Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao
Rating: 5 Stars!
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Representation: Canadian-Chinese author, Chinese, Disabled, and Polyamory (specifically throuple)
Content Warnings: Sexist abuse, alcoholism, violence, and sexual assault (minor).
Elements included: Elemental powers, aliens, romance, sacrifices, and concubines.
"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." - author's website
No one prepared me for exactly how badass this book was going to be!!! It was incredible. Zetian is strong-willed, thoughtful, and a disabled revolutionary. I felt extremely empowered by her refusal to give into her society's expectations and that her disability was never treated as something that diminished her power. Unlike a lot of YA Sci-Fi of the past 10 years, Zetian doesn't strive to be different or better than other girls or women. She refuses to believe that they have a "naturally" subservient place in life and strives to destroy those who have suppressed them all along.
While there is a bit of romance in this story, Zhao does not slip into the love triangle trope. Rather, her characters explore what it means to love someone and whether jealousy makes sense for them at all. Given that all that binds the people of Huaxia in their roles are these supposed rules of what is "natural" for them based on their sex. Zetian and her partners learn that they must question everything that they were taught.
This book really drives home the message that we should always question whether we are actually bound by "natural" traits or just conditioned and who told us we were? why? This will always connect to power over our lives, the narrative, and our futures.
Iron Widow is definitely one of my new favorite books of all time! This is a wonderful book for anyone into science fiction, philosophy, battles, revolutions, and feminism.
NOTE: For fox who are intimidated by trying to figure out how to pronounce some of the names, etc. you may want to listen to the audiobook. It's wonderful!
Other things I love about this book -
Zetian's righteous rage!
Discussion of different types of manhood.