Hello and welcome to this review of one of my favourite 2021 releases. Is Zetian one of my favourite protagonists of all time? Yes!!! But not only that, Iron Widow has a fast-paced, gripping plot that held my attention from start to finish in one of the strongest ways. I am blown away by how fantastic every element of this book is – it is a masterful use of first person present tense, which I usually strongly dislike, the characters are just perfect and the story is a complete banger. Please read this when it releases in September, you will not be disappointed.
Star rating: 5 stars
Iron Widow follows Zetian, a girl who’s strong character immediately flies off the page and carries this book through its opening chapters. She offers herself up as a concubine pilot in a world that values men, with the aim of killing the pilot that killed her sister. Zetian takes no prisoners, she is fierce, she speaks her mind, she is cold and calculating. But she also has love in her heart, and a miraculous softer side given the world she has grown up in. After killing the murder, the strategists don’t know what to do with their new Iron Widow, a girl who can use boys to pilot rather than vice versa. She is paired with the strongest pilot of all, Shimin, a boy who murdered his family and is treated like a prisoner.
The other boy in Zetian’s life is Yizhi, a rich guy from the city who she has been hanging out with for a while now. To begin with, Zetian doesn’t let boys distract her from her goals but between Yizhi and Shimin, she has two who see the real her and don’t shy away. It’s no secret that this book is poly and I am here for it – it totally made sense in the story, these three characters have one of the most perfect dynamics and I couldn’t ask for more in the romance department.
I have to say it, I am obsessed with Zetian’s directness in a world where women are forced to be submissive. The plot is driven by her decisions and it’s a huge hit because of it. Her approach to everything is just no cares left to give, except for the people she loves. It makes for the most interesting of stories, and that’s not to mention the shocking but not that shocking on reflection twists at the end. I also really enjoyed both Shimin and Yizhi as love interests, they are both complimentary in different ways and have their own tragic backstories. These boys show that there is more to people than what you see and Zetian goes on a journey to realise that.
The world-building is very much drop a reader in it and let them figure it out, but Xiran Jay Zhao does a wonderful job of explaining some complex human-machine teaming style ‘magic’ in a simple way. It never took me out of the story which I am very grateful. Add to that the in-built misogyny that Zetian is trying to prove and it really is a frustrating story that inspires rage at injustice and inequality.
I could honestly talk about this book forever but I feel like readers should pick it up and experience it for themselves. I really don’t know how I’m going to wait for the next book because the ending is immense and sets up a follow-up that has the potential to be just as brilliant if not more so, expanding the world to include more and growing Zetian’s character. Overall, this is an absolute banger of a book that I can’t wait to read again before the sequel comes out.