Cover Image: Iron Widow

Iron Widow

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Iron Widow is Xiran Jay Zhao's Chinese history-inspired sci-fi/fantasy debut novel. Just those things about the book alone made this book go sky-high on my TBR. Then I looked into it a bit more and found out it has a strong female MC who's driven by revenge and a polyamorous love triangle which is something you do not see often in books. 

So was this book everything I expected and more? Did it meet all of my expectations? 

I would say it met around 90% of my expectations. Yes, it was awesome and yes, I loved it, but there were just a few parts of the book I didn't like as much as others. But alas (look at me sounding all fancy) I couldn't bear to give this book anything less than 5 stars.

The plot follows our main character Zetain, whose sister has been sacrificed and killed to power a Chrysalis run by a male pilot to fight the mecha aliens outside the Great Wall. She's determined to get her revenge-- so she signs up to be a concubine-pilot. Once she gains the pilot's trust, she plans to slit his throat as he sleeps. But things don't turn out as she plans, and she manages to take control of the Chrysalis and emerge alive. (With the pilot dead, which is a bonus.) She becomes the Iron Widow and the government has no idea what to do with her. They pair her with Li Shimin-- the strongest pilot alive with a qi of 10,000. Zetain discovers secrets hidden from the eyes of commoners like her buried deep, deep down and realizes everything isn't as it seems...

I loved the plot so much that it's almost not ok. It's one of a kind, fast-paced, not boring, thrilling, and absolutely exhilarating to read. Your heart thumps, your breath catches in your throat, and you miss a lot of homework and have to make it up because YOU CAN'T STOP READING.

The characters, the romance were both amazing. Wait. Rephrase that. Zetian was amazing, I didn't care about the rest. Zetian is our amazing feminist MC who is driven by revenge and anger. She's one of the best strong female MCs I have ever seen, and she definitely goes on my list of favorite characters ever. As for the other characters... well, I didn't care much for them. Both love interests were meh and I would have preferred Zetain to be alone.

The setting, the worldbuilding are a lot to take in at first. You've got these qi-powered robot Chrysalises maneuvered by male pilots and female concubine pilots. Confusing, yes? And then there's the Hunduns who are mecha aliens out to destroy everyone in Huaxia. There's a good deal of not-explained info-dumping initially, but once you start to understand what's going on, you begin to appreciate how detailed the world is. I, for one, would love to visit Huaxia and pilot a Chrysalis.

Overall, I loved this book and would definitely reread it someday. I think some parts could have been better, but I still loved it all the same.

4.5/5 stars
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this book was incredible. fast-paced, amazing writing & worldbuilding, endearing characters. i loved the central theme of feminism & watching it play out as wu zetian discovered her true strength. also, i adored her as a character. she is fierce, bold and never afraid to speak her mind and stand up for herself. her character was definitely one of the highlights of this book and also one of the reasons why this has become one of my new all time favourites 

arc kindly provided by netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
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Wow. I am absolutely blown away by this book. I started it last night thinking I would read just a few chapters before I went to bed but before I knew it, I was halfway through and there was no way I could put it down without getting to the end. 

And that ending! 

There were so much about this book that I loved and I still haven't completely processed everything. I loved Zeitan. Her struggles felt so real. First, does she put aside her anger to be with the boy she cares for deeply and may even love, or does she risk everything to get revenge on the man who killed her sister. Thankfully she decides to go after the man who killed her sister or we wouldn't have a story at all. I loved Li Shimin and his relationship both with Zeitan and Yizhi. I loved that Zeitan made the tough choices but she made the ones that were right for her. 

And now back to that ending... I'm still reeling from it. Although the fight with the Hunduns is central throughout the book (I mean, that's why girls are sold to the army after all), the big twist really surprised me. I was so focused on the human aspect of Zeitan's story and her attempts to overthrow the patriarchy that I didn't see that coming at all. Don't get me wrong, the hints were there, I was just so wrapped up in the story that I left it take me where it wanted instead of nitpicking things that annoyed me. 

Everyone should read this book. It's wonderfully written, and both the characters and the story are compelling. I'm just kind of wishing I hadn't read an early copy of this book because now I have to wait even longer for the sequel.
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I was super excited for this book. Unfortunately, my Adobe Digital Editions app was not working. It constantly crashed everytime I tried reading it. I still highly recommend this book because it is really interesting and the author's note really drew me into this creative fantasy world. It's nice to see fantasy YA novels not inspired by Europe.
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Thank you to Netgalley and Penguin Random House Canada for this early eARC. All thoughts and opinions below are my own. 

