Book Review – Iron Widow

Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

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Book Description:

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.

My Take:

I received a digital copy of this book from NetGalley and Penguin Random House Canada.
I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book.
All thoughts and opinions are my own.

SK Book Review - Iron Widow

Admittedly, I scoffed at the claim that this book would be “Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid’s Tale in this blend of Chinese history and mecha science fiction for YA readers.” Happily, I was very wrong.

Perhaps surprisingly, I liked the Pacific Rim movies. Handmaid’s Tale (in any iteration), no thank you. But, the Pacific Rim link was very accurate. Because I know and like the movies, it actually helped me understand the book better

Well-shaped world supported by history and fantasy.

This book packs a LOT in one package. Most of the world-building happens in the first quarter of the book and is done quite well. Fitting within the action, the world building is not just paragraphs of exposition. Dovetailing nicely into the historical framework and life of Empress Wu, Iron Widow does not try to rewrite a historical story, but uses the spirit and ambition of this notable woman to create something new and amazing.

I will say, if I hadn’t know the author was (very) inspired by Pacific Rim and the Jaegers, I don’t know if I would have grasped the use of the Chrysalises and how the pilot pairings worked.

A rollercoaster of sadness, frustration, anger, love, and hope for the past, present, and future.

Throughout this story, WHILE cheering for Zetian and her success, I found myself sad for all she had to endure, even as she says, “simply because she is a girl.” Accurate to Chinese custom (mostly not practiced any longer), as a five-year-old child, her feet were broken and bound to create the perfect lotus shaped foot.

“Female. That label has never done anything for me except dictate what I can or cannot do.” Pg. 18

This story is futuristic, based on history, heavily influenced by the present and there are so many common – reoccurring – themes throughout, making me look at how often we (as people) have made mistakes, continue to make the same mistakes, and will probably make the same mistakes in the future. It is very sobering. There is hope, too, that maybe this time we can get it right.

This is one of those books where I had to keep reminding myself that the main characters were only eighteen and nineteen. Far too young for the weight of the world to be on their shoulders, but also the youth and fresh perspective that CAN change the world.

Favorite Lines:

“He doesn’t own me. Nobody does. They may think they do, but no matter how they scold or threaten or beat me, they can’t really control what goes on in my head, and I think that frustrates them to no end.” Pg. 21

“A crushing exhaustion weighs down on my face, my brain, my bones, my everything. I swear, people cannot make up their minds about who are supposed to be the clueless infants who can’t live without supervision: men or women.” Pg. 141

“Everyone lives in a different world. So much of the time, people make decisions they don’t want to. It takes more than just get out or just stop drinking.” Pg. 294

The Final Verdict

SandyKay Book Rating Scale by stars

My rating: 4 stars

Would I recommend? Yes

I definitely recommend this book and can’t wait for the sequel!

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