Cover Image: Iron Widow

Iron Widow

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Member Reviews

This is a staggering bold debut that grabs you by the throat and doesn't let go. Zetian's rage and fire fuel the story and you cannot help but root for her in this epic world where the odds are forever stacked against her. She is a force to be reckoned with, and with the revelations in the final few pages leaving me gasping, I cannot wait to continue her story.
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This was an e-arc copy from NetGalley and the publisher, Penguin Teen. 

I was so excited for this one, it was sold to me as a Chinese history inspired fantasy, but sadly I didn’t love it…

I found that it was always either very angry and violent or boring with not a lot going on, which got very repetitive in the end :( 

The anger was understandable, and the feminist streak powering it was great, I just wish we had seen more variety! 

I really enjoyed the coldness of Zetian our main character, very refreshing for a YA book BUT she was very rarely shown in another light which made it a bit 2 dimensional

The world building wasn’t particularly clear, which after reading the epilogue kinda makes sense, but it made for confusing reading 

I thought the disability rep and the polyamorous rep were great, a different thing to see in a YA novel, although I never found the romance super believable 

I will definitely read the sequel but sadly the book wasn’t as much my cup of tea as I had hoped! 

3 stars 

Review coming to my Instagram 18/09/21 :)
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Just. Wow. Thank you so much @Rocktheboatnews for sending me a proof of @XiranJayZhao's YA: Iron Widow! It is totally gripping, to the very last page. They've created amazing & brutal characters, blending Chinese history & legend with mecha sci-fi. Publishes 7th Oct in the UK https://t.co/V4xVX77OkK
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This book had a cool concept, a good cover, and is written by someone whose twitter content I greatly enjoy, but the book was a bit... Meh.

It felt like a lot of one dimensional writing and character work with glittering moments sprinkled throughout. Paragraphs or pages that I fell into, but then would be ripped right back out of and I'd once again feel like I was reading more to be done with the book than anything else.

It could simply be the whole debut book is a baseline for an author's future work and quite honestly, I really hope so. 

I'll be looking at more of Xiran Jay Zhao's work in the future to see where her work takes her
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Firstly, I would like to thank Oneworld Publications/ Rock the Boat and NetGalley for an e-Arc of this title. 

Trigger Warning: violence, abuse, discussion of sexual assault, alcohol addiction, torture and suicide ideation. 

I am known for picking up books without properly reading the synopsis either due to its hype or my interest in the author's previous work. For this book, I had followed Xiran Jay Zhao's YouTube channel watching their in-depth analysis of Asian and Asian inspired film and TV picking out truthful and accurate representations and identifying whitewashing or harmful depictions. When they mention, they had a book coming out based loosely on a historical Chinese empress - I was intrigued. 

However, my investigation into the rest of the storyline stoped there. Despite being stated as Pacific Rim meets Handmaid's Tale - prior to beginning to read the book... I had completely forgotten it was scifi. 

But that is the joy of going into a book blind. 

Despite being taken off guard, the book quickly works to establish this new world and character and the scifi elements to help ground the audience. My previous experience with scifi books being held down by length descriptions and long-winded explanations did not surface in this book. Instead, the author eased me in as a reader into this world of towering animal machines who run on qi and their formidable counterparts. 

 While being cited as Chinese inspired, the world heavily pulls on Chinese traditions and practises. The characters and locations all have traditional Chinese names and the book heavily explores qi - the different elements of qi, how it functions and can be used. 

The book also focuses heavily on traditional male and female representation and ideology. The world is built on the inequality between male and female and the subjugation of females within a family and even within the "military" world. Female are seen as secondary, passive and expendable. However, the book looks to challenge this outdated perception, creating a character who active fights back and dismantles this perception. 

While other books and media have looked to capture a similar dynamic it tends to be handled in a more subdued manner with the characters aim of creating as little fuss as possible but highlighting to the world this flaw that is then readily accepted and corrected. 

However, this book holds no bar. Our main character will go above and beyond to ensure the world sees her for who she really is, in all her glory and ability without holding back no matter who is in her way. There is no apology for her deathly display, no resistance in her capture of power. This book takes a new look at how far someone will go to ensure they are never subservient to anyone ever again. 

This creates an ambiguously moral character and as a reader, you question your support of their actions while also siding with their justifications. You are conflicted but still root for our main character. And ultimately, this is what makes this book amazing. 

