I have just finished “Iron Widow”, a YA sci-fi novel by Xiran Jay Zhao and I am at a loss of words. Actually no, I take that back. I have lots of words to say about this book. I have seen this book a few times on Booktube and this was actually one of books that I had to read for a book club that I’m in. I was pretty excited to read it and had very high hopes for it. This book was written by a non-binary person (this is important because of some of the elements in this book). There are lots of Chinese mythology in here. This is their first novel.
Want to know what I honestly thought of this book? Keep reading to find out!
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.
This book goes against the majority of what I believe in.I was annoyed with most of this book. Everything about Zetian made me upset. It’s not a book for me personally but it was good for what it was. I just didn’t agree with a Lot of the things that were going on in this book. I’m a more traditional person and really conservative.
She was really angry. Like the majority of the time she was angry. Like I get it, your sister was killed and you had a rough life but like, do you have to argue with every single person? When I mentioned I was reading this book during a livestream on YouTube, someone commented that they couldn’t finish the the first three chapters because she was yelling for most of it and I have to slightly agree. She just wanted vengeance on everyone. Heck, she even said it herself: “I choose vengeance”.
The men in her family did suck but she also hated the women who were likely raised with the beliefs that they had, to serve the men and go along with whatever they wanted to do without fuss, even if they themselves were being abused. Instead of seeing it as their mindset and choosing the better option for her future, she hated them. It was their culture. It was what they were used to. I personally used to be angry at my grandma a lot but then I had to realize the time she grew up in and what was expected of them. I don’t hate her for her lack of affection and understanding on some topics. I’m not sure how things work in Chinese culture with the roles of women and wives (please excuse my ignorance) but the way she painted being submissive bothered me. Now, maybe it’s because I’ve been raised to be submissive to my husband (as long as he doesn’t ABUSE his role as the family head. Be submissive, not a doormat).
I did mention previously that the author is non-binary and its kind of reflected in some elements in the book. For example, when Zetian saw a butterfly, she mentioned “I’m pretty sure there are even cases where humans are born like this butterfly, where you can’t really pin down which sex they are” and “If I had my way, I’d exist like that butterfly, giving onlookers no easy way to bind me with a simple label”. There were some badass moments in this book where I was like “oh yeah, kick their butts” like when she was fighting men who were trying to kill her, which happened often. Which brings me to my next point.
The way the army treated her and her partner Li Shimmin was AWFUL. I had a feeling there was going to be more than what meets the eye with Li Shimmin. He was such a sweetie. He defended a girl who was being gang raped and when he killed his family, the army made him out to be a monster which once you got to know him, he was a sweet soul. He wrote beautiful poetry and would defend women when he could. The army would just torture him and since they hated him and Zetian (her for killing one of the pilots), they treated them like trash. Thank goodness for her wits!
Speaking of her and her partner, this book was my first time reading about a polyamorous relationship. I’m not going to lie, it was weird. It’s not something I’m used to. This was another thing that bothered me. Her, Li Shimmin, and Yizhi’s relationship was just odd. They were in a relationship with each other! Like both the guys and Zetian and it just didn’t really sit right with me. I’m not into sharing anything and I respect everyone in their individual relationship but I can’t stand cheaters and just sharing each other is just crossing the line as well. I personally don’t believe in open relationships but hey, there are some people out there who do.
There was one particular part that really reinforced the fact that they’d rather sacrifice their own daughters just so that their son can make a great life for himself and to me that was messed up. She had a standoff with her mom and her mom wanted her to let her brother live, when a few months earlier her mom was praising her for sacrificing her life. The girls are usually drained of life and sacrifice themselves for the male pilots that they were partnered up with and since they died so often, the male pilots gets lots of concubines. I hate that. Zetian’s family was so willing to have their daughters sacrifice their lives so that their brother can have money to afford a bride and build his own life, while they were expected to just be dead. Not cool.
I gave this book 3/5 stars. I wouldn’t recommend this for a classroom library unless you have seniors (juniors would be pushing it!). I’m honestly not keeping it on my bookshelf.
Title: Iron Widow
Author: Xiran Jay Zhao
Publication Date: September 21, 2021
Genre: YA, Science Fiction, Fantasy
Trigger Warning: violence, abuse, suicide ideation, sexual assault references, alcohol addiction, and torture