Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

Iron Widow (Iron Widow, #1)

by Xiran Jay Zhao

Instant New York Times No.1 Bestseller

Science fiction and East Asian myth combine in this dazzling retelling of the rise of Wu Zetian, the only female emperor in Chinese history.

'This is the historical-inspired, futuristic sci-fi mash-up of my wildest dreams.' Chloe Gong

'Raging against the patriarchy in spectacular style.' Observer, best books of the year

'Think The Handmaid's Tale meets Pacific Rim and buckle up.' Shelley Parker-Chan

'Like its ferocious heroine, Iron Widow is brutal, bloodthirsty and full of rage.' Julie C. Dao

I have no faith in love. Love cannot save me. I choose vengeance.

The boys of Huaxia dream of the celebrity status that comes with piloting Chrysalises - giant transforming robots that battle the aliens beyond the Great Wall. Their female co-pilots are expected to serve as concubines and sacrifice their lives.
When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, her plan is to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister's death. But on miraculously emerging from the cockpit unscathed after her first battle, she is declared an Iron Widow - the most feared pilot of all.
Now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she sets her sights on bigger things. The time has come to stop more girls from being sacrificed.

Reviewed by Quirky Cat on

4.5 of 5 stars


The Iron Widow is the first novel in a series of the same name, written by Xiran Jay Zhao. This is one of those books that has been getting a lot of ink – and with good reason. I'm so happy to see it making so many different lists, and I hope that many readers get a chance to read it!

Huaxia depends on Chrysalises – giant transforming robots – to protect the Great Wall and the people within. Each mecha requires two pilots, a boy to take command and a girl to help take the strain. It is often the girls who pay the price.

Zetian knows this all too well. What started as a quest for revenge quickly turned into something else as power sweeps through her world. Now Zetian has had a taste for it, and she's never going to let go.

“He should be the Iron King, and I should be the Iron Queen. Yet Iron Demon and Iron Widow is all they'll let us be.”

Holy cow. If I could choose one a handful of books to read over and over again, you better believe that Iron Widow would make the list. This delightfully complex novel has so much to offer, and I'm just captivated by it all.

To say that I was blown away by Iron Widow would be the understatement of the century. Zetian is so very much my hero, as is Xiran Jay Zhao for creating this novel. It simultaneously tackles patriarchy, revenge plots, and a quest for power. And it does so with style.

Did I mention that there are giant mecha battling alien mecha? That's a thing I didn't know I needed in a setting such as this. It reminded me of a better thought-out version of Pacific Rim. I mean no offense to fans of the movie – as I myself am one. is just that good.

Honestly, the marketing pitch for Iron Widow is freaking amazing: "Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid's Tale in a polyamorous reimagining of China's only female emperor." Um. Yes, please! I saw that description and knew that this book was one worth reading. I wasn't disappointed, let me tell you that much!

Thanks to Penguin Teen and #NetGalley for making this book available for review. All opinions expressed are my own.

For more reviews check out Quirky Cat's Fat Stacks

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Reading updates

  • Started reading
  • 3 September, 2021: Finished reading
  • 3 September, 2021: Reviewed