A definite recommendation for anyone looking for a book that fights the patriarchy head-on, an equally weighted polyamorous relationship and a hankering to rewatch Pacific Rim.
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Iron Widow is an exceptional book. This is an interrogative, imaginative and endlessly interesting retelling that combines a personal story of revenge with an epic sci-fi world. 

I absolutely loved Zhao’s writing. This felt like an incredibly strong debut novel, with the writing flowing so well and completely enveloping me in this creative and immersive world. I’m not always the biggest sci-fi fan, but Zhao has converted me. The entire concept of the mechs was really fascinating. In particular, I loved how it was used to explore the themes of identity, control over sexuality and the disposability of female lives. At every turn, stereotypes are oppressively enforced and used to dictate every action. The marginalisation of women and the pervasive idea of their silence allows them to be seen as lesser and therefore far more expendable. It asks the cost of heroism and celebrity in this patriarchal society.

The characters feel really fleshed out and vivid, with glimpses into their backstories and motivations that allowed for a more layered portrayal. In particular, Zetian was a fascinating protagonist to follow along. Initially, it was interesting to explore her single minded vision of revenge at all costs and how it becomes more complex than that. She is merciless and willing to sacrifice everything to change the system. Her relationships with people allow for more nuance to gradually creep in, though there is still plenty of bloody action. Ultimately, her quest is still brutal and laser focused. This all leads to an incredible ending that had me craving the next book. I can’t help it, I just love morally gray stories that really dig into your heart. 

Iron Widow is a cutting story of vengeance at all costs that strikes back against the patriarchy. This is a firecracker of a book that I cannot wait to discuss with more people.
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This was a well written story with a good cast of characters and an interesting world. I just found that I wasn't attached to any of it - this one wasn't for me, but if the synopsis intrigues you I'd still recommend checking it out.
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But I have no faith in love. Love cannot save me.

I choose vengeance.

Holy wow, this book was everything I needed and more! The feminism! The polyamory! Screw the love triangle, let’s just have them all love each other! I am ALL for this! 

This book is nothing but inspiring, Xiran Jay Zhao has tackled so many important issues, that usually get skirted around, in such a direct and fantastic way. We watch a young girl who’s always taught to be second best to men, to do what the men ‘need’ her to do and told that that’s all she’ll amount to in life, become a full on warrior QUEEN. The misogyny she fought throughout this entire novel was insane.

Wu Zetian is my favourite character, ever. Point blank, end of story. She is a warrior. She knows what she wants and what she believes in and she will damn well make sure she fights for her beliefs. 
I love that when we first meet her we find out that she’s purely undertaking her role to enlist in the army for vengeance. Yes girl, you bloody fight for your sister! You get your revenge! 
She hated that she was always defined by her gender and ended up trying to find a way to stop that from happening any more. I have so much respect for her character, knowing that she deserves more regardless of her gender. Knowing that the way society treated women was wrong and unjust and fighting for them. She is awe-inspiring, and I will forever love her as a character. 
To sum her up, she is angry, powerful and fierce!

I enjoyed the dynamic between Wu Zetian, Li Shimin and Gao Yizhi, they knew their strengths, knew their weaknesses and then worked together to become one. I loved how Yizhi was one of the most selfless characters and just wanted to support Zetian in whichever way possible. I love that the relationships between them became more than friendships, more than lovers. At the end, they were family.

For a debut novel I am absolutely astounded by how much I adored this. Xiran Jay Zhao’s writing style is absolutely beautiful, I was enraptured from page one and couldn’t bring myself to put the book down until I was finished. It is, in my eyes, literary perfection. 

The whole book was action packed from page one, I felt as though we started with a ‘bang’, and ended with a ‘bang, crash, holy hell the whole thing is imploding’ type scenario and I am absolutely INVESTED in this world. 

However, this book has reminded me why I dislike arc reading. I now have to wait even longer for the next instalment. Cry.

Trigger warnings:
Suicidal ideation. Alcoholism. Blood & gore depiction. Murder.
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In an apocalyptic world, peasant girl Zetian sets out to avenge her sisters death by using her Qi to help power a fighting machine, a Chrysalises, for Huaxia in the war against the Hundans. 

Qi is the vital essence that sustains everything in this world and keeps a boy/girl pair mentally connected in the war machines. Zetian is now the Iron Widow and gets a bit more than she bargained for in her new partner, Li Shimin, the Iron Demon. 

Although I loved Zetian and her feminism, I actually thought she was a psychopath!! I loved her! I was out of breath reading it! Li Shimin I just wanted to cuddle all the time and along with them for the ride is Yizhi, calm, patient Yizhi. 

