Diverse Books, YA Books

Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao – ARC Review

Thank you to Rock the Boat and Netgalley for sending me this arc in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

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 was a phenomenal read! From the first page we are thrown into this incredibly vivid world that Xiran has created and I loved every second of it. Zetian has become one of my favourite characters and I love the trio so much, they are pure chaos and I am here for it!

This is set in a world where women are considered worthless and only there to sacrifice themselves for the male pilots or to be good wives and mothers. By good I mean silent and obedient. Zetian has had enough of this and after the death of her sister she vows to get revenge and does so in the most spectacular fashion and in that moment I fell in love with her.

I loved seeing Zetian and how she battled against the  systemic injustice that women are subjected to on a daily basis and the pure rage she felt. I related to her a lot; I understand her rage. I loved how it was shown in the book and through her. She has every right to be angry but what I loved most was watching her opinions and thoughts about how to become empowered changed and grew as she learnt more and interacted with different people in different situations. How that impacted how she fought for herself and for women’s empowerment everywhere. This book is honestly such a powerful read and had me feeling all the emotions.

I especially loved her internal conflict of how can she fight for empowerment and yet love and care for a man and be vulnerable with them. Her learning it isn’t an either or situation, she can have both. There is so much depth to her character that we see more and learn more about her as the story goes on and I just need everyone to read this book.

The discussions on misogyny and patriarchy are done so incredibly well and we see just how deeply these views have impacted women in so many ways that are completely invisible to men. There’s also discussions around how the powerful and wealthy just continue to grow in wealth and the poor become poorer. Honestly there was so many interesting and nuanced discussions in the book but it didn’t take away from the plot and suspense of the story. It just added more layers to it.

I loved the mechas and the battle scenes, I would love to be able to see this in a film, I think some scenes would have some breath-taking visuals and it was all described so vividly that I could picture everything. We learn about the world through Zetain, Shimin and Yizhi who all come from different situations in life. All three characters are morally grey and despite some of the awful things they do, you can’t help but root for them. Especially as everyone seems equally monstrous.

The build up to the ending had me on the edge of my seat and the second half especially had me completely hooked and I thought I knew what was happening but the ending still left me completely shook and I was left screaming! I am ridiculously excited to read the sequel and honestly I don’t know how I’m going to wait a whole year for it.

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