Cover Image: Iron Widow

Iron Widow

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Member Reviews

Honestly was quite disappointed with this book. Some scenes were intense and fun to read but most felt rushed. Throughout the book the use of language was laughable and I kept pausing to think "wtf". The entire book was rather blunt, rushed, and thouthless. There is no context for any conflict nor is there any description for technology.
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Thank you to netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an e-arc!

In the land of Huaxia, boys must partner with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots, in order to fight Hunduns that threaten humanity itself. Wu Zetian, fed up with the piloting system that sacrifices girls with impunity, enlists as a concubine-pilot and plots to tear the entire army down.

The worldbuilding is pretty unique and interesting with a blend of both ancient China and futuristic technology. It didn't quite always seem to work though, and at times it's very confusing. The characters are the real strength of the story, with Zetian crushing the imposed patriarchy at every turn and not hesitating to take what she wants. She reminds me of Azula from Avatar in a good way, and I'd love to read more of her story.

Overall, an entertaining read if a bit overhyped.
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Thank you for the advanced copy of this book! I will be posting my review on social media, to include Instagram, Amazon, Goodreads, and Instagram!
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Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

This is a feminist story and I am all for that, but if you see by my rating, something went wrong…Anyway, here goes the review. I almost DNFed this book multiple times and it felt like a chore to read. I could only read 30-50 pages at a time and then had to put it down because I was really not enjoying it. The pros. I really love the artwork on the cover. I like how this is a feminist story and how we see our MC rise through the oppression that women are going through because men are put on a pedestal and the best thing ever made. *Eyeroll* Let’s move onto what I didn’t like. I hated, hated, hated the romance I felt like there was no chemistry with any of the characters. It would just be like I think this character like this person and then all of sudden those two characters are kissing. Or let’s not show anything between the characters, but then have the MC say automatically I love this person and they are the best person ever. Then, felt like the magic system, well it is not really a magic system, but kind of is…please help me with the word I am trying to find. Anyway, it was not explored that well or showed the origin or why they can do what they can do. Then, in total conclusion I just hated our MC so freaking much. She was annoying and reckless. I mean I know she is a villain and this is also a villain story, but I found no compassion for her or could empathize for her. I just rolled my eyes so much. The writing was good, but this was not for me and definitely an unpopular opinion. Now, you may ask, Kayla will you be reading the sequel? The answer to that is maybe…I did like how it ended and thought it could lead to a promising sequel, but I am unsure since I really did not like this book. Maybe I’ll pick it up on audio.
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A solid four stars of completely unhinged feminist rage.

Huaxia is in the thralls of full-blown war against the Hunduns - an alien race said to be invading Wu Zetian's homeland and responsible for the displacement of her ancestors onto the frontier she so despises. The only hope in fighting them off is for pairs of pilots to channel their qi to power the husks the Hunduns leave behind - called Chrysalises. The higher a pilot's spirit pressure, the stronger his Chrysalis can attack. And if a woman comes along who can rival his spirit pressure and provide him with a Balanced Match, their Chrysalis may even achieve a Heroic Form and take out the strongest Hunduns of them all. The only problem is, most women die in the process. 

Wu Zetian is a poor frontier girl determined to make it as a concubine-pilot, if only to avenge the cruel death of her sister at the hands of one of the most successful male pilots - Yang Guang. So even when a rich city boy (Gao Yizhi) for whom she truly cares comes to ask her hand in marriage to save her from the war, she enlists anyway. When Zetian's spirit pressure comes back far above average - ten times her peers - she finds herself immediately paired with Guang and in the perfect position to carry out her ultimate mission. 

Just as Yang Guang was attempting to assert himself as entitled to certain privileges bestowed on pilots, he and Zetian get called out into battle. While he literally has to drag her into the Chrysalis kicking and screaming, she manages to claw her way through his mind realm to confirm the horrible manner in which he killed her sister and wrest control of the Chrysalis away from him. As she summons enough qi to transform the Chrysalis into its Heroic Form, shocking all of the strategists, she awakens from the battle to a shocking discovery - in an astonishing reversal of fate, she has survived the encounter and Yang Guang has been the one sacrificed. She has killed a boy, and has earned herself the title of Iron Widow.

