Review: Iron Widow (Iron Widow #1)

Title: Iron Widow (Iron Widow #1)
Author: Xiran Jay Zhao
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Romance
Publisher: Penguin Teen
Source: Tandem Collective
Format: Paperback
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 volunteers to be a concubine-pilot to avenge her sister’s death. Females act as concubine-pilots to assist the male pilots in controlling giant transforming robots as they battle aliens. When Zetian kills the pilot who killed her sister easily, she’s given the title of Iron Widow. She’s paired up with Li Shimin, an infamous and dangerous pilot. Zetian wants to use her new power as the Iron Widow to figure out why they live in a misogynistic society that is willing to sacrifice women. 

I reread this book with the Tandem Readalong to refresh my memory of it before the sequel comes out. The sequel, Heavenly Tyrant, is scheduled to come out in April 2024. I’m so glad I had the chance to reread this book. It’s such a powerful story about challenging gender stereotypes and norms. Iron Widow ended with a bang that makes me wish the sequel was coming out sooner. I can’t wait to read it next year!

I highly recommend reading Iron Widow if you haven’t yet!

Thank you Tandem Collective and Penguin Random Canada for sending me a copy of this book. 

Content warnings: death of sibling, death of parents, sexual assault (off page), alcohol abuse, physical abuse, torture

What to read next:

The Witch King (The Witch King #1) by H.E. Edgmon

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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