22 Dec 2022

We Can(ada) Read: IRON WIDOW by Xiran Jay Zhao

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Author: Xiran Jay Zhao
Series: Iron Widow #1
Source: Audiobook from Audible
Publisher: Penguin Teen
Publication Date: September 21, 2021

Overall Rating:
Diversity Rating:
RepresentationEast Asian physically disabled bisexual protagonist (Wu Zetian) [sometimes uses a cane or wheelchair], East Asian mentally ill bisexual protagonist (Li Shimin) [PTSD, alcoholic], East Asian bisexual protagonist (Gao Yizhi)

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.
Amazon | Chapters | TBD
Content Warning: Misogyny & femicide, Rape mentioned, Physical & emotional abuse, Suicidal ideation, Alcoholism, Blood & gore depiction, Murder, Torture, Death

I went into this without even having read the synopsis because of the hype surrounding it, so I was very happy when it was a Pacific Rim type of story. But the writing and pacing of this was VERY off and it really threw me for the enjoyment of the story. I liked the way that tropes were subverted, especially the "love triangle," and the way that women are shown to be passive and assertive.

However, I feel like I had more negative thoughts and feelings while reading it than positive. The worldbuilding and character development were basically zero. The epilogue told us more about the plot than the entire story did!! It also was really hard to visualize how the Chrysalises were battling and shifting because it just wasn't described in a way that made sense all the time.

On top of that, the pacing was terrible. It was nonstop all the time, even though there was supposed to be two weeks in between battles. The travelling seems to happen instantly even though there seems to be a lot of ground to cover. There is just way too much that isn't explained in the moment and then infodumped afterwards. It could have probably used another 100 pages to explain what was happening on the grander scale. I'm all for being confused in a story but it has to come together at some point (see: The Bone Shard Daughter). This did not.

I loved that it was unapologetically angry and that it had a lot of really great aspects we don't typically see in YA Fantasy (although I think this should be more NA. She's 18. That's borderline YA at best). I think there was a lot of great social commentary in here with Zetain’s arc and character, as well as the interactions that she had. But too much of it seemed too easy, too convenient, and never explained.

I will read the sequel and enjoy my giant monsters and then rewatch NGE and Pacific Rim. Whether you want to read this is up to you since it is solidly in the middle for me.

Are you going to pick this up?

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