Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

*Spoiler free*

Thank you so much to Penguin Teen and NetGalley for the e-ARC!

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.

I’ve been looking forward to this book since the deal announcement! It looked very, very interesting. Giant magical robots, a girl fighting against a patriarchal society to avenge her sister’s murder, and it’s queer. I was extremely intrigued and eager to see what I would think of it. Trigger warnings: mentions of rape, physical and emotional abuse, torture, gore

Holy shit. Holy shit, this book is GOOD. It is absolutely nothing like I expected it was going to be, and I absolutely adored. Seriously, I am writing this with a love for it burning in my stomach, and I want to scream it from the rooftops. It is GOOD.

I went into this book expecting it to be dark, and serious. Oh boy, is it the exact opposite. Yes, it deals with serious topics, and yes, it faces the harsh realities of this world head on. But at the same time, it’s WILD, and it reveals in that. It’s a fire devouring everything it’s path, and laughing manically as it watches. Just holy heck, it come smashing in with a smirk and wink, tearing everything to pieces in the meantime.

I will admit, I had a bit of a hard time getting into. I was not expecting the drastic tone shift after the prologue, and I did not think I was going to like writing style or the direction that it was taking. I AM SO GLAD I KEPT READING. There was something about that hooked me, that kept me reading, that made me want to know more. That made me want to see exactly where this book would go. So even when I was unsure about it, there was something about it that already had it it’s hooks in me.

Let’s talk about Zetian, because I love her so, so much. She’s angry. She’s vengeful and determined and vicious and bloodthirsty and downright pissed off at the society she has been forced to participate in. You want a character who doesn’t shy away from being the vengeful? Who will look a nightmare in the face and laugh, because she is a worse one? Oh, you’ve found one. You’ve found the main character who is ready to tear down the world to suit her needs. She lives in a world where girls are used as sacrifices for the men to power the giant, magical mechas to fight aliens (yes, this is as wild as it seems, and yes, it is as awesome as it seems), and are demeaned every chance they get. It’s a world full of pain and suffering for girls, while boys get the status and celebrity of being heros. And Zetian is sick and tired of the system fighting against her. Of having no choice in the matter. And damn, if she’s going to go down, she’s going to take everybody down with her.

And then there’s a tortured dork of a boy, who wears GLASSES. And another boy who is adorable and supportive and sweet. Plus, there’s the other side characters who are just as vicious as the world crafted them to be. And it’s a love triangle that ends in polyamorous relationship!

Speaking of this world, oh my gosh, wow. I feel like it was developed in the background, as the characters progressed through their plot. But, it became something incredibly fleshed out, incredibly intriguing, and just downright awesome. There isn’t a ton of worldbuilding that feels like it’s just dropped into the story, it feels like it develops through the characters actions; more is revealed as more situations arise and more information is brought to light with what the characters have to deal with. All this to say, I think it was wonderfully done.

And the world itself is just downright brutal. There is a war going on between the humans and aliens, and the humans. Boys pilot the giant mechas, and girls are used as power sources of sorts. Though, most of the girls die. It is a brutal system, one that relies on pain and suffering.

And this book threw some wild plot twists in there too!!! I AM STILL SCREAMING ABOUT THEM!!!

Also, while this book takes a balls to the walls, absolutely wild, tone to a lot of the story, there are a lot of dark, serious topics and moments included. It’s painful, and bloody, and cruel, and horrifying. I want to give the characters a hug.

I fell completely in love with this book. It’s the kind of book that has teeth, and rips into the skin. And dang, it’s simply brilliant and I love it so, so much.

Iron Widow comes out September 21, 2021! You can add it on Goodreads and pre-order a copy in the meantime!

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