Book Review: Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

Book: Iron Widow (Iron Widow #1)

Author: Xiran Jay Zhao

Genre: Sci-fi/fantasy

Rating: 7/10

Read if you like: a lot of epic battles, alien invasion stories, books about smashing the patriarchy

Good morning bookworms! I’m finally putting this review down. I finished Iron Widow over a week ago and have been trying to gather my thoughts. It finally all came together in my head, while in the shower this morning!

Iron Widow is set in a fantasy world based loosely on Chinese history. Zetian is a young peasant girl living with her farming family. She has a walking disability and uses a cane. She is about to “volunteer” to be a consort for a pilot in the army. Now this needs explaining. Pilots are always men, and they control large mechas called Chrysalises. They guard the wall that separates the people from the aliens, called Hunduns, that attack. Inside the Chrysalis there is a male pilot controlling and a female concubine providing more energy. The strongest pilots have higher qi and are paired with female concubines with higher qi. Unfortunately for the girls, they usually die during the fight because all their qi gets used up. There is a lot more I’m not explaining but that’s the main points.

So Zetian is going to offer herself as a concubine with a secret mission to avenge her big sister who recently died as a concubine. Her family wants her to volunteer because they get paid some money when she dies and then they can use that money to buy a better bride for their only son. The society Zetian lives in sees women as tools only and she is tired of it. She has one friend. A quiet rich boy names Yizhi and he’s the only one that wants to stop her from volunteering.

So Zetian is on a revenge mission and conveniently gets paired with the same pilot that killed her sister. When her qi is measured, it’s quite high and so she is put with a strong pilot. Well shit hits the fan when she gets into the Chrysalis and heads to battle with him because she murders him instead of the other way around. And this is where the plot goes haywire.

Hook 2/2: I was instantly hooked. The world building was done pretty quickly and within a few chapters this bad ass girl has already got her revenge. I needed to know what would happen to her then because she just destroyed all notions the army had of female concubines.

Plot 2/3: I liked the idea of this plot. There are awesome battle scenes, a main character with a disability, queer rep, polyamory rep, feminism, and an interesting world. But there was a little lost in execution. The world is pretty confusing and I think more time could have been spent explaining everything. Because a week later I’m still trying to figure it out. I liked that this wasn’t a typical girl meets boy and falls in love story. In fact the girl falls in love with two boys. But there wasn’t enough back story for me. For example, what we do learn about Zetian’s family, they are all basically horrible. Her disability is caused by her mother and grandmother forcefully binding her feet from the age of 3. She doesn’t like any of her family, including her abusive father. But for some reason she loved her Big Sister so much that she wants to avenge her. But we never learn anything about their bond. What made her sister worthy of love from Zetian?

Writing 2/3: I think Xiran has amazing potential and I am definitely going to read book 2 in the series. They gave us a very interesting world that I want to see more of. So I’m hoping book 2 will dive deeper into the conflict between the humans and the Hunduns. I also really liked their use of unique characters. This is the first book I’ve read with a throuple and I found that refreshing. I think there is a lot of strong feminist ideas about dismantling the patriarchy that really shine a spotlight on our own society.

Characters 1/2: I really wish they all had more development. The book either has no explanation or a very brief explanation as to why these characters behave the way they do. They were a bit confusing. Main girl is beautiful but doesn’t know it, quiet and shy but then actually aggressively angry and murderous. Main boy 1 is quiet, shy, handsome rich boy, but secretly covered in tattoos and has a weird relationship with his family that is never explained. Main boy 2 is incredibly tall and handsome bad boy covered in scars and is shy and romantic with a tragic past. These three form a romantic relationship through the book in a society that absolutely would never allow two boys together let alone two boys and a girl. And there is barely any discussion about how these three are going to function in this society as they want to. The whole book is about how patriarchal this world is and how strict the gender roles are. I think it’s great that they are being true to themselves but why is there no discussion about how difficult that would be in this harsh society?

Overall I think this was a unique and interesting book but it could have been more detailed and the characters could have been more developed. I hope this happens in book 2. Let me know if you’ve read it and what your thoughts were.

Happy Reading!


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