Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

I just finished this YA SFF book that has been described as ‘Pacific Rim’ meets The Handmaid’s Tale’ and that is a combination you wouldn’t expect to work, but somehow it does.

So, set in a futuristic world inspired by Chinese history, this book follows Wu Zetian (a character inspired by the Chinese Empress). In the world, boys and girls are chosen to pilot these mecha-things called ‘Chrysalises’ together to fight against the alien Hunduns, However the girl almost always ends up dead in the process. However when Zetian gets chosen as a ‘concubine-pilot’, she ends up becoming an ‘Iron Widow’- a girl who ends up surviving and having her male partner die in the Chrysalis rather than the other way round.

This book is quite heavy handed in its feminist themes, but somehow it worked very well. Normally, i prefer a more subtle, nuanced approach, but I felt the heavy-handedness worked well for this book.  Maybe because it fit in with the tone of the book. Zetian is so unapolegetically angry with society and you just end up rooting for her.

I loved the world-building and the characters as well. It also had the typical setup for a love triangle, with Zetian having a  lover back in her hometown (who fits in with the nice, sweet guy trope),and thrown in with an enigmatic, ‘bad boy’ type, but rather than having her chose between them, the three of them get into a polyamorous relationship. And that worked really well in my opinion. Overall i really enjoyed the vibe of this book, which ended in a cliffhanger! I really want to read the sequel when it comes out.



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