Cover Image: Iron Widow

Iron Widow

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

☆☆☆☆,5 /5
(english review below)

L’autrice nous emmène dans un univers complexe et dense, entre technologie et énergies psychiques, où la femme doit se battre afin de faire valoir son existence.
¤
Les frontières d’Huaxia sont défendues par les Chrysalides, gigantesques machines pilotées par les énergies psychiques combinées d’un homme et de sa concubine. Hélas ! Les combats sont violents, et si les hommes en réchappent, les femmes sont presque toujours sacrifiées.
Malgré cela, Zetian s’engage dans l’armée. Son objectif ? Venger sa sœur en tuant le pilote responsable de sa mort.
Sortie victorieuse de l’affrontement grâce à sa force psychique exceptionnelle, Zetian devient alors Veuve de Fer et rejoint l’élite des combattants. Elle sera dès lors associée à Li Shimin, le pilote le plus dangereux et controversé d’Huaxia.
Bien décidée à rester en vie, Zetian compte profiter de son nouveau statut pour lutter contre le système patriarcal qui régit la société. Elle s’en fait la promesse : dorénavant, les jeunes femmes ne seront plus sacrifiées…
¤
C’est un texte engagé qui m’a beaucoup plu.
Dès les premières pages, l’autrice ébranle son lecteur en nous plongeant dans un monde où la femme est destinée à être sacrifiée, considérée comme inférieure à l’homme. On va aborder le thème du féminisme, du sexisme, de la discrimination. Si je ne me suis pas tant identifiée à la totalité de l’injustice vécue par Zetian et les femmes dans le territoire d’Huaxia car je ne suis pas autant victime de sexisme, je n’ai pas pu m’empêcher d’être touchée et de me sentir révoltée par ce que les femmes vivent dans ce roman, par la manière dont elles sont considérées. Les mots choisis par l’autrice dans la narration sont forts, percutants et même la personnalité de Zetian est mordante.
Dans ce roman, l’autrice a construit un univers assez dense dans lequel j’ai été, au début, perdue. On se retrouvait avec des robots combattants, une guerre avec des aliens, des énergies psychiques liées aux éléments… Dans les premiers chapitres, cela faisait beaucoup d’informations. Cela dit, au fur et à mesure, l’histoire se faisait de plus en plus limpides dans mon esprit et l’intrigue était entraînante. J’ai beaucoup apprécié ce mélange entre science-fiction et fantasy ainsi que les inspirations cherchées dans l’Histoire, plus particulièrement dans l’histoire de l’unique impératrice de Chine, Wu Zetian.
Il s’est passé tellement de choses dans ce roman ! Je ne me suis pas ennuyée une seule seconde. Zetian est un personnage qui m’a chamboulée par ses convictions et sa détermination à changer le monde dans lequel elle vit. Les personnages qui gravitaient autour d’elle ne pouvaient pas rester indifférents et moi non plus. Les scènes d’action étaient bien écrites, très visuelles car je n’ai pas eu de difficultés à imaginer ces fameuses machines utilisées pour combattre et les instants pendant lesquels les personnages usaient de leurs énergies psychiques.
Franchement, c’est une lecture que j’ai beaucoup aimée et que j’ai adorée. Il y a un message fort sur la place de la femme dans le monde. L’autrice a écrit un texte engagé, féministe et dans lequel il y a aussi la représentation de romance polyamoureuse -qui ne prend pas de place dans l’histoire, car il doit avoir 5 moments romantiques sur les 400 pages du roman (pour vous dire que j’ai particulièrement apprécié cette romance discrète) !

Je vous recommande cette lecture chaudement.
D’ailleurs, vous n’avez aucune excuse pour ne pas lire ce roman car, en plus d’être disponible en anglais, il a été récemment traduit en français par @lamartiniere.jfiction !
Moi, j’attends la suite avec impatience !