I was totally with the book up through this point, so ready to see Zetian just completely destroy this entitled punk who took so much from her family without a careless thought. But once that moment was past, the book started to feel a little aimless, tugged in several different directions, full of cliches, all to get to an ending that felt ultimately inevitable. I still liked it, but I really feel like this book tried to do too much. 

After Zetian kills Guang in battle, the strategists are afraid of the larger implications for the war and recruitment. If boys are likely to also die in battle, they simply will not sign up. A woman with a spirit pressure high enough to prevail in battle and kill their male co-pilots in the process simply cannot be tolerated. The decision is made to pair her with the most powerful pilot in current existence, essentially sealing her fate. 

Li Shimin is a bad boy with a tortured soul. He slaughtered his entire family and seems to show no remorse. If it weren't for his superhuman spirit pressure, he would have been put to death long ago. While no one expects Wu Zetian to survive a single encounter with him, if she were to be the one to kill him, no one would have their regrets. But to everyone's astonishment, most of all Zetian and Shimin's, they both survive their first battle. 

She hates him and then she starts to "understand" him and they fall in love, blah, blah, blah. Every bad thing he did was for a good reason, of course. But she still has feelings for Yizhi, that brave city boy who tried to rescue her from this inevitable fate. So of course he has to show up again to rescue her from the government's ceaseless plans to take her down. 

Overall, I came for the badass feminist rage and it was well worth it, but I would have loved to see deeper character development, especially of Gao Yizhi, who was basically a completely flat stick figure of a rich boy. He comes to play such a large role in the story, but we just know almost nothing about him. And weirdly, for someone apparently in love with him, Zetian doesn't seem too interested in getting to know him either. She doesn't seem too invested in any of her love interests, to be honest. I also would have liked more worldbuilding. I was waiting the whole book for the plot twist at the end, but once it came, it felt stale because there was virtually no context on the conflict. If there had been a grand myth to justify the war, I would have felt differently when that dropped, but as it was, I just kind of shrugged and said, "Yeah, figures."

My sincere thanks to Penguin Teen and NetGalley for the eARC, even though it took me longer than I expected to actually get to this one.
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This was a very well-executed book. I really loved the world building and the strong characters. I also love that it was drawn from Chinese history as that is a big academic and professional interest of mine!
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Thank you so much to net galley and the publisher for giving me a copy of this book. It was a pretty good book follow the Main character who was kind of a villain but I definitely will continue this series!
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Iron Widow is set in a world that is a mix of Chinese history and science fiction. All 3 of our main characters have such strong voices and personalities that came across perfectly on paper. They’re also so well developed that they feel like actual people. The wait for book 2 is going to kill me off honestly!
Full review to come on YouTube
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🔥DROP EVERYTHING AND READ IRON WIDOW 🔥
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@xiranjayzhao stuns in they/thems debut, Iron Widow. Set in China's Huaxia, women are forced to fight with men and transform themselves into energy sources. Basically, the men feed off of them for suit power and kill them off. YET Zetian refuses for this to be the gender standard. Avenging her sisters death, she is thrown on a journey of the mind, body and soul. But will she survive the darkness and every attempt on her life? 
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Read this if you: 
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🔥 loved Hunger Games - this is a violent Hunger Games ish story but much more beautiful 
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🔥 Fantasy lovers? This book is screaming for you! 
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🔥 want to say f society and gender roles
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I totally enjoyed reading this book. I liked how the author blended Chinese culture and history with fantasy and science-fiction. 
All the characters were well crafted are unique in their own way. I loved the main character, Zetian- she is very fierce and easily loveable. 
It also features a polyamorous relationship, at first I was skeptical about it but it was very well executed and totally worked with the storyline. 
The plot is well constructed, it had many unexpected twists and turns. It ended on a cliffhanger, I would definitely read the sequel. This is my favorite read of this year. If you love futuristic and dystopian fantasy books then I highly recommended this.
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I am so torn about this book. I loved the first half. The world-building was great, the character development was well-rounded and the plot was gripping. But about halfway through, I lost interest. 

