Title: Iron Widow
Author: Xiran Jay Zhao
Publish Date: September 21st, 2021
Publisher: Penguin Teen
Source: Huge thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy for review!
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 gives some really great insight into Chinese culture and traditions, and the spotlight on China's only female emperor was very cool. That being said, there was a lot I didn't understand while reading this book - I definitely still enjoyed it though! Let's get into the details!
So our main female lead is Zetian, a badass, confident young woman who becomes a concubine-pilot in order to exact revenge for her sister's death. When she survives her first fight, (most girls die due to an inability to handle the mental strain), she is labeled an Iron Widow. It took me some time, but I do understand how the whole piloting system works - the actual semantics of the war itself however, had me scratching my head a few times. I feel like it could have been explained in a bit more detail - I'm still not sure I fully understand spirit metal and how it works in battle, and I had a hard time picturing the Chrysalises and Hunduns.
With our male leads, Li Shimin and Yizhi, I found a lack of character development - especially on the part of Yizhi. It is hinted that there is more to him than a sweet, innocent boy with a pure heart but this is never explored further and he is presented as such for the rest of the book. With Li Shimin, we do dive into his past and find out why he is the way he is, but he kind of just blurts it all out in one of his first conversations with Zetian. There isn't any lasting mystery or intrigue, we are just told everything we need to know up front.
In terms of the politics, Zetian is a fierce feminist (given the circumstances, totally understandable) and I did love all of her rebellious, bold statements and fearless actions. My love of her standing up for what she believes in and fighting the status quo is what kept me reading until the end. Also, I have always been curious about the details behind the Chinese tradition of binding feet and this book explained that process in great detail - I honestly found it super educational and really cool (and horrifying) to see how they did things back then.
Overall, I enjoyed this book, loved learning little tidbits about Chinese culture, and loved the representation! I'm looking forward to reading the next book, but do hope that I will be able to follow along a little better :)
Rating: 4/5 Devils!