--------
ENGLISH REVIEW:

The author takes us into a complex and dense universe, between technology and psychic energies, where women must fight in order to assert their existence.
¤
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.
¤
It’s an engaging text that I really liked.
From the first pages, the author shakes her reader by plunging us into a world where women are destined to be sacrificed, considered inferior to men. We will tackle the theme of feminism, sexism and discrimination. If I didn’t identify so much with the totality of the injustice experienced by Zetian and the women in Huaxia because I’m not so much a victim of sexism, I couldn’t help but be touched and to feel revolted by what the women live in this story, by the way in which they are regarded. The words chosen by the author in the narration are strong, punchy, and even Zetian's personality is biting.
In this book, the author has constructed a rather dense universe in which I was, at the beginning, lost. We ended up with fighting robots, a war against aliens, psychic energies linked to the elements… In the first chapters, that was a lot of information. Having said that, as the story unfolded more and more clearly in my mind, the plot was catchy. I really appreciated this mix of science fiction and fantasy as well as the inspirations sought in history, especially in the story of the only Empress of China, Wu Zetian.
So much has happened in this story! I wasn't bored for a single second. Zetian is a character who overwhelmed me with her beliefs and her determination to change the world in which she lives. The characters who revolved around her could not remain indifferent and neither could I. The action scenes were well written, very visual as I had no difficulty imagining those famous machines used in combat and the moments in which the characters used their psychic energies.
Honestly, this is a reading that I adored. There’s a strong message about the place of women in the world. The author has written an engaged and feminist text in which there’s also the representation of polyamorous romance -which does not take up a place in the story, because it must have 5 romantic moments on the 400 pages of the book (so I can tell you that I especially enjoyed this low-key romance)!

I highly recommend this reading.
Besides, you have no excuse not to read this book because, in addition to being available in English, it was recently translated into French by @ lamartiniere.jfiction!
I’m really excited for the sequel!
Was this review helpful?
Lacking in more ways than one. It was entertaining at some parts, but the author has a lot of room for growth and it feels like this novel was published a bit prematurely, should have given the author some more time to hone her craft because some parts read like a first draft. Good ideas, execution could use work.
Was this review helpful?
Iron Widow is not the book for me. I had been looking forward to this book but I found the book had too much info-dumping, the characters (esp Li Shimin and Yizhi) were under-developed and the lack of female characters was jarring. While I thought the world-building was lacking, I did enjoy the setting and hope to see more of it. I also love the polyam rep!
Was this review helpful?
For once the description of a book being this book meets this book was not a let down for me. This definitely was a mash up of Pacific Rim meets Handmaids tale, I think with a little Hunger Games flare. I loved every minute of this book and the trio of main characters we follow. It was refreshing to not have a love triangle for once, and their polyamorous relationship was so natural. Although this book is for older YA I will recommend it to everyone I know!
Was this review helpful?
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.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for this ARC which I received in return for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
everyone and their mothers have read this book at some point and every single one of them loved it – and for good reason. Iron Widow was absolutely incredible. just... breathtaking honestly. Zhao knows what she's doing and who she's writing for with this book and I thought it was such a better take on Pacific Rim.
Was this review helpful?
This book gave me everything I wanted and more. Poly relationship, morally gray characters, dark fantasy, and and engrossing premise. I can't wait for the next book!
Was this review helpful?
Iron Widow was one of my most anticipated reads of 2021 and I ended up loving it !

Zhao's writing was very powerful and alluring -- I really felt that Zeitan (the main character) was a real person because of how great the writing was. It made this fictional world seem so realistic and easy to imagine. 

I also love that this YA book featured a polyamorous relationship! I've barely seen any adult book feature a polyam relationship, so this was great. I really liked how well Zetian, Shimin and Yizhi had great chemistry and all worked so well together, each bringing something different to the relationship. More books with this rep please!

Highly recommend !
Was this review helpful?
Riveting science fiction that fans of anime will absolutely devour, Zhao's debut handles difficult topics sensitively and still manages to be a page-turner.
Was this review helpful?
Iron Widow is a stunning debut from Xiran Jay Zhao that follows Zetian, a young female mech pilot, as she fights for her rightful place in a misogynistic society that is determined to keep her subservient. The pitch for this one is Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid’s Tale, and that is honestly 100% accurate. Start reading for the epic battles between giant robots, stay for the slow deconstruction of this patriarchal society. And the romance! I was a bit unsure about the polyamorous relationship in this novel, but it ended up being one of my favorite things about Iron Widow. Zhao does a fantastic job of showing how all three characters fit together, and how they all support each other in different ways. I’m also always a fan of powerful women being unapologetic about how powerful they are, which is absolutely the case in this book. 