The three of them and what grew into their relationship made my heart sing! The killer boy and the sweet boy and the psycho girl. A perfect triangle. 

And that ending? Didn't see that coming!
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Iron Widow was one of the best books I read this year and I think everyone needs to read this book! 

💫fast paced and immersive story which is a reimagining of the rise of China’s only female emperor. The plot keeps you hooked and it’s always happening which makes it an interesting read.

💫an unhinged and brutal mc trying to smash patriarchy and destroy the world and take revenge and she’s one you can’t help but root for. I love the journey and growth Zetian goes through and also how fleshed out her character was which made it super fun to read about her. I absolutely loved Yizhi and Shimin too. 

💫a love triangle which ends in healthy polyamorous relationship. I wish the romance part was shown a little more but it didn’t hinder my reading experience much. 

💫 discussed themes of misogyny, patriarchy and privilege and I love how all this addressed and written. 

💫super engaging and addictive with an ending that’ll leave you wanting so much more. No seriously that epilogue was something else and I can’t wait for book two. 

TW: murder, abuse, torture, alcohol addiction, suicide ideation, mentions and threat of rape.


Thank you the publisher for providing an eARC through NetGalley. All opinions are my own.
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"What's holding them back is that they don't believe there's any way for a woman to live a meaningful life other than rearing a family. I'll show them; I'll prove to them that it's not true. We can live for more. We can live for justice. Change. Vengeance. Power."

If you don't have 'Iron Widow' on your TBR list, go and place it right on top of that pile because you have to read this book. The story starts with Wu Zetian who volunteers to become a pilot of a Chrysalis, which are huge robots made from spirit metal that allows them to morph into different forms. They are used to fight aliens from beyond the great wall. Every Chrysalis is co-piloted by a male and a female, however the females almost never make it out alive, they are expected to serve as concubines and sacrifice themselves for the greater good, the protection of the realm. When Zetian finds out her sister has been murdered by one of the famous male pilots she has had about enough of the powerless struggle that is her life, so she starts to plot revenge to kill her sister's murderer. However, nothing goes as planned and suddenly she gets the opportunity to do so much more. She can try and change the system, she can and will become.. their nightmare!

This book gave me Hunger Games, Handmaid's Tale and Pacific Rim vibes all set in a world inspired by East-Asian culture and history. The main character Zetian is merciless in her goals and I love her for it. She's is by no means a perfect person, she makes mistakes but that just makes me like her even more. If a triangle is your favorite shape and you are looking for an action-packed, female empowering, sci-fi book inspired by the only female empress China has ever had, go and pick up this book!
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Not sure what my favourite part of the book was. Was it the amazing, rich, exciting world, or perhaps the complex, ruthless and three-dimensional characters? It could've been the amazing themes discussed which included gender roles, family expectations, imperialism, environmentalism and so much more. But it was probably the highly engaging and relatable way it was written.

Iron Widow gave me an exciting, high-stakes sci-fi story about the robots from Power Rangers and I loved it. Seriously go read it.
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If I had to describe Iron Widow in a sentence, I would say it's basically a YA book from the 2013 to 2016 era, but updated for a modern audience. You have all the basic elements of a YA book from a 5 years ago: a protagonist who at first glance 'isn't like other girls', a love triangle between a friend and a 'bad boy', and the fate of the world at stake.

However, Iron Widow totally subverts these traditional YA elements, and what could've been a very tropey and familiar story instead becomes something pretty original (especially if you've never seen a mecha anime before). I liked how Iron Widow interrogated traditional gender roles, and how pervasive internalised misogyny is.

I also loved the setting, especially the little details and how Xiran Jay Zhao incorporated Chinese culture and history into the novel (I think my favourite detail was about a pilot's autobiography called 'Journey to the West' lol). 

One critique I have, is that in some ways, Iron Widow felt almost more like a movie than a book? Like in some ways, it seemed like the author had several key scenes and themes they wanted to portray, and then kind of built the rest of the book around that? But this meant that to me, some parts of the book (such as the training montage bit) felt a bit weaker than the rest of the novel.

Also, I felt that Xiran Jay Zhao's writing definitely got stronger as the book went on - the beginning was a little shakey, but the writing flowed better and felt more confident in the latter half of Iron Widow. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this book, but it is definitely a YA novel, so if you're outside the YA target audience (like I am) you may not enjoy it as much. 