Zetian lives with her family during a time when a girl's only purpose is to marry or join the army as a concubine to the male pilots that fly into battle. Most girls that go to war end up dying. Zetian has already lost her sister and is determined to avenge her sister's killer. Soon she finds herself as a concubine to the army's most dangerous pilot. Zetian must not only fight for her life, but she also must fight to change years of damaging tradition. 

While I really liked Zetian's strength and determination to fight for gender equality, halfway through the plot began to feel congested leaving me bored and skimming the last couple chapters. The crazy twist at the end almost redeemed the book for me. I may read the next one, but a lot of my excitement for the story has left me. 

Many thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Random House Canada for sending me a digital copy in exchange for an honest review.
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This fast-paced dive into a world of monsters, both human and alien, mech suits, and spiritual strength was so intense at times that I had to put it down and take a deep breath.
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.5 stars
Totally adored this exciting YA SciFi inspired by Pacific Rim and Chinese myth and history.

Not only was the base setup really cool with the mechas and monsters, I especially liked how consciously it recognizes and deconstructs misogynistic structures and propaganda, as well as handles other topics like gender or addiction. Because holy shit, the setting was harsh. Please do mind the trigger warnings before reading this (some of them are listen below.)

The story was WILD. It was fast-paced, and just kept unfurling and unfurling. There's the action of the mecha battles, the typical "person from simple means being pulled into a situation much bigger than them", celebrity photoshoots, complicated social dynamics, not to mention battling the patriarchy, and of course love.
The latter was, to my delight, pretty much the least dramatic of all of these. I loved that, especially in combination with it being polyam! It wasn't in the foreground, and there, too, I loved how it was approached by the protagonist, who is overall much more pragmatic than anything else, but at the same time never cold or unfeeling. She does terrible things and makes very bad decisions, but I was nevertheless always rooting for her, both in her most ruthless and brutal and her vulnerable moments.

The writing was incredibly easy to read. I am currently not reading as much or as fast as I usually do, but I absolutely flew through the book. I read it in just a couple days. I have also heard from other people that they found it easy to read, and particularly from people with ADHD. So if that is a concern for some people that they have to consider before reading a book, this might be helpful!

Content warnings include: torture and mutilation, alcohol addiction, mentions of sexual assault, body shaming, misogyny, violence, murder, death
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Iron Widow is a fast-paced fantasy influenced by Chinese history and culture. It combines elements of Pacific Rim, The Hunger Games, and The Handmaid's Tale. 

In Huaxia, there's a neverending war against the alien Hunduns. Men pilot Chrysalises, robots that are the only defense against the Hundun. Women are second-class citizens who serve as concubines to the pilots and sacrifice their lives to the war effort. Although the male pilots are the war heroes, they need a female co-pilot to be the yin to the yang, and the Chrysalises need both a man and a woman to work properly. Unfortunately, the female co-pilots often die and this is considered a necessary sacrifice.

After Zetian's sister is killed by a star pilot, she vows revenge and enlists to become a co-pilot. She gets her revenge and somehow survives, something that isn't supposed to happen. She's now an Iron Widow and she's paired with a pilot who's also a convicted murderer, and the two form an uneasy alliance. 

I was completely engrossed in this book. Zetian is a great heroine. She's prickly and angry at the world, and she decides to do something about it. Her world is brutal to women, and even her own family views her as disposable. She's underestimated by everyone and she uses it to her advantage. Her story is really gripping and I was rooting for her from the start. 

This is the start of a series, and there were some unexpected twists at the end that left me anxious for the sequel. I'm intrigued to see where the story goes.

CW: mentions of sexual assault, rampant misogyny, alcholism, mutilation
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This is simply truly the best book ever written. I am obsessed with the writing, the world, the characters, the fact that we have this beautiful and incredible polyamorous relationship... this was just the best thing I've read this year, and I'm so glad this book exists. I loved Zetian and her fierce determination to get revenge for what happened to her sister and how she stumbles into being one of the most powerful pilots ever. I love her relationship with Shimin and Yizhi both, and how those two fall for each other, how the three of them have enough love in themselves for each other. I just really loved this book and cannot wait for more of these three badasses <3
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I cannot say enough good things about this book! It is absolutely BRILLIANT in about a thousand ways. Somehow, Xiran Jay Zhao managed to pack in tons of themes and thought-provoking commentary on gender, references to Chinese history, multiple compelling characters, surprising twists, steamy romance (for YA), freakin' MECHAS, and I'm sure plenty more I've forgotten to mention, without sacrificing ANYTHING. It is easy to understand, does not feel preachy in any way, and is well-paced. This book is a serious masterpiece.