The ending was a bit of a surprise, but it just made me more excited for the next book in the series! I’ll definitely be picking that one up on release day. 

*Disclaimer: I received an advance digital copy of this book for free from the publisher. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Was this review helpful?
Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao was so good and I'm so glad there will be a sequel! This mecha scifi story is based on the rise of Chinese Empress Wu. I didn't know I needed historical scifi in my life, but it turns out I did! To be clear, this story is set in its own scifi world with characters inspired by Chinese history.

A Chrysalis (the gigantic mecha of our story) are piloted by male and female pairs. The women concubine-pilots almost always die, but that is considered an acceptable sacrifice to battle the mecha aliens that threaten Huaxia. 

Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot with one goal: to kill the pilot who murdered her sister. Before she can, she is forced into the cockpit of a Chrysalis with him and does what no one expected; she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the Chrysalis unscathed. Zetian is an Iron Widow, able to drain male pilots the same way they drain their concubine-pilots. She is paired with the infamous pilot Li Shimin, a murderer and accomplished Chrysalis pilot. She knows the pairing is meant to be her death sentence, but Zetian is determined to survive and unravel the misogynistic system that's trying to kill her.

There's so much to love in Iron Widow. Zetian is a very morally gray MC and the book's polyamorous relationship is handled so beautifully. All three characters have empathy and love for each other, and they're all morally gray characters who don't turn away from the dark parts of each other. I do wish this book was adult scifi rather than YA. I would have loved more extensive world-building and more thorough development of the relationships. This book is very dark even though it's YA. Trigger warnings for alcoholism, forced substance abuse, foot binding, rape (not on page), torture, and so much misogyny. If you're looking for a dark scifi book, I'd highly recommend Iron Widow!
Was this review helpful?
I was kind of nervous going into this because I had such high hopes. 

LUCKILY I WAS NOT DISAPPOINTED. Badass story - great representation. It had it all. Quickly became one of my favorites.

I will read anything that Xiran Jay Zhao publishes and I can't wait for book two!!!!!!!!
Was this review helpful?
This book was absolutely amazing. It had fantastic writing. The world was amazingly crafted as well. I just immediately got sucked into it. I also really loved the characters in this book. Zetian can be very headstrong and stubborn, which are character traits I typically don't like but her motivations were really well developed and she also grows throughout this book. That doesn't mean she becomes any less badass though. I also really loved the two love interests in this book. They were both very different but I liked how they balanced each other out. I also really loved the discussions around polyarmory in this book and I overall really love the way the romance was done. I could really feel the chemistry and connection between all three of these characters. I mentioned it before but I really like the world. It's very much based on gender and typically in books I've read that focus on gender it's very binary and heteronormative. I liked how this book didn't do that. There were discussions in here around gender that included the possibility of people that don't fit the gender binary and, with the polyarmy, it also of course discusses sexualities other than straight. The plot was also really interesting and the ending definitely delivered on some real good plot twists that had me completely shocked. I'm super excited to read the sequel when that comes out because I need more of these characters, this world and I just need to know what those plot twists mean.
Was this review helpful?
I have stuff I could be picky about, like the fact that some stuff feels like it didn't get the proper foreshadowing it deserved or that transitions could have used more work, this was truly a refreshing book to read in the sci-fi genre. It's a wonderful honor to both the mecha subgenre and the Empress Wu the main character is based on.
Was this review helpful?
This is what happens when you publish #ownvoices books (especially in SFF). You get a story with a rich and diverse cast of characters and it's effortless. None of these characters are thrown in for the sake of diversity. They belong there and they always belonged there. THIS should be the standard.

With that out of the way, this was a thrill to read the whole way through. I admit, it took me a minute to figure things out at the very beginning but I quickly figured out what was happening and I held my breathe from then on. There was constantly something happening. I struggled to put the book down to go and do adult things so naturally, I finished this in 3 sittings. Problem solved.

