Cover Image: Iron Widow

Iron Widow

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Member Reviews

It's a book that I found hard to classify as there's dystopia, sci-fi, fantasy and some elements from historical China.
That said is one of the best YA fantasy I read in some times and one which is thoroughly YA, not a fantasy marketed as YA.
The characters talks and act like young adults, there's a lot of action and the world building is fascinating.
It's gripping and highly entertaining story but it also deals with issues like female oppression.
An excellent debut, highly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine
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This book started off so well - the first 50 pages were intriguing and very strong. I adored the main character and her extreme feminist outlook on life that made for a very interesting morally grey character. 
However it fell apart a little bit for me towards the end - to the point where I don't know if I'd continue with the series. 
This book reminded me so strongly of The Hunger Games but it didn't have the same clarity in its world building. During the first couple of action scenes I was happy with being a little confused because I assumed everything would get explained thoroughly. That didn't happen. By the end, I was reading fight scenes thinking "Who? What? Why? How?" Because I still didn't understand how the technology worked or what the history was. 
I did, however, love the characterisation. All 3 of our main characters were intriguing and morally grey to some extent. I also adored the romance side of things because it was so unlike anything I'd read before. 
I'd definitely recommend this book if you're into sci-fi and strong female characters!
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This ARC was offered in exchange of an honest and impartial review:
Pros: Full of action, amazing robots and high-stakes battles. Fantastic and powerful focus on feminism and the toppling of a patriarchy. Interesting and complex Asian leads and cast. LGBT+ representation, and polyamory.
Cons: Lacking more female friendships and spotlights. A bit of "not other girls" trope. Slightly confusing descriptions.
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This was so good. Absolutely wild ride. Filled with female rage and amazing characters. I really enjoyed it. I definitely need the sequel now!!
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This was okay but I never felt connected to the main character and really struggled with her motivation. I probably will read the sequel but it won't be top priority. It was good but not sensational for me.
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Oh this was so cool.

An awesome mix of fantasy and sci-fi. With a polyamorous relationship, morally grey characters & feminism! YES YES YES

I already can not wait to dive into the next book.
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Whew. This book was a lot! I read it in about a day and a half, which hardly happens to me, especially considering it’s a 400 page book!

I love how unapologetic this story is. The world and society is terrible, at least if you’re a woman, and then there’s Zetian – who takes no crap from anyone, knows what she wants and will do whatever is necessary – no matter how abhorrent – and speaks out even in situations where that disrespect could get her killed. I found her refreshing – not passive, never truly a fish-out-of-water no matter what gets thrown at her, as seems usually the case in these sort of stories. Her relationship with her family took a turn I did not expect, and appreciated that much more because of it. Her relationships with our male leads could have progressed a tiny bit slower for my liking, but then again I love me a slow-burn.

This does have a ton of triggers, so do check before reading – I don’t think there is a lot that isn’t either featured or mentioned. The way the plot progressed I kind of predicted – it doesn’t help that it followed similar story-beats as another book I’ve read, so when certain reveals happened I wasn’t surprised, just proved right. This didn’t hamper my enjoyment at all – it is still a very different story, in a rich world and with an interesting power system. The tone is very much all over the place – in moments it’s really dark and horrible, but then broken up with moments of almost out-of-place silly humour and comments. I didn’t find it too jarring but others may find it pulls them from the story.

The author makes it very clear that this story is inspired by history, not an actual retelling, but if the inspiration was even a little bit as much of a badass as Zetian was, I really want to read up on her. If, like me, you had trouble visualizing the majestic Chrysalises featured in the story, there is some stunning artwork on the author’s site to help you along!
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I absolutely fell in love with Zetian and her fury. I love to see polyamorous representation because to be honest it’s the natural evolution of the love triangle. I can’t wait for the next one in the series. Cover art is amazing and I’m so glad to be expanding my reading horizons with authors like Xiran. I hope this opens to gateway for even more amazing books based in to lore and history of underrepresented countries within the English language book market.
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This book is absolutely stunning. Rich, decadent and so much fun - I fell head over heels in love with this world and am dying to read the sequel. The hype is definitely worth it, and the cover is so beautiful on the finished hardback. A contender for my favourite book of the year.
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Thanks to Oneworld Publications and the author for an eARC in exchange for an honest review. 

CW: torture, murder, attempted rape, violence etc. (Make sure to look up a full list before reading). 

