Review: Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

Posted by Jessi (Geo) on March 28, 2022 | 0 Comments

Review: Iron Widow by Xiran Jay ZhaoIron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao
Series: Iron Widow #1
Published by Penguin Teen (9.21.21)
Genres: High Fantasy, Science Fiction
Format: eARC, 394 pages
Source: From Publisher

5 Stars

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 thoughts

It takes a monster to slay a monster.

Holy. Freaking. CRAP. You guys, this book absolutely BLEW me away!! I mean just wow. I don’t remember the last time I enjoyed a book this much from the opening sentence to the very last page that wasn’t written by Jay Kristoff. I wish I could bottle up the sheer fierce joy I felt while reading this delightful book! It reminded me a lot of watching Pacific Rim for the first time in theaters – I saw it in IMAX 3D and it’s just such a me movie that I was entranced with pure joy from the very beginning right up until the end, and the detail was so glorious in IMAX 3D that it just added to my experience. This book was like that: Pure. Pleasure. It grabs you by the balls from the very first page and never lets go. High octane action from start to finish!

But I have no faith in love. Love cannot save me.
I choose vengeance.

I fucking LOVED Zetian! She’s such a badass main character – fierce, strong, unapologetic, ruthless, and sure maybe a little (a LOT) stubborn too. I saw myself in her and I was rooting for her from the very beginning. Something else I loved? She’s not really a hero. She’s not a villain per se – she’s barely an anti-hero at best, but at some points she does toe the line between anti-hero and villain. But despite her being a bit morally grey at times, I still adored her and was on her side. I wanted her to topple the patriarchy!!

Speaking of the patriarchy…This book filled me with SO MUCH FEMININE RAGE. It’s set in an Asian based world where women are very much oppressed – little more than objects, and are looked down upon and controlled by men. Women are supposed to be demure, and quiet, and agreeable. But Zetian was not.

I’ve been told endless lies since I was born. That I was not kind enough, considerate enough, humble enough, honorable enough, pretty enough, pleasing enough. And that if I failed to meet the needs of those around me, I did not deserve to live.
Propaganda. All of it. Propaganda to keep me chasing after the approval of others on my bound and broken feet, as if being a good servant is the only thing I should be proud of.
Now, I see the truth.
This world does not deserve my respect. It is not worthy of my kindness or compassion.

HIYAAA!!! FEMINIST RAAAAAAGE!! I can’t tell you how many times I was angry on Zetian’s behalf for all that she endured. The oppression of women in this book was insane…and went even deeper than you though it did. View Spoiler »

The world building is SUPERB. It’s cinematic, and while reading, it was like I was there. I love settings so vivid that they feel real, and this one was easy to picture. And it was like reading an anime! It was pitched as Pacific Rim meets Handmaid’s Tale, and while I never read/watched the latter, it absolutely feels like Pacific Rim, in the best way possible. Sometimes when stories feel so much like something else they can seem like a rip off, but this one didn’t. It had the giant mech robots that I loved in Pacific Rim and Gundam, but it was still completely its own entity. It brought a fresh perspective on giant piloted robots and I absolutely loved it! The Chrysalises were SO FREAKING COOL, and I love the whole idea of the male/female piloting system and Matched Pairs with their tiers of different transformations. It was bomb AF, you guys! Words are not adequate for how much I loved this world.

I also want to say that I loved the romance! I’m not a huge romance person, ya’ll know that, but this one was superbly done. It’s a poly relationship, which I’ve never read before (and absolutely do not agree with in real life, good for people that it works for but NOT my cup of tea, sorry)…but I actually loved it! I was intrigued by Shimin from the get-go – I knew there was more to his story – so I was 100% on board with the Zetian/Shimin dynamic. However, when Yizhi first appeared at the tower I was NOT thrilled. I was loving this book so much that I was worried the introduction of a love triangle would ruin it, because I thought that’s what it was going to be (and I really didn’t care for Yizhi, he’s boring sorry). I didn’t know it was poly going in, so I was delighted to find that he added to the dynamic instead of taking away from it! The relationship between the three of them was beautiful and worked so, so well for me. I love that it added to their piloting system, too! So cool!

Maybe a couple of small things were kind of predictable, but there was a WHAMMY of a twist at the very end that completely gobsmacked me! View Spoiler »

THAT ENDING WAS INSANE!! I just can’t! I think this is the cliffhanger of the year. Just freaking WOW. I neeeeed book 2 asap!!

Overall Assessment

Plot: 5/5
Premise: 5/5
Writing style: 5/5
Originality: 4.5/5
Characters: 4.5/5
World-building: 5/5
Pace: 5/5
Feels: 4.5/5
Cover: 5/5
Overall rating: 5/5

Jessi (Geo)

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