I'm really excited to see how the characters figure out this next hurdle! It was refreshing to have a set of characters that were simply to understand. They were neither bad, nor good, but somewhere in between and I loved that about them.

This book makes me feel hopeful about this next generation of writers.
Was this review helpful?
“But I have no faith in love. Love cannot save me. I choose vengeance.”

IRON WIDOW is, without a doubt, one of the most fiercely feminist and deeply imaginative books I’ve ever read. It’s a young adult novel that has the fast-paced action and high-pitched emotionality of the genre, but with an incredible depth in both characters and world-building that’s less common.

The story follows Zetian, a young woman from a small village who has little opportunity to free herself from the life prescribed by the oppressive patriarchal culture that surrounds her, and yet possesses an intensely ambitious drive to overcome her circumstances that burns hot within her. I won’t get too much more into the plot here, but it involves massive mechas fueled by pilots’ qi (life force) used for fighting ginormous aliens, a pilot system built on the deaths of girls, a competitive boys-club-esque army that feeds on media attention, and a years-long war escalating into an all-out battle with surprising ramifications, all laced with the strategy and politics of the powerful in Huaxia.

The result is a stunning blend of science fiction and fantasy with an utterly badass lead inspired by the only female emperor in Chinese history. Zhao uses this structure to explore powerful themes of celebrity and infamy, addiction and recovery, power and self-determination, disability and assistive tech, dependence and agency, surviving trauma and enacting vengeance, sexuality and purity culture, gaslighting and the power of believing in yourself, and the infinite depths of love. Without spoiling too much, it’s a deeply queer book that embraces polyamory when so many authors have chosen to have two love interests compete. I just! I love it so much!

Once you pick this book up you will not want to put it down; the pace is non-stop and every page has something new to devour. I absolutely cannot wait for book two to come out later this year. Thank you to Penguin Teen for the eARC!

 “You’re not some thing to be kept or taken, and love isn’t some scarce resource to battle over. Love can be infinite, as much as your heart can open.”

Content warnings: violence, abuse, beating/torture, imprisonment, death/murder, suicidal ideation, sexual assault, addiction
Was this review helpful?
Thank you Netgalley and Penguin Random House for this advanced copy of Iron Widow in exchange for an honest review. In Xiran Jay Zhao novel of Iron Widow, we meet 18 year old Zetian. The author describe this book as Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid's Tale and that description had me hyped to begin reading. Zetian is paired with Li Shimin, who is the strongest male pilot in Huaxia. In order to complete her mission and tear down a world filled with misogyny, she must use her wit and strengths to overcome. What I really enjoyed in this novel is the poly relationship, it flowed so naturally. And how kick ass Zetian becomes and stands up against so much wrong doing.
Was this review helpful?
I love the representation in this story. Both with a Chinese lead character and a strong female lead. I very much appreciate the lgbt and polyamorous representation as well. It’s much needed. That said, the story fell a bit flat for me at times. I found that explanation for the conflicts was lacking, at least from where I noticed. I also felt like the world building could have been stronger. It was an enjoyable book, but not a series I can see myself continuing.
Was this review helpful?
As everyone says, this is an amazing novel just bursting with ideas, gorgeous prose, and some fantastic, at-time prickly characters. From the premise to the polyamorous anti-love-triangle, this book subverts expectations and then takes its core ideas even further. I can't wait to read the sequel.
Was this review helpful?
i'm very sad rn.

to summarize, i LOVED the first 50% of this book, the world, the characters and fast paced plot were all going super well. I was having so much fun with the lush world and Zhao's flowy writing but then i slowly started feeling a bit disinterested? though wu zetian unhinged af, her personality got to a point where it was unrealistic. not only that, but there wasn't much character development going on and as someone who prefers character-driven stories to plot-driven ones, i was getting bored because i had no characters to root for.

i wish the author all the best and i will definitely be on the look for rest of their works!

2.5/5 stars

A huge thank you to Penguin Teen for providing me with an advance reader copy via Netgalley. This did not impact my review in any way.
Was this review helpful?