I really enjoyed this. The main character, Wu Zeitan, is definitely morally grey and this took a while to get into but I ended up loving her. I adored the poly and bi rep. The world building could have been a bit stronger, but I think in general it was decently fleshed out and not too convoluted. Part IV was total chaos and the ending is a massive cliffhanger so now I NEED book two!
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I picked up Iron Widow because I was told it was amazing and I did find a lot of great things about the book. Another review suggested it was The Handmaid's Tale meets the Pacific Rim. I get why they said that.
I also applaud that the female protagonist is so self aware and so willing to stand up for herself. But, I do feel that there was a lot of preaching going on which got in my way, which is unfortunate because it has several strong themes. There is also a very strong current of revenge and that it is okay to run over everyone else because they are all wrong and the protagonist is very firmly in the right. 
It took me some time to understand what was happening because there is very little world building before we jump into the action and off we go. Maybe the lack of world building is because Zetian doesn't really understand the world she's living in either. There are hints that this is the case toward the end of the book.
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Iron Widow took me a while to get into and I had to keep putting it down and starting again. I think this book is dealing with some real hard-hitting topics that I believe would have been better dealt with as an adult novel. I love the concept, but I felt like the story had been watered down. There are immensely hardcore and complicated issues at the heart of this book, but I don't think the writing matched the tone. And I wish there had been time and space to focus on character growth.

However, once I got over this and accepted it for what it was, an almost anime vibe book that felt like a video game, I started to really enjoy it. My favourite aspect of this book was the poly rep between the 3 main characters.  I would have liked to see more POVs as I did get a little bored of Iron Widow's one perspective and I really want to see inside Yizhi's head.

This was one of my most anticipated reads for the year, and although it didn't meet my expectations I did really enjoy the hard-hitting unlikeable protagonist. But I really wish it had been written as Adult instead of YA.

I know I'm going to be one of a very few; most readers who pick this up are going to love it, and I'm glad. Overall it was a good book which I did finish and would probably read the sequel. The cover is also beautiful and looking forward to seeing what the jacket artist does with book 2
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Great concept and I could hardly put it down, which says something about this book.
I also appreciated the topics feminism, feet binding, gender roles, suppression, polyamory etc. 

********Spoiler alert***********
BUT. There are a few things that couldn't convince me. I needed a backstory to Zetian's relationship with her sister and how she became the person she is now. I also didn't buy into the insta-love to Shimin. The only thing she knows is that he's been tortured and had the most horrible experiences ever. They don't have one single conversation that leads me to believe this could be a genuine relationship. The world building and politics were a bit too vague, but since it's a series I'm assuming we'll be getting more 

Aside from that I enjoyed myself and give this 4 ⭐✨

Thanks Netgalley for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
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Xiran Jay Zhao has burst onto the fantasy scene with their debut novel 'Iron Widow' which has a rightful place as a NYT #1 bestseller. I have been in a reading slump with no 5 star books in sight - enter this glorious novel with a breakneck paced gripping central storyline, boasting a genuinely complex and strongwilled protagonist. Wu Zetian is a complete badass, unapologetic about always following her instincts, even when it may seem slightly unhinged, driven by an acute moral code. I felt in a strange position reading this where I wanted to race through the narrative whilst also wanting to slow down and savour every luscious description. 

At the novel's opening, we meet Wu Zetian who lives in Huaxia, a world where giant robotic Chrysalises, controlled using a being's qi, fight off the colonising mecha aliens, the Hunduns, which threaten the safety of humanity. We have a mix of ancient Chinese culture merged with futuristic technology in this dystopian society where the class and gender divide is stark. At first, Zetian is determined to avenge the death of her sister, who has been killed by one of the untouchable Chrysalis pilots. This seems like a huge plot point... yet is only the tip of the iceberg in what is to come in this thrilling ride of a novel when Zetian leaves her family to become a concubine pilot.

What follows is a multi-layered, fascinating narrative which equally manages to build an intricate mystical world, and a convincing science fiction element, alongside scathing indictments of the oppression of women and their use as disposable objects in the Chrysalis pilot system. It is amazing to follow Zetian who scraps and claws for power in a world where she should be the lowest of the low. Her dynamic with Li Shimin and Gao Yizhi is a particular highlight - they make an amazing team and there is never a moment you do not root for them against the corporate male powers which control the lives of the Huaxian citizens.

I do not want to to say anything more about the plot and characters. Know little going in and savour every moment until THAT ENDING which demands a sequel immediately. The easiest 5 stars I have awarded in months!! A triumph.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher who provided an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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When Zetian offers herself up as a concubine pilot to avenge her sister's death, the last thing she expects is to emerge as an Iron Widow and be thrust into a centuries old war where those around her want nothing more than for her to fail.

