Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao book review

Sometimes when you’re reading books and decide what to pick up next, you’re just wonderfully surprised by how genuinely enjoyable a book is. Iron Widow was exactly this for me. I’d just read a whole bunch of down-to-earth thrillers and so to go jump into a book about gigantic mecha-bots controlled by human’s “Qi” fighting off aliens was so bloody fun!

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Iron Widow was incredibly kindly gifted to me by a follower on social media called Shali (@thereadingclub ok TikTok). So, thank you Shali!

Iron Widow tells the story of Zetian who, after her big sister is killed by one of the concubine pilots (those that drive the massive bots and are seen as celebrities) as a result of them sucking out all of her Qi to power up the bot, seeks to take revenge by enlisting as a pilot and assassinating the concubine-pilot who stole her sister from her.

What then ensues is a story of revenge and a woman rising up way past what anybody thinks women in this novel should be allowed to rise.

Iron Widow plot – 4.5/5

Iron Widow doesn’t have a tale that’s going to make you stop and think about life like a John Boyne or a David Nicholls and it’s not a story that’s going to be filled with huge plot twists like Lisa Jewell or Freida McFadden. However, it is a heck of a lot of fun and seems to completely ignore any cliches or writing conventions that have become staple in a lot of books recently.

Iron Widow is fast-paced from the outset and continues at that pace right until the end making the story absolutely race by. It was almost like I was on an action rollercoaster throughout and I couldn’t get off until it ended.

One of the big points of Iron Widow is that in this society women are simply there to serve men. Whether it’s as a stay-at-home wives, as someone pretty for them to look at or even as a concubine-pilot’s assistant so they can channel their QI to power up the concubines. However, our main character Zetian, has absolutely no interest in sticking to these abhorrent rules and regularly asks the question of when this stark sexism came into play and who decided it (a great moment of the book).

There’s also a fun moment at the end that will 100% have you wanting to read the next book coming out later this year and reminded me of Sanderson’s clever endings.

Iron Widow characters – 4.25/5

Our main character Zetian is your typical strong-willed female character that many fantasy books written by women have. However, unlike a lot of others, there’s actually a more sensitive and mature side to Zetian. Often I find these strong leads struggle with any depth and simply say “no” to everything or resist everything, even if it’s not the smart move. None of that with Zetian.

Alongside this, it doesn’t stick to a lot of “romantasy” tropes that have come to plague a lot of books these days. If you’re looking for the typical “woman falls in love with a guy who’s actively bad and has no personality but is good looking”, you won’t find any of that nonsense here, which is a breath of fresh air!

Iron Widow final rating – 4.5/5

The first few chapters of Iron Widow were fantastic and excited the nerd inside me with massive transforming robots. However, I wasn’t still expecting to be as interested in the characters and the story by the very end. Not only did Iron Widow scratch that nerdy itch inside me but it’s made me genuinely interested to read the sequel. There are no cliche “romantasy” tropes here, just fast-paced action with a badass main character and a plot that has just enough depth and backstory that I’m excited to see where Zhao is taking this next later this year!

Buy a copy of Iron Widow

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