The thing about Iron Widow is that it is so unbelievably cool that you as a person become more cool just by reading it. I mean that. I literally feel like a cooler person now that I have read this book. Not only is it well paced and well written, it is full of such unique and complex characters that even though there is a big cast, none of them get blurred with the others. This book is just incredible.
Will my review be a little incoherent…. maybe. But I’m going to do my best.
Iron Widow takes place in a world where metal beasts, called Hunduns, attack the people in the provinces we would call China today. In order to combat these mechanical beasts, the people created Chrysalises, their own mechanical beasts to battle the Hunduns. Through qi, these Chrysalises channel the spirit type (Earth, Water, Fire, Wood, and Metal) and deliver deadly attacks. These Chrysalises are powered by two pilots, a man and a woman, and because men’s qi is so much stronger than women’s the female pilots (also called concubines) die. This is accepted and understood in society. Families send their daughters off to certain death for money and a sense of righteousness. Sometimes, very rarely, a concubine’s spirit levels match that of their male partner and in these situations they become Matches and pairs. It is rare and requires a lot of strength that women don’t normally have. But everything changes when Wu Zetian attacks.
Wu Zetian is PISSED. The world hates women and she hates it back. Her big sister was sent off to be a concubine and died at the hand of a pilot before battle which meant her family never got the money that was owed. This latter fact upset her family more than her own death. Except for Zetian. This act fueled an even greater hatred and caused her to create a plan of vengeance to kill the pilot responsible, even though it means she herself will die. Her best friend, Yizhi, tries to stop her from going, but in the end, nothing can stop Zetian from fulfilling her plan, and so she goes off to the great wall to become a concubine.
There is so much more to this story than what I cobbled together above. I can’t explain how much I enjoyed this story. Zetian is RUTHLESS in such an amazing and vicarious way. My anger mixed with hers. I felt her pain. I felt her glory. She is paired with Shimin, a killer that was taken from the prison to be a pilot because his qi levels were off the charts, second only to a legendary Emperor from 220 years ago. The relationship between Wu Zetian, Shimin, and Yizhi is probably, ugh idk if I can really say this, but probably my favorite part of the story. It’s messy and complex and full of pain and anger and sadness and love. I love that we got.to have a polyamorous relationship because IT’S ABOUT DAMN TIME. As Wu Zetian says, “the triangle is the strongest shape.”
I know this book has been hyped and thank god for that because otherwise I would be disappointed in the reading world. Everyone always says they want a ruthless, bloodthirsty, powerful female lead, and in this book, they got one. Wu Zetian is more than just her anger, she is full of the whole range of human emotion, she is not just one note of buzzwords. And that’s part of what makes this book so special. It’s full of nuance and complexity and really let’s you examine what these people are really like. This is what we mean about have strong female characters. Not that their only trait is strength, but that they find their own strength through sheer force of will AND with love and support from others.
Please read this. Please buy this book. I got an advanced copy and I already placed a pre-order for it. It’s just that fantastic.