Wow. Just... wow. This book went above and beyond my expectations for a sci-fi and fantasy mash-up.
From concept to execution, this book is phenomenal. The prologue really efficiently sets up the world we are enterin. A world that feels so rich and complex as we see Zetian rage against it throughout. Xiran Jay Zhao seamlessly marries the elements of sci-fi and fantasy with Chinese history and compelling characters. Zetian, Shimin and Yizhi are all interesting and complex both as individuals and in their relationships and interactions with one another.
This really only lost half a star because the prose in places felt a little overt in its tackling of social commentary, which took me out of the story. Nonetheless for a debut YA novel it's hard to find much fault. I am already impatiently awaiting the sequel, I cannot wait to see more of these characters and this world.

Strong female lead, fighting the patriarchy (metaphorically and physically), a rich world and history, sci-fi and fantasy elements... I genuinely just need everyone to read it.

Thank you NetGalley and Oneworld Publications for my e-arc of this title, received in exchange for an honest review.
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This is it. This book, read at the start of September, after reading over sixty other books this year, is currently my top book of 2021, and it’s going to be incredibly difficult to find a better book. This is author Xiran Jay Zhao’s debut novel, and I am so very excited to see what she comes out with next.

Huaxia is a world with very strict gender roles. Boys become men who work and feed the family, while girls become wives and must take care of the men. But beyond the wall are mecha aliens, and some boys become pilots, while some girls become concubine-pilots. The pilots are lavished with gifts and given a celebrity lifestyle. For the girls, there are some benefits to this, though few will get the opportunity to enjoy them, as the concubine-pilots all too often end up killed through the mental strain.

After her sister’s death, Zetian offers herself up to become a concubine-pilot, determined to get paired with the pilot who killed her sister. And she is, but even she is surprised when she kills him not with a physical weapon, but through the psychic link shared between pilots. She is paired with the strongest pilot in Huaxia: Li Shimin, a man kept muzzled, a man who is dangerous and violent, at least as far as most people know.

This is a world where the gender roles are rigid and enforced, in any way possible. Taking inspiration from Chinese folklore, legend, and history, Zhao has crafted a wonderfully unique, dark world, and given us a heroine who really will stop at nothing to see it burned the hell down. In the hands of a less skilled writer, Zetian could perhaps come off as a bit annoying, but Zhao handles her so well, giving us a young woman too young to be in the situations she’s in, but who is determined not to change things only for herself, but for others who might suffer, too. 

As she uncovers more about what the leaders actually do, what the girls and young women are put through, and how anyone ‘outside the norm’ is handled, her rage grows. As the Iron Widow, she is feared, but when she comes across other concubine-pilots, it becomes clear she’s in just a little over her head. Not that any of it stops Zetian.

Now, let’s talk about the love triangle. And what a freaking love triangle! Seriously! The author has been pretty open about it, so it’s not a spoiler to reveal the three end up in a poly relationship, which really strengthens what they can do and the power they hold. It’s really refreshing to read, and their relationship serves to demonstrate Zetian’s own agency. Society does not allow her freedom or choices, but the two men in her life do, and it’s really important to her whole story. She makes a decision early on she won’t chose between them, and neither of them make her. Further to that, later on, it becomes apparent the two have feelings for each other, as well.

This book is a shining example of why I get so annoyed to see people ‘trash’ YA Fantasy on social media, basing their assumptions on the genre and age range on books published when I was a teenager. But Iron Widow is dark, gripping, angry, and powerful. It combines various elements of speculative fiction to create something unique, and it gives me such joy that teens today have books like these to read. But whatever your age, if you like dark fiction that tackles dark themes yet is still entertaining, you definitely want to check this out! And while you’re at it, go check out the author website for a Bonus Summary for Weeb Eyes.
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This is probably in my top 3 reads of the year... absolutely incredible. a masterpiece. I laughed at this book, I cried at this book, I got angry at this book, it was truly everything. It was exactly the book I needed and I am desperate for more. Xiran Jay Zhao really has a way with words and I'm excited to read their future works.
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Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao is a science fiction fantasy where the main character signs up to be a concubine pilot in. These big ads battle robots that can evolve. Almost like pokemon 😂.

She goes through trials and tribulations and comes out on the other end strong than before, at least mentally. It’s a book about sexism, feminism, disability, love, female shame, jealousy, and mental strength in fighting for what you believe in.

