In this blistering debut, a peasant girl’s revenge on her sister’s murderer, a mecha pilot, carries her to the top of a futuristic world gripped by greed and misogyny — a world totally unprepared to meet its match in a ruthless, ambitious Iron Widow.
Xiran Jay Zhao was already one of the most anticipated debut authors of 2021 before they became an overnight YouTube sensation with their incisive media reviews. If you’ve watched any of their videos, you’ll know that Zhao is a charismatic and witty entertainer, and Iron Widow is written with the same flair. This is the rare book that’s just as good as the hype.
Iron Widow was aptly pitched as Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid’s Tale, a feminist sci-fi inspired by Chinese history and folklore that pits a girl in a giant mecha against alien monsters and her own government. You don’t need to be an anime nerd or a history buff to be drawn into the fascinating and imaginative world Zhao has built, though, and readers who are skeptical of science-fiction will find this one intuitive and fun for even the most die-hard realist.
The (anti-)heroine, the reimagined historical figure Wu Zetian, demands your full attention on every page. She has an edge that keeps you on edge, lending Iron Widow the tension of a thriller. The word that kept coming to mind as I was reading this book was “audacious”: there were several scenes where I was left thinking, Can a character do that? And oh, she can.
Her intensity is balanced by the contrasting personalities of her two boyfriends (we’ll get to that.) Li Shimin, her co-pilot, is a dark and brooding boy with hidden depths — if you can see past the brand on his face marking him as a dangerous criminal. Gao Yizhi is a
sweet cinnamon bun a kind-hearted and savvy socialite from Zetian’s past who will play a key role in her future. Together, the trio is a formidable team that shares a powerful bond of love.
Yes, you heard me. As you may have read in my Tumblr post about this book, Iron Widow turns the trope of the contentious love triangle on its head with a mutual romance between the three characters.
Will Iron Widow be the book that brings a polyamorous relationship to the mainstream in YA? I sure hope so. The relationship between these three characters is warm, heartfelt, and written with a deft hand. Like all queer content, it will face pushback, but Iron Widow is nothing if not a book about pushing back.
Iron Widow is poised to do for YA science-fiction what Children of Blood and Bone did for YA fantasy: it is a catalyst that will bring new voices, new perspectives, and hungry new readers to a genre that publishers have been struggling to understand how to market for years. Here’s to nothing but success!
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