IRON WIDOW by Xiran Jay Zhao

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.


Title : Iron Widow
Author : Xiran Jay Zhao
Series : Iron Widow (book one)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 400
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : PenguinTeen
Release Date : September 21, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★.5


Hollis’ 4.5 star review

I’ve gone from one debut to another, had huge expectations for both, and yet wow what a different experience has been had. I’m actually | | close to rounding up and giving this the full five star treatment, to be honest. It’s so close to that feeling. And wow has it been a long time since I’ve felt that.

How do you take the fight out of half the population and render them willing slaves? You tell them they are meant to do nothing but serve from the minute they are 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.

You’ve probably seen the pitch by now : The Handmaid’s Tale meets Pacific Rim and I think that’s actually a great vibe to have going into this because it lives upto it so well. But there’s also a lot more going on than just that so don’t worry. Much awaits you.

Men want us so badly for our bodies, yet hate us so much for our minds.

But before you even get to the story the author has a fabulous note to explain their inspiration, their themes, and more. It did such a great job setting the tone for this story and even though I’m very spoiler averse (not that there were any) I really appreciated the insight.

[..] nothing in this world has been created, built, or set up in our favour. If we want something, we have to push back against everything around us and take it by force.”

Maybe I should actually talk about the book though? As with many favourites, though, sometimes that’s hard to do. Because even though this book isn’t subtle about its themes, there is still nuance to explore, evolutions to witness, and a few little surprises that didn’t exactly surprise me but I was delighted to see play out.. only to then be actually surprised by something. Which maybe happened once or twice. I was digging it.

Love cannot save me. I choose vengeance.

As for the romance, well. I don’t know if it counts as a spoiler but for those who haven’t yet seen the reveal, and want to experience that on page, I won’t say anything. It isn’t hard to search out if you’re curious though! That said, I would’ve liked some of it to be a little better developed but.. well, again, saying more would be a spoiler.

Rarely, no matter how much I love a book, do I feel the desire to flip back to the beginning and immediately reread. But Iron Widow makes me want to do so. I’m sure there were things I missed because I d e v o u r e d this in one sitting but I will save my reread until book two comes out. Which, like.. can that be now? Please?

[..] he’s trying to worm into my mind and shackle me down with morals, so he can feel more comfortable about my existence. Too bad. I am exactly the kind of ice-blooded, rotten-hearted girl he fears I am. And I am fine with that.

If you want to read a down-with-the-patriarchy story that is less “girl power!” and more “I am sick of this shit”; about a character who streaks right past shades of grey and fully embraces the dark; who claws her way out of the pain, literal and figurative, of existence to fight, every day, and challenge everything she’s been brought up to believe; in a world where pilots are both celebrity and saviour as they battle aliens.. and I mean, I could go on. I haven’t even touched on Li Shimin who, besides Zetian, stole my heart.

Preorder this book, request this book, beg you library to buy it. Do whatever you can to read this book.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

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