I wish I could go back and give a copy to my teenage self (a Chinese American girl growing up at a time when we were completely absent from YA). Barring that, I'm going to tell absolutely EVERYONE to read this book (and the other brilliant Chinese diaspora books coming out now)! I could go on gushing for ages, but instead I'm going to end with this: read it and thank me later. You're welcome.

Thank you Penguin Teen for providing a free advanced e-book in exchange for an honest review.
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Thank you NetGalley for giving me an ARC of this book so many months ago.  I regret that it took me until receiving my Illumicrate edition to finally getting around to reading this!

After the unexplained death of her sister, Zetain enlists to be a concubine for male pilots in the army. She leaves a family she loathes, and a boy whose social standing puts him out of her league that she loves, to go enact a revenge plot against this pilot prince knowing it is also likely to end in her own death. Instead, she discovers that her qi exceeds expectations and maybe everything her people, especially the young girls whose lives she aims to save from fates similar to her sister, isn't so simple and straightforward as they are raised and led to believe. 

This book was more than I could have hoped for. I went in thinking that I would LIKE this book, not LOVE it the way I actually do. It had everything and more than I could have hoped for. There is a strong, badass female lead who doesn't let societies opinions or expectations control her or how she acts. A relationship and love triangle that actually didn't annoy or disgust me and constantly had me changing my mind on which way it would go-and let's just say, I was NOT disappointed in the outcome. The story and writing is done so well, and once I started, I did not want to put this book down.

This book was action packed and kept me on my toes. I CANNOT WAIT for the next book. At this point, I am more than a little invested in what happens next with Zetian. Definitely 4.5 out of 5 stars.
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***4.5 Stars*** Review goes live on Lair Of Books on 12/14/21 at 8am EST

*•.¸♡ ᴍᴀʏʙᴇ, ɪғ ᴛʜɪɴɢs ᴡᴇʀᴇ ᴅɪғғᴇʀᴇɴᴛ, ɪ ᴄᴏᴜʟᴅ ɢᴇᴛ ᴜsᴇᴅ ᴛᴏ ᴛʜɪs. ʙᴇɪɴɢ ᴄʀᴀᴅʟᴇᴅ ɪɴ ʜɪs ᴡᴀʀᴍᴛʜ ᴀɴᴅ ʟɪɢʜᴛ. ʙᴇɪɴɢ ᴄʜᴇʀɪsʜᴇᴅ. ʙᴇɪɴɢ ʟᴏᴠᴇᴅ. ʙᴜᴛ ɪ ʜᴀᴠᴇ ɴᴏ ғᴀɪᴛʜ ɪɴ ʟᴏᴠᴇ. ʟᴏᴠᴇ ᴄᴀɴɴᴏᴛ sᴀᴠᴇ ᴍᴇ. ɪ ᴄʜᴏᴏsᴇ ᴠᴇɴɢᴇᴀɴᴄᴇ. ♡¸.•*

THE 411...

This turned out to be the Feminist AF Sci-Fi story I needed to reignite my craving for SFF as a whole! It also made one thing very clear and that’s that I enjoy a good revenge plot especially when it’s executed by a female MC who feels she has nothing to lose. Zetian has been groomed from birth to accept her role in society as the weaker gender, her sole purpose if enlisted to fight in the war against the Hunduns (evil robots) is to serve as sort of an amplifier/conductor of Qi (spirit pressure) for the males. Accurately pitched as Red Rising meets Pacific Rim, in this world we have our main characters fighting in giant Chrysalis robots against the Hunduns over the wall. A Chrysalis is controlled by a male pilot and his female “Concubine.” While in battle, their bodies remain dormant in the husks of the Chrysalis while they battle using spirit pressure. Many times, the males thoughts & feelings will overwhelm his concubine and kill her. This is understood and accepted by all, until Zetian comes along with a mission to avenge her sisters death. What begins as a plot for revenge against one pilot turns into a much greater mission to strike against the patriarchy and question a system designed to keep women subservient and/or dead.