Okay this book wow. It was a roller coaster of just twist and turns. It is described as the Handmaid’s Tale mixed with Pacific Rim and I can completely see that. The action and plot just never quit and my gosh the ending was just mind blowing. I really did not see that ending coming. I absolutely loved the story. As a Chinese American woman I felt so empowered reading this book. Zetian was fierce and took control of her power and her body and her vengeance. It threw the typical love triangle trope right out the window and said F that let’s make this a real triangle where each corner is connected and balances each other. It was a bright and refreshing story even with the dark themes. I really appreciated how the book handled the themes of misogyny and the abuse of women. My only small issue was that the ending felt slightly rushed with just so many themes and events happening. I hope there will be another book. I highly recommend this book and Zetian is the take no prisoners anti-hero we all need.
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I'm not even sure how to review this book... It was beyond amazing, it was everything I expected and yet it surprised me at every turn, it was an easy read and yet it was in-depth and showed the character's growth. This book is everything! I am beyond excited to read more books about this storyline even though this book isn't out yet. This book is set in a completely different world, it seems almost futuristic dystopian, and it is based a lot on Chinese history. The book follows Wu Zetian in her adventure becoming a concubine pilot and more. We read as she figures out the world, its injustices, and the lies of politicians and people in power. I found this book insanely interesting and it took me longer to read than I thought it would because I had to put the book down occasionally to process what was happening in the story. To say this book surprised me is an understatement, it was everything that I look for in a book but better!!!! I had to look up a pronunciation guide so that I knew how to pronounce all the Chinese. All in all, I can say no bad things about this book, phenomenal writing, plot, and execution, with an amazing cover and title to top it off.
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Thank you to Netgalley for an ARC! 

Alright everybody – gather ‘round for me to gush about what is my best book of 2021 so far. This fall is going to be a doozy, if only for the release of Iron Widow, which I am giving five solid stars. I was interested because I follow the author on twitter, and am now so glad I do. 

Honestly, I have zero complaints. This book hits and keeps on hitting until the very last lines. I found Iron Widow unique in that it is overall greater than the sum of its parts, which include elements of wuxia dramas, vibes from franchises like the Hunger Games and Pacific Rim, and what it means to be a celebrity in modern Chinese entertainment, all rolled into one feisty girl’s battle against an oppressive patriarchal establishment. It was incredible. 

In general terms of plot, I was amazed at the courageous storytelling. This book is not afraid to Go There, whether There is romantic plot lines culminating in canonical polyamory, action reminiscent of childhood favorites like Gundam and Power Rangers, or the dismantling of an authoritarian society rigged against girls. I found Zhao’s willingness to drag cultural skeletons out of the closet, like foot-binding of young women, ridiculous rhetoric about female virginity, and the nonconsensual keeping of concubine harems, absolutely refreshing. 
I was equally enthralled when it came to the characters. Wu Zetian’s rage is familiar, even if her circumstances and social context are not, and it was thrilling and satisfying to watch her crush enemies. Li Shimin and Gao Yizhi were a perfect yin and yang of male protagonists to pair with Zetian’s might, and I was just wholly satisfied with the dynamics. These characters’ relationships really examine what masculinity and femininity are, if they can even be pinned down to specific concepts, and it was fantastic to read as someone who majored in gender studies! 

I don’t want to say much more, but I could gush all day. I’ve been yelling about this book the entire time I read it, and expect I will continue to do so. If you haven’t pre-ordered it yet, I would certainly do that now.
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I cannot stop thinking about this book. It handles female rage, polyamory, and original fantasy elements and sci fi elements so well. This is so much more than just your standard YA fantasy.
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Wow this book surprised me! I thought it would be a standard YA fantasy but it was so much more. The heroine is so angry and fed up with society and it was so amazing to see her become ruthless and unforgiving with each chapter. And this is my first time reading a poly romance, and I will def be picking up more! It was handled so well and felt SO much better than reducing it to a hettie love triangle.
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What. A. Ride. Seriously. This blew me away similarly to how The Poppy War did. I went in knowing very little and was absolutely stunned by the worldbuilding, the characterizations and the pains and trials each character goes through, how fleshed out and unique their perspectives are. 

This is one to watch out for.

