Hello, today I’m talking about a book that I really enjoyed and highly recommend to everyone so read my post and I hope that can convince you to preorder this book because I think you need it in your life. If you’re a fan of fantasy and powerful, unapologetic female protagonists, you’ll like this book too!
Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book from the publisher and Caffeine Book Tours as part of my participation in their tour. Thank you for including me as a part fo the tour. You can find the whole schedule for it here.
By Xiran Jay Zhao
Age Group: Young Adult
Content Warnings: blood, gore, murder, alcohol addiction, foot binding, forced marriage, rape (mentioned), toxic masculinity, misogyny, abuse, torture, suicide ideation
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.
Iron Widow is a fierce and powerful book that is set in an alternate sci-fi universe that is inspired by Chinese history. While it is a little difficult to understand in the beginning, it soon pulls you in and captivates you as it tells you the story of Wu Zetian, a compelling protagonist who refuses to back down and do as society tells her to do.
Huaxia has been fighting off mechanical aliens called Hunduns off from the walls for millennia in order to protect the people inside. The pilot system which is used to kill these enemies requires a boy and a girl to fire up a Chrysallis and often, the girl dies on this journey. However, Wu Zetian wants to take revenge for her sister’s death by a male pilot and promises to avenge her no matter what, even if it kills her in order to do so.
Things really pick up as she offers herself up as a concubine pilot, taking us on a whirlwind of a journey which makes Zetian question everything that has been told to her and the rest of the world.
The story is very intriguing and fast paced, getting you invested right from the beginning and leaving you gasping for air at the end as things take a surprising turn.
Wu Zetian is unapologetic and forceful, fighting the patriarchal system that puts down her and all other girls. As she earns more and more privilege and is embedded deeper into the piloting system, she fights from the inside and does her best to liberate the girls and show them a different path rather than give in and just accept the luxuries she has.
How do you take the fight out of half the population and render them willing slaves? You tell them they’re meant to do nothing but serve from the minute they’re born. You tell them they’re weak. You tell them they’re prey. You tell them over and over, until it’s the only truth they’re capable of living.
She is a hard character to understand at times, but one you can always root for. I loved seeing things from her perspective and seeing how it changed when new information was revealed. She never stops fighting and even if she is a little deranged at times, you can see how she is justified and right in her own regard. She is a vengeful and angry girl who is hell bent on overturning the patriarchy and fighting back with all she has and I am here for it.
Yizhi was probably my favourite character in the book – a son of a noble man who met Zetian in the mountains three years ago and they’ve been meeting once a month ever since. He is a very loveable character right from the beginning as he tries to protect Zetian in any way he can but also respects her and what she wishes to do. He believes in her and understands her and is and he stands by her side throughout the book.
I also loved Li Shimin, the Iron Demon that everyone is afraid of. He has his own tragic backstory which I loved getting to know more of and seeing who he truly is inside. My heart aches for everything he has been through and he is such a precious character that I will adore forever.
I loved the polyamorous relationship between the three characters – I have barely seen any polyamory rep and so seeing this relationship which is supportive and loving and happy was an amazing experience.
Love can be infinite, as much as your heart can open.
Overall, this is a fast-paced feminist retelling of the only female Chinese Emperor that had me sitting on the edge of my seat that I would highly recommend to fans of The Poppy War and She Who Became the Sun.
You endure and endure, and for what? As long as you keep appeasing them, keep letting them get their way, why would they ever get better? Violence gets them everything they want. And then what is there in the end but death?
We can’t afford to simply go along with the flow of life, because nothing in this world has been created, built, or set up in our favor. If we want something, we have to push back against everything around us and take it by force.
“Wu Zetian, you inspire me. Whenever I lose hope that the world can change, I remember you. I remember how you fight for what you want, no matter what anyone says, no matter what stands in your way.” He draws me into his arms and murmurs into my hair. “You’re my polar star. I’ll go wherever you guide me.”
I’m a 20-something meme-loving weeb from Vancouver, Canada who is somehow becoming a published sci-fi/fantasy author. Most of my books are mashups that contain tropes from both genres. I’m a 1st generation immigrant from small town China, and I’m currently in between undergrad and grad school for biochem / disease research. I spend too much time and money on skincare and makeup. If you’re not careful, I could talk to you for hours about anime, books, or Chinese history.
Have you read Iron Widow? Do you plan on picking it up? If you’ve read it, what did you think of it?