*I should also note that I follow the author on Twitter and YouTube, and am a big fan of their work, so this is probably not the most objective review.
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This awesome, angry book is my new obsession.

Marketed as Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid’s Tale, Iron Widow reimagines the rise of Wu Zetian, China’s only female emperor, in a futuristic world inspired by cultural elements from across Chinese history.

So I have a question:

Where has Iron Widow been all my life?

Like, I could talk about how this book blew my mind. Because it’s true. Every single page packed a punch, and everything is so intense – like reading a story that’s been dialed up to 11. Instead of anger, we get fury – and I love furious characters. Instead of a love triangle, we get a polyamorous romance – and it’s so good. The characterisation? Incredible. The plot? Action-packed. And there were so many lines that seemed to speak straight to me that I stopped keeping count of my favourite quotes after about 50.

In short, this book was everything I didn’t even know I needed.

So back to my question: where has Iron Widow been all my life? Where has the smart, sexy, furious SFF been?

And of course I know the answer. Because writers like Xiran Jay Zhao – writers who are doing mind-blowing new things in SFF books – are obviously out there. Look at She Who Became the Sun. Look at Legendborn. In fact, I’m looking at the majority of my favourite books from the past few years and they have all done something different or new in the genre – and they’ve all been written by authors from backgrounds that just weren’t getting a seat at the publishing table (in any sort of significant numbers, anyway) until very recently.

And we have all been the poorer for it.

Readers are wise to the same old, same old that publishers keep trotting out. And these publishers are going to be left behind. Because I’m feeling seen in so many of these incredible new books, and I can’t be the only reader who feels this way,

Look at Iron Widow. According to Twitter, this book, this clearly incredible book, was actually rejected by several publishers, but thankfully managed to find a place at Penguin Teen Canada – and two months ahead of its publication had already pulled in more than 10,000 pre-orders. (See https://twitter.com/XiranJayZhao/status/1421144753706455041 and https://twitter.com/XiranJayZhao/status/1421265070097453056).

As Zhao says in their tweet, hopefully big publishers take a chance on weirder books.

And hopefully big publishers finally wake up and realise that SFF readers are begging for voices that we haven’t heard nearly enough from.

Let’s talk about the hardcover:

Iron Widow isn’t out until the autumn (Goodreads says September but UK booksellers are saying October) so I read an advanced digital copy via NetGalley.

I’d hoping that it’ll be in one of my upcoming book subscription boxes – hopefully Illumicrate – because it’s such a highly anticipated debut. I’ve played it safe, though, and pre-ordered the signed bookplate edition available from Waterstones because I am not missing out on a signed hardcover copy of this masterpiece.

Verdict:

This is easily one of the best books of 2021
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This novel is a work of art and I'm not sure if anything else I read this year will top it. It is original, compelling and entertaining with a breathless yet addictive plot.
The main character Zetian is plain cool - I can't think of a better way to describe her and the book itself covers so many serious and important themes in an accessible way that is not preachy at all.
From coloniality to racism to sexism - this book is the best attempt at writing feminism into a YA novel I have seen in years. 
I have nothing critical to say about it, it is well-developed, the world-building is ace and the only minor plot hole that I wanted (although I may have missed this whilst devouring the thing!) is the explanation behind Yizhi's tattoos.
The only descriptor that kept repeating in my mind whilst reading this was "awesome" and I believe that readers will identify with Zetian all over. She is a real, raw, survivor and because of her the story is so satisfying all the way until the end. 
I look forward to seeing more from the author and wish her all the best with her writing - the world needs more like it!
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Pitched as 'Pacific Rim meets The Haidmaid's Tale' Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao is an absolutely fierce, bold and exhilarating read. 



Zetian Wu's goal is to seek revenge on the man that killed her older sister. However, once she achieves that goal it is only a matter of time before the world that surrounds her truly understands the potential and power that resides in her. 



***



Set in Huaxia, a technologically advanced society tied to many ancient Chinese customs. It faces continued attacks from Hunduns, only kept under control by the revered Chrysalis. Piloted by young men who channel their life force or 'qi' into reclaimed Hundun husk. Infusing their life force into these husks allow them to be turned into giant powerful war robotic weapons.



The downside is that they can't be piloted alone and require female co-pilots. As in life, yin requires its balance - yang and the same goes for the Chryaslises. However, men are stronger in their qi than female pilots, meaning many young girls die before a single battle finishes. 



