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.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Iron Widow Review:
I will be loudly and aggressively recommending Iron Widow until I get this book (and that ENDING) out of my system (which, I don’t see happening this millennium). Xiran Jay Zhao has written a unique and fascinating world where the people of Huaxia, under siege from the Hunduns, send young men into battle in Chrysalises. These giant robots transform into the stuff of legend when piloted by one young man and one woman, which, could have been a study in teamwork BUT the rulers and strategists said “nah.” Each pilot powers the Chrysalis’ transformation and firepower by connecting with and draining the lifeforce of their female partner (the “concubine pilot”) during battle – sometimes at the cost of the woman’s life. Zetian, reeling from the death of her sister thanks to one such pilot, joins the ranks of the concubine pilots set on revenge.
Zetian is the main character I didn’t know I needed in my life/on my shelf. Zetian is delightfully unhinged. She’s filled with righteous, glorious rage against a world designed to make her less. Less than the male leaders. Less than the wealthy and connected elite. Less than she’s truly capable of becoming. Her initial drive to avenge the death of her sister sets her on an Arya-Stark-before-the-show-went-downhill style path, but, unlike HBO’s Arya, Xiran Jay Zhao’s Zetian is so much more than a murder list. This would be a five-star read for me on this alone, but – like a gift- there is also a wonderfully written polyamorous relationship that shows the power of a triangle when it’s left intact instead of written away in the third book.
Read this book when you want something stronger than coffee to give you a boost to go after your (hopefully, less bloody) dreams.
Thank you to the publisher and Net Galley for the digital ARC (I also bought this book for myself!)