Book Reviews

Review: Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

I don’t have words for how much I loved Iron Widow. As I sad on social media, it made me soft shell crab soft. Like I loved the characters so much and they made a home within my heart. Keep reading this book review for my full thoughts.


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.


(Disclaimer: I received this book from Netgalley. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)

TW: abuse, suicidal ideation, references to sexual assault, torture, alcohol addiction, feet binding

There aren’t enough stars in the universe for Iron Widow. This book has stole my heart in its entirety. As someone obsessed with science fiction, with dystopian worlds and rebellious secrets, and of ambitious girls Iron Widow is my catnip. Inspired by the rise of the only female emperor in China, Iron Widow is an explosion of color, bloodshed, and screams. The world building is nuanced, detailed, and absolutely immersive. Amidst this world built on sexism, Iron Widow is fiercely feminist.

Fighting for Zetian’s right of existence. Not only her immense power and potential, but her right to be flawed, nuanced, and full of ambition. An image that destabilizes not only everything in the world of Iron Widow, but also our world. I devoured Iron Widow in a matter of days to the point where I had to force myself to read other books, because I couldn’t put this one down.

The world building and the rage will sweep you away. And if you’re not already captivated, Zetian is a force to be reckoned with and I fell in love with her from the beginning. She’s ruthless, determined, and brave. I could write a whole essay on all the quotes and actions I love from her. But I was not expecting how soft I’d be for the side characters like Li Shimin. I mean it, I AM SOFT. Did I also mention how queer this book is? It just gets better and better.


Iron Widow examines the ways the world tries to shame women for their desires. For what images men put onto them To weaponize their bodies and the girls lives as sacrifices and stepping stones. It celebrates found family, difficult choices made in the heat of battle, and rebellion against a system rigged against them.

(Disclaimer: Some of the links below are affiliate links. For more information you can look at the Policy page. If you’re uncomfortable with that, know you can look up the book on any of the sites below to avoid the link)

Find Iron Widow on Goodreads, Amazon, Indiebound, & The Book Depository.


What is your favorite feminist YA?

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