But with poverty everywhere, more families are willing to offer up their daughters as sacrifices for money. Including Zetian's. 



After Zetian's Big Sister is killed by a Chrysalis pilot, Zetian wants revenge, even if it means if it ends her life too. 



Yet, in a turn of events, Zetian survives piloting her first Chrysalis. From then onwards Zetian realises her potential is what she truly makes. That the bounds and restrictions in her life are hers to defy. 



Defy she does.   





 In-depth analysis of the book (what I enjoyed, any critiques, a favourite quote or scene mention, summary )



Where to start is the question because I loved this book A LOT. 



Science fiction, East Asian myths come hand in hand beautifully to create the tantalizing retelling of the rise of Wu Zetian, the one and only female emperor in Chinese history. 



Iron Widow is an action-packed, whirlwind story that takes you on one heck of a journey. A journey that is 100% worth it!



Bold and fierce and unapologetically badass, Iron Widow doesn't hesitate to defy your expectations. 



The writing of this book is wonderful - well-paced, engaging and vivid it felt as if I was watching a movie. With extra praise towards the immersive worldbuilding and characterisation. Zhao does an amazing job at making her characters' emotions parallel magnificently with the sci-fi action of the book hence why many of the battles scenes were my favourite. It really is where Zhao showcases her talent as a writer. Finding the balance between action, characters and plot in some YA sci-fi is difficult enough. However, Iron Widow fuses all three into a compelling narrative that gets better as the story goes on.



 Now a quick detour to discuss Wu Zetian. 



I love her! 



Of course, I could say she is a 'strong female character'. However, I don't think that would be enough to even begin to encompass her characterisation. Let's me say it like this instead:



Zetian is a resolute and dynamic character. Distinctive, bold and unapologetic Zetian's characterisation is constructed with a sense of addictiveness you don't want to miss any minute detail about her right from page one. It's like you can't take your eyes off her. Zhao entices you into Wu's world, values with such conviction (despite her moral ambivalence) you want to her conquer all that stands in her way.



Let's be honest, I love the morally grey character(s) the internal conflict between 'good' and 'bad' in someone is a great concept and seeing how writers decide to address this topic in their work is just as exciting. For Zhao, the fearless no F's approach she takes and is reflected perfectly encompassed in Zetian too. 



Ok time to speed this review up:



Great discussions of gender roles and feminism are explored in the story. What I like in particular was that there was a great deal in regards to body autonomy. Said subject in my opinion isn't examined enough in YA fiction, so thumbs up to Zhao. For the target audience, it is important that people are aware of what ownership of your body means to you (physically, mentally, emotionally etc) and what the consequences are when it's hindered. 



The general exploration as to why gender roles are arbitrary was refreshing. I don't think I have read a book in recent times that really has had the confidence to say 'screw gender roles and heteronormative' the way Iron Widow has and I adore it so much. This allows me to segway into polyamorous representation in Iron Widow. I won't say much because I don't want to spoil much. 



In short, it's great to see that the relationship that exists between Zetian, Yizhi and Li Shimin is one that promotes that love is infinite - beautiful moral if you ask me. 





Overall, Iron Widow is one of the most stellar YA debuts for me this year. With great originality, paired with its beautifully fierce defiant narrative. It's a book bound to make its mark for great reasons. 



Star Rating: 5/5



The thoughts and opinions above are my own.



Thanks very much to Oneworld Publications, Rock the Boat an e-arc via NetGallery in exchange for an honest review



Also please view trigger warnings prior to reading.
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How should I start this? It is a MASTERPIECE. A ride. Unputtable book. Each parts get more and more intense in action, the beautifully crafted world opens up, you get attached to the characters and root for not only the MC but everyone around to win their rightful reward…or punishment.

This book is phenomenal! It mixes heavy topics (such as gender, feminine rights or how women are still made to fit inti certain roles under men, different paths you can choose, abusive and toxic relationships) but also shows beauty. The main character Zetian is one fierce, passionate and SASSY girl, who shakes things up in the capital. Oh did I tell you there are two boys she loves? But those guys get fond of each other too?  My heart!!

And if the amazing relationships, one bed trope, friends to lover and strangers hate to lovers tropes would not make you read RIGHT NOW this book, I hope the premise of an epic battle, fighting against creatures, using qi, piloting crazy huge robots will make you rethink the whole thought!