I loved this book so much! I love how inclusive it was like open arms from a stranger into a hug.
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The writing of this book was outstanding - fast paced, engaging and visual - I felt as if I was watching a film. A great example of this is that I'm not usually especially interested in battle scenes, but the battles in this book were some of my favourite scenes. The writing fully pulled me in, with detail and emotion that carried me into battle too, and this goes for both the scenes set in the physical realm of this story and those set inside the physic connection between the minds of the pilots. The world building is excellent and immersive, but if I could offer one critique on this book, it is that I would have liked to spend even longer soaking up the many detailed layers of this world.
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Unlike anything I’ve ever read before, Iron Widow is vivid, fun, and full of feminist power. I loved it! I was first drawn to it by the cover, and then I read the blurb and thought it sounded fantastic. Closer to the time I was going to pick it up I saw a few reviews by fellow bloggers, and one of them talked about how much it felt like anime, and went into detail about that. Now, I have nothing against anime but I don’t watch it, really, so I started to get worried that this book would go over my head. That I’d miss what it was trying to do, so when I did start reading it was with some hesitance. I needn’t have worried, as you might have guessed by my opening line! I can see exactly what that review meant, especially as I could visualise it all so well, and I think it’s perfectly adaptable to a visual medium – I’d love to see a film or series of Iron Widow. But reading it was just as exhilarating. The first 30% or so, I will admit, went a little slowly, with the author setting up the character of Zetian and the world she lives in – a futuristic China or China-adjacent society plagued by giant mechanical aliens called hunduns, where young men with high qi are valued as pilots of Chrysalises, battling robots made out of the husks of hunduns and attuned to one of the five elements: fire, earth, metal, water, or wood. Women, on the other hand, are valued only as a source of qi, there for the man to drain her of all she has to offer, a worthy sacrifice in this never-ending war.

Zetian lives on the frontier, near the Great Wall, and knows the only thing her family value her for is sacrifice: either as an obedient wife to another cruel man, or as a concubine to a pilot, as her big sister became. And she is ready to take up the role of concubine, because she has finally found a reason to throw away her life as everyone has been pushing her to: she will avenge her sister, who died not by the hands of her pilot, the second strongest in current existence. Zetian is a difficult narrator sometimes, because she has not had a very happy life, and she is angry and full of hurt, but I was one hundred percent behind her and while I did not enjoy her pain I revelled in her journey to power and loved the strong message the author put forth through her.

Once I understood the setting, the character, and the stakes, I was fully in, and I found it hard to put the book down. It’s fast, and I loved the action, but I also loved the moments in between when Zetian is coming to terms with her situation and the time she spends getting to know the two boys she finds herself with – yes, dear reader, this does sound like the beginning of a love triangle, and I was apprehensive, but without spoilers let me just say I was delighted by this situation. And I was delighted by the two boys as well; Yizhi is the rich scholar who has known Zetian for three years, visiting her in the forest near her home in secret, showing her the notes from his studies, and giving her an escape. Li Shimin is the highest ranking pilot, but he’s also a convicted murderer who killed his entire family and is only alive because of his qi level – as it turns out, though, he’s more than he appears on the surface and when his and Zetian’s wounded souls collide they might just find a way to survive a world that wants to silence them both. I loved both Yizhi and Shimin, and the way they both support Zetian on her revenge rampage. Top notch.

At first, I let the character driven aspects take focus for me, and the world and the tech system became background, but as the story progressed and I understood it more it became one more fascinating thing for me to discover; the fashion aesthetics, the mystery of the hundun and the way their bodies become the very weapon humanity uses to fight them, the mysterious gods who occasionally provide blessing and technological advances in exchange for metals, the legend of the great Emperor, most powerful pilot in history, who is believed to have frozen himself in the heart of a volcano, awaiting the cure to his illness. This and other little details all pulled together to create an intriguing setting, and led to a fantastic and shocking finale, with a final twist that almost made me scream. I don’t want to give too much away, but the final page and the reveal it brings elevated the entire book to an even higher level, and I am now dying to read what comes next!

It’s hard to place this book into a single genre, and I think that’s part of its strength: it can fit into teen because of its young protagonist, it’s got a lot of sci-fi elements, leaning especially towards dystopia, but it also has the feel of a fantasy in some ways, with the mechs and the qi-flow blurring the line between technology and magic. Also, as mentioned before it will definitely appeal to fans of anime and manga. If any of those things sound exciting to you, I urge you to pick it up because it’s a game changer and an incredibly fun read with a powerful message.
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