Bess’ Book Recs: Iron Widow, by Xiran Jay Zhao

Let’s be honest, Iron Widow doesn’t really need me to write it a review but after reading it I’m writing it one anyway.

This book is for anyone who thought that Katniss-Peeta-Gale had a simple solution. It’s for anyone who wanted Ender’s Game, but not written by Orson Scott Card.

It’s for every girl who’s ever felt the feminine urge to go completely feral.

I had actually checked Iron Widow out once before, but hadn’t been in a headspace to read it. This time however, I was up until 2:30am finishing it.

There’s so much to love in this book, y’all! Remember that how you loved Katniss’ feral nature? How she just kind of embraced that she wasn’t a ‘good’ person and was willing to do what needed doing?

You’re going to love Zetian.

Her sister was murdered by a Very Important Soldier guy, and she’s shaped her entire life around getting revenge. Over the course of the book she develops A List.

I have to admit, mechas have never been my favorite trope, but it’s a super effective framing in this book. The war against the kaiju and the mechanics the army deploys to fight them gives space to consider things like “good vs evil” “what does a monster look like” “forgiveness vs vengeance” “what is gender, anyway” and “individualism vs collectivism.” I don’t tend to think critically about the media I consume–I’m just here to be entertained–so I got dragged through several moments of “Yeah, that makes sense” immediately followed by “oh! Violently proven wrong!”

Iron Widow covers a lot of ground in a relatively short time, with no time to reflect on each dilemma, which seems to be how Zetian lives her life, a “no regrets” style.

Oh, did I mention she’s a disable hero who does a lot of murdering and violence? Because that was spectacular to see. I was only a little tongue in cheek about the ‘feminine urge to go feral,’ because I think every girl at some point or another wants to rend/burn/destroy the societal expectations that bind them, preferably with their teeth in someone’s throat, and Zetian does it.

I discovered Tamora Pierce in middle school and was obsessed with the idea of a girl being able to do violent, athletic things. If I’d had Zetian then, I think my mind might have exploded.

This is an incredibly jumbled review, in part because I wrote some of it at 3am when I couldn’t sleep because of having just finished the book, but the short version is, I adore Iron Widow, and my one regret is that it appears to be the start of a series and none of you warned me.

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