Review: Iron Widow (Iron Widow #1)

Title: Iron Widow (Iron Widow #1)
Author: Xiran Jay Zhao
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Science Fiction
Publisher: Penguin Teen
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Format: Ebook
Release Date: September 21, 2021
Rating: ★★★★★


Goodreads Synopsis:

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.


Eighteen-year-old Zetian signs herself up as a concubine-pilot to avenge her older sister’s death. Girls are paired with pilots, who use their qi power to power their machines and fight the aliens beyond the Great Wall, and the girls are sacrificed for their power. In Zetian’s first battle, where she is paired up with the boy who killed her sister, she surprises everyone when she survives the battle but the pilot doesn’t. Zetian is more powerful than they expected, so she’s paired up with the dangerous Li Shimin, one of the most powerful pilots they have. Now that Zetian has some power, she wants to figure out the reason behind this misogynistic situation to save girls from being sacrificed.

This book definitely lived up to the hype. It was action packed and exciting. The beginning was a little predictable, when Zetian achieved what she set out to do as a concubine-pilot immediately. Soon after avenging her sister’s death, the story picked up and had some surprising twists.

Gender was a major theme in this story. Zetian lived in a misogynistic society where the lives of girls weren’t valued. Girls were sent to the battlefield to be sacrificed during alien battles. However, when Zetian gained some power, with having a high qi rating and having avenged her sister’s death, she was prepared to prevent girls from being sacrificed in the future.

Iron Widow is an amazing fantasy debut!

Thank you Penguin Random House Canada for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

What to read next:

Jade Fire Gold by June C.L. Tan

The Keeper of Night by Kylie Lee Baker

Have you read Iron Widow? What did you think of it?


Author: jilljemmett

Jill lives in Toronto, Canada. She has studied English, Creative Writing, and Publishing. Jill is the creator and content producer of Jill’s Book Blog, where she has published a blog post every day for the last four years, including 5-7 book reviews a week. She can usually be found with her nose in a book.

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