Thank you for the e-arc!
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Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for this eARC! It's been a while since I've read a book all at once, was it really 400 pages?! I don't even know, it just flew by! I was nervously glancing at the clock wondering if I could finish it all before midnight last night (I did with just a half hour to spare!). My dreams were full of the world of this book too! I had read 13 percent a few days ago and stopped as I finished up another book, but finished off the rest of this all in one yesterday.

This book is like a lot of things, Pacific Rim, The Handmaid's Tale, Darling of the Franxx, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Gundam, Digimon, Attack on Titan, and Transformers are all mentioned on Xiran Jay Zhao's website or in the book.

I knew this afterwards, but I first wanted to read it for Wu and mechs and the possibility of something I am not sure I have words for? I have come to love dramas like Guardian (queer subtext of a professor and a detective taking on the supernatural/aliens), The Untamed (two cultivators uncovering mysteries and power imbalance and each other), Eternal Love (ancient fox goddess finds love and a young prince), Ashes of Love (a flower goddess unable to feel love caught between dragon and phoenix princes) and Oh My General (a masculine woman general marries a feminine prince). I wanted it (wuxia?xianxia?) with aliens, or science fiction and fantasy. Iron Widow is that and more!

Wu Zetian's loss of Big Sister, loved and sold to be a concubine pilot who's mysterious death had not been in battle, ensured she won't submit: so she chooses death, the death of the pilot that killed Big Sister -and the death of three generations of the family that hates her for not submitting to be their ideal. Only Gao Yizhi is told her plan, a sweet rich city boy, who goes to meet her in the mountains and tries to offer a marriage to him instead. Zetian's not swayed and meets the Nine Tailed Fox Prince class pilot Yang Guang, unexpectedly she is tossed into battle as his Consort against the Hundun before he can bed her and before she can kill him. Unexpected to all, she survives becoming known as the Iron Widow.

Sages and Strategists don't give her the Nine Tailed Fox, instead they make her concubine pilot to the Vermilion Bird's Li Shimin, a criminal Chrysalis pilot, who's known as the Iron Demon for the dozens of concubine pilots he's killed while going into battle, each death he's felt and who's memories and thoughts were linked to his mind. Just as pilots feel the emotional deaths of the Hundun their Chrysalis once were.

To survive Zetian, Shimin and Yizhi plan a counterattack that takes them and the Chrysalis army to the Kunlun Mountains in the lost Zhou territory the supposed resting place of Emperor-General Qin Zhang in his Yellow Dragon, frozen and awaiting the cure to his pox. On such a legend as that and the mysterious unseen gods who demand tributes of girls, seeds, and Hundun metal husks in exchange for lost science, may all their fates rest.

May the triumvirate power coupling of Zetian, Shimin and Yizhi rise and thrive!
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trigger/content warnings: murder, sexual assault, marital/partner rape (mentioned, not between primary couple/throuple), nonconsensual nudity, waterboarding, foot binding. alcoholism, domestic violence

I have been refreshing NetGalley for a long minute waiting for this book to come out and I was so happy to see that it a) finally arrived on NetGalley and b) that I was approved. 

This book is intense -- from start to finish, you are given a complete picture of a world that is equal parts foreign and alien. The treatment of women, the devaluation for the safety and security of men, is such a recognizable element that it seats this book firmly into reality, even as giant living mech monsters battle a monstrous insect flood, even as people warp metal and magma with their qi. Xiran spins up a story that spans a continent, with the hopes of a civilization on the line, and still manages to bring it down to a personal level as well. 

The characters in this are fascinating - from Zetian, who is on the road to vengeance, to Li Shimin, who harbors the secrets behind his dark past, to Zhinu and his porcelain skin (he has other traits, but that is the one that I remember the most). I'm sold on several aspects of this book from the get go - namely the fact that this is an actualized love triangle and also the giant flesh mechs fighting robots. 

The parts that I'm less wild about are mostly in the form? There isn't a lot of room for the characters to breath and so you don't get the fullness of a developmental arc, specifically as it ties to the relationships between the characters. When betrayal comes, it doesn't necessarily feel earned because the audience never really learned to trust the characters that were doing the betrayal. Zetian suffers a bit from Chosen-One-itis, but this is an issue that is basically the bread and butter of YA. The final act twist? It's definitely sequel bait, but it wasn't really necessary. I'm already here - I'm already ready for the next book in the series. But again, these feel like issues of form rather than ones that make the novel suffer unduly. 