CW: Death of a loved one, domestic violence, murder, attempted rape, alcohol abuse, suicidal thoughts, misogyny, war themes, descriptions of forced foot binding, and organ removal

WRITING & FINAL THOUGHTS...

This book was hella quotable with social commentary delivering truths on the patriarchy and I absolutely loved it! My rating is a 4.5 only because the finale didn’t match up with the level of climax built up, it felt just a smidge rushed towards the very end.  This still wasn't enough to take away from the story, I found myself fully invested in the characters and overall world building. I'm not yet sure if I'd consider Zetian an unlikeable character, she harbors a ton of anger which I found justified given the crummy deck of cards girls are dealt from birth. We see her experience emotional and verbal abuse from her father as well as the physical pains of having her feet bound at the age of five. Zetian is always in a state of pain and in many ways she uses that as fuel to power through her quest for revenge. From the start when we meet her she makes it clear that she will not consider anyones life (including/especially family) who at some point treated her own life as dispensable. Zetian's hate/love relationship with Li Shimin was well developed, I honestly felt at some points that they'd never get on the same page. I enjoyed seeing Zetian come to certain realizations with regards to the world they live in and the whole Pilot/Concubine set-up. There were some awesome discoveries at the end that really set-up for the next book in this series. This is a fast action packed Sci-Fi with bits of romance sprinkled throughout haha! it's def more plot heavy. Our main characters are all queer, the Polyamorous relationship that developed was *Chefs Kiss*! it legit was the perfect balance of sweet and rough around the edges. I have some theories as to where the story will go next and hope to the Book Gods that at the very least we get a cover for the follow-up early in 2022 *fingers crossed*
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Actual Rating: 2.5 Stars

Based on the description of this book, I was very excited to read it, but it fell a little flat in the execution for me. I probably should have realized this going in (based on it being partly compared to The Handmaid's Tale, which I was not a fan of), but the extreme oppression of women in this book was a struggle to read. Sometimes it's hard for me to read sci-fi or fantasy books that have really pressing issues that are occurring now (like misogyny and the patriarchy), so I had a hard time reading those sections, especially since it is not a subtle book in that regard. It is loud and in your face, and I think it worked for the book, but just not so well for me. I also struggled a little with the world building. Maybe I just missed something, but I didn't fully understand the armor and the ships and everything with that. Like I didn't really understand how it worked. And I felt that there wasn't much going in the character development area either - all the characters seemed to be about the same as they were in the beginning, or changed solely because they told other characters their backstory, without really showing us anything.

I think there is a lot of good in this book. I love the diversity and reading about a culture I am not as familiar with. The polyamorous rep was also really appreciated because I only know of one other book that includes that sort of rep. And the message in the book was also good - about overthrowing the patriarchy and not sacrificing women to save men. It just failed in the execution for me personally, making me struggle. I think I would still recommend this because, like I said, there is a lot of good. I would just go in with lower expectations if any of the negatives I mentioned might be something that doesn't work well for you.
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Thanks to Netgalley and the Publisher for a copy in exchange for an honest review. 

Well, Indigo’s best teen book of 2021 was a bust. I wanted to love an Asian and Canadian written fantasy story so much but I found it… confusing? Irritating? Ok, first off, zero world building. And when I say zero I mean ZERO. i understand that a second instalment in a series normally delves more into that but at least give me a little something to understand!! It was walking in blind and …. Keep walking blind? It totally disengaged me in the story. Which is a shame because I think with more explanation it could have done the unique concept more justice. Second, the insta love. Holy fuck the insta love. If a man killed your big sister, I don’t think you’d be stating that his eyes were dreamy and not the eyes of a killer the second time you met him. For such a (supposed) bad ass heroine she sure forgot about her sister and her morals pretty quick as soon as a boy her age was introduced. Anyways, I’m pretty sure this put me into a reading slump. Again, not going to trash it entirely because I respect that this is the hard work of an author but I just didn’t get it at all.
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