Absolutely loved this book. I want more. The sequel cannot come out early enough!
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2,000 years ago the Hundun descended. The human race was all but wiped out, and then they uncovered one way in which they could fight back. Chrysalises were crafted to carry one ace male pilot and one female concubine-pilot. Inside of them, a psychic link was formed and the combined energies of the two were used to power the mecha-beasts. The female rarely survived it.

For the past two centuries, the war has continued with little changing. The mecha-aliens still descend. Humans still fight back to protect the little land they have left. Females are still sacrificed at an alarming rate for the good of the country. Male pilots are still heralded as celebrities and heroes.

2021 really is blessing us with such stunning and diverse fantasy stories! And this is by far one of the most unique and exhilarating that I have ever read! The entire concept was such an intriguing one and I adored how each facet was explored inside the story-line.

Asides from being an astoundingly sublime fantasy, I loved the conversations concerning gender that were also featured. The terms are never explicitly stated, but very early on two of the characters ponder over where an intersex, hermaphrodite, or trans individual would be seated inside the chrysalis. It showed a growing understanding from the characters that the world is not made of binaries, despite what those in authority would have the populace believe.

This exploration continued in the characters' personal lives, as they rejected the endorsed hetro and monogamous relationships and deemed sex as not the only form of intimacy that individuals could share. Featured was one of the softest and sweetest fictional relationships I have ever seen formed!

The most explicit societal norm this novel tackled was the misogyny that the kingdom thrived upon. Women were viewed as disposable and their families were actively encouraged and rewarded for raising them for either marriage or death. Generations of females were treated as lesser beings and it became impossible for many to ever view themselves, their sisters, or their daughters as able to be anything more. 

This obviously fantastical construction also had its sexist roots in real-world history. This Asian-inspired fantasy utilised Chinese history to expose the horrors females underwent. For example, it was an accepted practise to mutilate female feet, making them smaller in size and daintier in appearance for the male gaze. The dual societal benefit of this was that they could never run or move freely again. The feet blistered and rotted and ached, meaning the prettily-shod exterior was never the same when viewed up close, and that each female spent their entire life suffering, unable to forget for one moment their agony or how they were shackled to a smaller space in the world, most often the home sphere.

This entire novel read like an angry battle cry. Xiran Jay Zhao used their words wisely to narrate a deep and moving tale. It was one made up, in equal parts of love and loathing, rivalry and revenge, sacrifice and strife. The patriarchy died here and my love for this author was born here, too.
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IRON WIDOW struggles to buoy its ambitious premise until the very end, but still dazzles and shocks with an epic story and fierce characters.

The comparisons to Pacific Rim are not unwarranted. A solid chunk of this book throws you into the bloody, vicious world of Huaxia and its patriarchal society. It's gory and dark and spares no minutiae, and is one of the strongest points of this book. The battles, the stakes, are epic in scope, and Zhao nails the grandiose, cinematic imagery needed to pull it off. IRON WIDOW practically oozes brutality; it would make the perfect book to adapt to the big or silver screen.

This was easily a four star read for the first two-thirds of the book. Zetian as our anti-heroine is no-nonsense, unyielding and unafraid of what she wants. She makes smart decisions that bite at those that would do her harm. She's utterly compelling as the protagonist, snuffing out her vulnerabilities so that she can rule in her own way. And the romance that she's in does nothing to water down her character. Her love interests Li Shimin and Gao Yizhi are unique and bring out two different sides to her personality, yet both are equally good for her in partnership, and good for each other as well, in that the three form a polyamorous romance.

Similarly Shimin and Yizhi are distinctive and memorable enough as characters in their own right. Shimin, tortured by alcoholism and a tragic past, buries his feelings deep within him to save face, whereas Yizhi has a gentle heart and soul and will always try to do right by them. As far as characters go, I was cool on all three of them.

The last third of the book, however, felt too rushed and poorly paced to enjoy. So much time is dedicated to building up the world, the setting, the trio, and especially the magic system that much of the climax of the story unfolded in a manner that feels like it's being dictated to us, rather than seen through Zetian's own eyes. Everything is summarised and happens too quickly to really digest. It was disappointing that all this build-up led to an ending that felt like an afterthought, even if it was sowed between great character closure and some brilliant, unrelenting choices from Zetian.

This was definitely one of the most original YA books I've read in many years, and despite my criticisms I still enjoyed IRON WIDOW. I'll be interested to see where Zhao takes Zetian and the characters next.
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Really enjoyed this! It wore its influences proudly and boldly, and totally made itself its own. Loved the way it handled love triangles and found it refreshing start to finish.
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