Overall, this book is really excellent and I'm glad that I was able to grab a copy.
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Holy cow, this was AMAZING! The author's note at the beginning was so good and I knew it would be an awesome story. The combination of fantasy and sci-fi elements, Chinese culture and history, made this an interesting, anger-inducing, and perfect book. I cannot recommend this enough and will be buying a finished copy when it comes out.

I say that this book made me angry because the patriarchy is awful and the way they treat women as disposable made me want to punch something. Thank goodness for Zetian and her unwillingness to lay down and die so that a guy can live. She's a hero and though she suffers for her insubordination, it doesn't stop her from fighting for women's rights. I loved her and it's so cool that she's based on the only female emperor China has had.

The plot is filled with action and there are no dull parts. Zetian and Shimin are either fighting each other, the hundun, or against the council who want them dead. There's also a bit of a love triangle, but it's not a typical triangle and made me happy. I hope we see more of it in the sequel.

I couldn't put this down and the ending blew my mind! What a debut! I am so looking forward to this being available to everyone so they can enjoy this fabulous book.

I voluntarily read and reviewed this book. Thank you to Penguin Teen and NetGalley for the copy.
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Thank you Netgalley and Penguin Random House Canada for this arc in exchange for a honest review!

This is by far one of the best books I've read this year that I barely have any criticism, so I'm just gonna list some things that I loved about this book: the main character. Zetian is truly one of the best mc's I have read, she's amazing. She's really an one of a kind character.

Storyline throughout this book never bored me. Like the rhythm of the book changed from time to time but overall it was just. Really interesting without being too overwhelming at the same time.

The romance in this... We barely ever see any polya rep in books and in my opinion this was perfectly done. How they grow to love each other was so beautiful to read.

I'm so excited for this book to be released and be read by thousands because the way it handled misogyny and how it is to be effected by it was really spot on. It showed prejudice against women with all of it's ugliness and I think that's really important. The fictional situations that happens in this book are just daily occurings for women & other misogyny effected people and this really puts things into a perspective. 

I physically cannot wait for the second book because the plot twist at the end is for sure going to keep me up for many nights.
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I have received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I'm not going to lie. I freaked out when I saw that I was approved to read Iron Widow. The cover is beyond beautiful. The synopsis made me want to dive into this book and forget the rest of the world. So, in other words - this book was AMAZING. Spectacular even. My mind was completely blown from start to finish. I'm not sure I will ever recover with what went down but I happily volunteer as tribute to dive into the next book. I don't even care what happens.. I just want more.

The world building? Amazing. The blend of everything? Also amazing. The characters themselves? Oh man.. I wanted to kill so many of them and practically cheered my ass off when certain people "disappeared". In it, you will meet Zetian (the iron widow), Shimin (the iron demon), and Yizhi (the cinnamon roll that finishes the triangle power). These three are a force to reckon with and I loved every page that they were on. Of course Zetian and Yizhi have the strongest bond since they sort of grew up together but with Shimin in the mix - well things just made sense.

Besides falling in love with them, so many secrets come out in this. Which made me extremely happy because this world kind of sucked. The way they viewed girls in general made me plot everyone's death. Everyone meaning the asshole males who were in charge of this shithole. Plus there was a ton of drama and evilness lurking at every corner. This was a page turner through and through.

I'm honestly sad that it's over because I seriously can't handle that cliffhanger one bit. So much happened throughout this that my mind went through some serious whiplash. To everyone that died, you should have known it was coming. You messed up and pissed off a certain female. I don't feel bad because she was tired of being underestimated. I hope there's more revenge from females now because they are stronger and tired of being pushed around.

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xiran jay zhao is an amazing author. for a debut novel, this was absolutely astonishing. the world that she has built is so amazing and unique to anything i’ve read. the main characters are so likeable and had me attached to them the whole time. i am a chinese girl myself, and really found myself being able to apply myself in zetian. she’s so powerful and doesn’t take anyone’s sh*t, which i loved reading about.

the romance is super unique and i really did enjoy it. the three way relationship was written in such a beautiful way, and as a reader, it wasn’t forced on you, but i ended up liking it. it’s so different to the normal love triangle, and it gives poly rep, which is amazing! it opened my eyes to different types of romance. i’m so glad that xiran went this route because i don’t normally like love triangles, and this way, i don’t have to pick sides! 

the cliffhanger at the end gave me chills. i need a second book. i will not be forgetting about this story anytime soon, i will forever be grateful that i got the chance to read iron widow early. will be posting my recommendation for this book on my tik tok soon! i really hope people will enjoy this as much as i did, it deserves all the hype!
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Thanks to the publisher for providing an eARC of Iron Widow in exchange for an honest review.

