalis. And she has NO intentions of being used up and dying in battle. 

This book is AMAZING on so many levels. It is one long scream of rage at many different levels of injustice against women as a group and her suppressive society on whole. 

and if you think you know what's going on, just let me say, that unless you've read a spoiler review the final chapter will set your view of Zetian's world on it's ear.  There are subtle hints thru out that things are not what they seem and the reveal is devastating.

really hoping to see more of the Iron Widow's future and the impact of the events of the novel on future stories. 

I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.
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I'm sad this one wasn't everything it's hyped to be, especially because I really like Xiran Jay Zhao. I found it pretty cool that the they mixed mentions of traditional subjugation of women in real life like footbinding with more fictional means of oppression like the existence of pilot concubines as a way of somewhat grounding the absurdity of the scenario. "This" Zetian Wu obviously come from a significantly oppressed place, in a reimagined world that oppresses women by sucking out their chi to power giant metal robots to fight a war. In this world, it's a struggle to fight just to have a voice. 

Unfortunately, I found the commentary on feminism to be very surface-level and there was very little beyond the repeated mantra Zetian lives by: women should be allowed to do whatever they want. The Hunger Games vibes I got from the book made me really excited to see what parallels might be drawn from society to drive home a message about the toxicity of gendered systems, but most of that drive died out when the protagonist fulfills her goal of revenge a quarter into the book. 

I didn't really jive with Zetian or her boyfriends because after she gets revenge, the plot of the book seems to lose itself. There isn't much build up to any of the following scenes and the characters are thrust into scenarios that are pretty forgettable until a big final battle. One such random "challenge" involves a racy photoshoot of Zetian and her fellow pilot to boost their popularity. It... definitely seemed out of place from the rest of the story and is a weird way of squeezing in the concept of body reclamation when the whole concubine pilot concept is right there. 

There are some good moments where Zetian realizes she isn't the only one suffering and the origins of the pilot she's working with are relatable enough that she sympathizes with him. The concession that acknowledges that you're not the only one with trauma is a good one, but again, it is dampened because of the writing style dropoff. 

There are many scenes that could've been far more impactful, but most of the action and dialogue is summarized (e.g. '"Listen to me! This awful thing is happening!" Then I told them all about what I had discovered and took in their surprised faces as they resigned to fight alongside me.'). It's pretty lazy writing and leans into Mary Sue-ness when people just do whatever you say...? Especially if we buy into how sexist this world is, with the expectation that women will sacrifice their lives for the men piloting the robots..... 

On the other hand, there are also some confusing scenes that seem to imply things like someone's whole family being slaughtered, but then 2 chapters later, the family is still alive. This isn't any magical occurrence or flashes to the future, it's just... inaccurate to its own storyline. Definitely a confusing way of telling a story when it's mixed in with outbursts from the volatile protagonist and it's never explained. 

I also really wanted to know more about the way these robots worked, where they came from, why these were the optimal ways to fight, and also WHY the war was happening in the first place??? For a book about fighter pilots in a war, I would think at least some of that would be touched on, but instead we get unsatisfying poly pining that doesn't end well. 

I also have to say... these books that do almost nothing for 90% of the book only to throw in the majority of the plot in the last 10% are not my fave. I want to read a BOOK with a PLOT the WHOLE TIME, not a bunch of exposition and then a pamphlet-worth of drama. It makes everything that happens at the end feel like it's 11:15 pm and the assignment is due at midnight, so the author just haphazardly threw a bunch of stuff in there without bothering to tease any of it because it was all done on the spot. Interesting-ish things were happening for sure, but without the amount of time needed to see the significance of these new characters and actions, the impact is lost on the reader as we see Zetian rockets back from an empathetic but strong fighter to the uncaring figure of her original personality. This essentially regresses her character development without the exploration of what triggers that, and it makes for another tangle of confusion for the reader. 

And the epilogue---- sure, that's INTERESTING, but it felt like a cheap gimmick to get you to pick up book 2. An out-of-left-field cliff hanger that wouldn't exist anywhere in the story if this were a standalone.
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**Thank you Netgalley and publisher for giving me a free copy of an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.**

Words cannot express how much I loved this book! The ending was great and I loved the main characters strength to defy the system.  I need book 2 like I need air, this was a fantastic read from start to finish.
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the execution of the plot could be better but it's still amazing for a debut book! iron widow is perfect if you're craving for a fantastic sci-fi story
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This was such an amazing read that I wish I could go back in time and read it for the first time again. I loved how the characters became even more fleshed out as the story continued. This was definitely a book I didn't know I needed until I read it.
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I got an ARC of this book.

That cover is gorgeous, the writing it gorgeous, the depth of sheer anger and vengeance GORGEOUS.

I loved this book for most of it. I was thinking it was a five star read from pretty much the first paragraph until the last ten or so pages. That is just how much I hated the ending. The ending ruined the book for me. I was so mad and felt like I had wasted so much time. The ending destroyed the chance of me wanting the second book.

The idea, the action, the romance, EVERYTHING WAS PERFECT. Then the ending. I am finding it difficult to manage to think or talk about anything else. That is just how much the ending was for me. It is the level of “it was all a dream” for making me angry. No, everything was not just a dream. It was a last second twist that I had assumed for a while, but having it happen that late in the book just felt like a forced cliff hanger.

I loved the title of Iron Widow. I loved the way that all the fighting and action worked. I was actually invested in this world. I am not the biggest fan of big robots/energy constructs for fighting. I find it boring. There are very few versions of it that I like, but Metal Gear Solid aside, this was fantastic. I wanted to know every detail. I wanted to see so much more. The way that the focus was not all “KILL EVERYTHING” but on memories and energy make it fascinating. There is a lot more to this than just fighting and revenge. There are a lot of broken and hurt people. There are a lot of bigger plots that are not hidden well or revealed well. All of the twists were incredibly easy to see coming. The twists were so obvious at some point, that the big reveal felt anti-climatic (like why the military hid the Iron Widows from view and related plot lines).

So outside of those last ten pages are so, this is very much a five star book. If you are less critical of endings, read this immediately.
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There was a familiarity to this novel, and yet, it was completely unique. An enjoyable, fast-paced fantasy/dystopian read, that I highly recommend!
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for my review copy!
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ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE! I was hooked from the beginning until the very last word. Eagerly waiting for the sequel!
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i love zetian that is all 
(review to come soon!) 

thank you NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC of this book for this honest review!
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