Title: Iron Widow (Iron Widow #1)
Author: Xiran Jay Zhao
Publisher: Penguin Teen
Publication date: September 21st, 2021
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.
Iron Widow completely blew my away and I’m not sure I’ll stop thinking about this book for a long time. This is not your usual YA fantasy book – the main characters are seriously morally grey and do not make great choices, but you root for them anyway. Set in a futuristic Chinese inspired world, young women are sold by their parents to the government to power space ships in the war against the Hunduns. Zetian willingly goes into service to avenge her sister’s murder by one of the best pilots in the military.
The world-building is top notch, the characters are so well-rounded and multi-faceted, and the plot kept me guessing the whole way through the book. There were points where this book was difficult to read, so please look at trigger warnings before picking it up. I did know what I was getting into with reading it, but it is still hard to read women be treated as property. Even after all of that, this is the easiest 5 stars I’ve given to a book all year.
I’m here for the open relationship included in this book, which is something I haven’t seen in a YA book yet but it was done so well. As the best continued I felt like the relationships were going to go that way, and I was so excited when it actually happened. The ending killed me though and I’m still not over it. I’m in desperate need of the sequel ASAP.
Thank you to Penguin Teen and Netgalley for an early copy in exchange for an honest review.
TW: depictions of sexual assault, murder, misogyny, assault, alcoholism, domestic violence
Happy reading, folks!