Fantasy (Teen), Science Fiction (Teen), YA Fiction

Review: Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao [ARC]

Disclaimer: I received an eARC copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.


Everything about this novel caught my interest from the start: the gorgeous cover, the premise, the representation… it was too exciting to pass up! Here are my thoughts on this YA SFF novel:

Iron Widow (Iron Widow, #1) book cover

Iron Widow (Iron Widow, #1)

by Xiran Jay Zhao

Published August 21, 2021 by Penguin Teen
Series: Iron Widow
ISBN: 0735269939

Data from Goodreads

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.

My Review: Sadly Disappointed

Rep: LGBTQIA+ rep, Asian rep, polyamory

TW: alcoholism, sexual assault, torture, violence, feminicide

Marketed as Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid’s Tale, this feminist SFF story was lacking in a lot of ways.

The Pros: What Worked For Me

  • This was my first time reading a novel with a polyamorous relationship and I was LIVING for it! It’s such a fresh take on the typical YA romance.
  • Shimin was a decently developed character, with a complex past and motivation.
  • The ending recaptured my interest with its fast pace.

The Cons: What I Didn’t Like

  • The major problem in this novel is the lack of thought behind motivations. Everything is grossly simplified and readers are just told to accept it blindly. I wanted more depth from the story and from all of the characters.
  • Zetian annoyed me because she was so one-dimensional, and yet, we were supposed to root for her. She had a prickly personality and almost no redeeming qualities.
  • The worldbuilding was almost non-existent. We never find out why things are the way they are, or how things even work. If you are familiar with Pacific Rim, then you will see many commonalities but again, there is no real structure to this world.
  • The romance was a let-down because it was very insta-love; the MC goes from hate to love very quickly and I never found the attraction between any of the characters believable.
  • The writing style was extremely juvenile and really needed some editing.

Clearly, this novel had some issues. Honestly, I think it needs more editing and more development on all levels. It has the potential to be amazing, and the ending has me really excited for the sequel. But for now, I have to give this 2/5 stars.

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4 thoughts on “Review: Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao [ARC]

    1. Aww no don’t be nervous! Everyone has a different experience and a lot of people did enjoy this story on Goodreads! I think the premise is interesting and I’m still keen to read the sequel so it definitely had some positives to it that made it worthwhile, hopefully you find it to be the same!

  1. That’s too bad that this one didn’t live up to expectations. I definitely look for novels that delve deep into characters’ motivations, so it’s disappointing to hear that some characters come across as one-dimensional. Will probably check this one out from the library because I have to satisfy my curiosity. Great review!

    1. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on it, hopefully you like it more than I did because it does have its positives!

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