First off, I'm obsessed with the fact that instead of going the love triangle route I thought Iron Widow was going to do, it opted instead to have all 3 components of the not-triangle just be in a poly relationship. It was a great (and far less annoying) subversion of a trope. I also loved that instead of pulling a "I want to kill you but then I fall in love", this book quickly nips that plotline in the bud. 

For all that trope subversion though, I think Iron Widow is kept from excellence because of all the tropes it does rely on. Iron Widow takes place in a world where virtually all the female characters besides our protagonist are fine with being used as sacrifices for men to use in a war. I think you can write "an entire group accepts and embraces submission because of the way the status quo" is set up books, but for those to work you need to a) establish how government uses power/media to enforce the belief in that status quo or b) establish that rebellions do exist and the fear that group has to rebel through the defeat of those rebellions. Zetian is the only women we see who questions anything which not only makes the world seem unrealistic, but also calls into question how she developed those ideals in the first place. Maybe if we were shown how Zetian herself used to believe in her world's propaganda prior to her sisters it would have been easier to see her as an actual character, but as is she felt feminist because she was a strong, defiant women, not feminist because of actual character development or some form of actual examination about gender-based social structures.

The romance felt similar. I was fine with Zetian's relationship with her first introduced love interest since they have an established history, but it felt very "she and this character are suddenly in love because that's how enemies to lovers works" and "root for these characters because that's how childhood friends to lovers works" instead of actual developed, dynamic relationships. 

I think this was good in concept, it just needed to be a bit more fleshed out in execution.
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ust wrapped Xiran Jay Zhao's  "Iron Widow" and I'm basically a living embodiment of the Elmo rising meme right now.

How much to get that ending done justice in a visual medium?
Also that cover art, damn.

Reasons to read:
-Justifiable reasons for revenge, which is my book drug of choice
-Mechs that I can picture so clearly
-Protagonist is out to burn down the world and get hers and I am HERE FOR IT
-The journey of realization about society and deciding to flip the table, start fires, and dance in the ashes is just good for the soul

-I finished it and there isn't more. Guess I'll stare at the ceiling and go through book withdrawals.
-I don't have a detailed diagram of all the Chrysalis, but honestly that is a value add that most people wouldn't want.
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Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with an ARC of this book so that I could review it! 

This was one of my most anticipated books of the year—from the moment it was announced to the cover reveal, I've been so extremely excited to read this and I was beyond happy to get the chance to read it early. And it absolutely did not disappoint in any way at all. History is woven into this novel wonderfully, enhancing the story while also encouraging readers to continue their own research if they were interested. The main protagaonist, Zetian, is delightful in every way and the romance was VERY unexpected but also very welcome, with Zhao putting a twist on the typical love triangle trope. Also, as advertised, it very much does take inspiration from Pacific Rim so fans of that will love this book.

Don't forget to look up trigger warnings before reading this book as some topics do get sensitive at times.
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I was given this ARC from Netgalley in exchange for a review!

This review will contain spoilers. My rating is 5 stars.

This is everything you could want from a science fiction novel inspired by China’s only female emperor- Wu Zetian.

While it takes a lot of liberties and is obviously not a true historical recounting, it is a brilliant example of the power that woman can hold, even when pushed into a box and forced into submission. Wu is constantly surpassing what anyone ever thought imaginable- even herself. I found myself just eating up every page as she conquered the world, her her own fears, and understanding her emotions and her strength. 

People like myself love to read about a brutally strong female lead who breaks the mold of moral qualms, but I also love seeing how Zetian allowed herself to have emotions and saw them as strengths as well. I really enjoyed how love and gender/sex were explored through her journey. Seeing how she challenged every notion and made a new family for herself- one that actually loved and respected her as a human- was beautiful. It’s truly an awe inspiring novel full of rage and power, yet a special brand of softness. Also lgbt polyamory!? We love to see that. 

The world was very immersive and interesting to me. The Chrysalis’ are somewhat unique. Though they might resemble other science fiction robots (such as Voltron), they are different in how they operate and the material they are made from. The science behind the way the seats are made for “male” and “female” pilots is as interesting as it was devastating to discover! I also had my suspicion that the planet in the novel was not Earth! The last quarter of the novel was one mind-blowing moment after another!

I’m truly hoping the ending was a set up for a sequel, and I will definitely be reading it as soon as I can if there is one!
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