Book Review of Iron Widow – 2 Stars

Image via Leigh-An Johnson

Image via Leigh-An Johnson

Lauren Kramer, Writer

Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao, fits into both genres of young adult (YA) fantasy and romance books. The story starts off with the life of a girl, named Zetian, who wants revenge because of her Big Sister’s (We never learn her sister’s name) death, and is willing to sacrifice herself to kill the pilots who helped to cause her sister’s death. In the story, the pilots are using the chi (the spiritual power) of the girls to power battle machines, used to fight against an alien enemy that is believed to be a threat to the human race. Zetian is able to live through the experience and take out a pilot who relishes stealing girls’ lives. Zetian is then known as an “Iron Widow” and is placed as the partner of the most powerful pilot alive, a man who is labeled as a murderer and mentally unstable named Li Shimin. Together they defeat many enemies without taking life to power themselves in the process. Throughout the book, Zetian uncovers the deception of a broken government and how far the government is willing to go to win battles and keep secrets. Also along the way, she becomes involved in a romantic triangle between Shimin and her childhood friend Gao Yizhi, and they become a team that is trying to find the truth and prevent further deaths of females in the piloting system. There is lots of action in this story, and there is always something happening to the main characters, making them have to struggle to hold their own values and beliefs. From the process of the story, the reader’s imagination is strongly used to create battle scenes that really bring the book to life.

I liked this book in the way that it was very fast-paced and easy to understand. What was interesting about this writing style was that it had what felt like its own “accent” to it, making it different from other YA books. Another thing that I really enjoyed about this book was how Chinese culture was weaved in throughout the story. It felt natural to why things worked and were described so anyone could understand what the symbols of the culture meant in the story. The action scenes were very well described and really helped the reader create a vivid mental picture of what the characters in the story were experiencing and going through. I also like that this book broke through the mold of traditional relationships, making a polyamorous relationship between the characters, rather than the usual triangle of two guys fighting over one girl. This type of relationship is becoming more included in books and stories as time goes on, but it is currently uncommon to see a relationship between three people in the current selection of YA books.

One thing I didn’t like about this book was the way the main character’s personality was created and explored. Throughout the whole book, the only traits that were given to Zetian were her hate for men and her need for revenge. She never really experienced a moment of suffering where the reader could relate to her or explore the depth of her need for revenge and hate. Right at the beginning, she is first introduced through interaction with Yizhi (later involved in a romantic relationship), who is a male character in the story that is trying to be kind and caring to her. Even though he has never done anything described in the story to make him seem wicked or dishonorable, Zetian is mean to him just because he is of the male gender. Another time in the story I didn’t care for was the time when Zetian, Yizhi, and Shimin began their polyamorous relationship. Their relationship is not explored nearly at all, jumping from her hate towards them because of their gender to her immediate love for them, which seems to manifest out of almost nothing. This ruined their relationships for me, making them seem shallow and unrealistic in how characters were meant to interact with each other and make the reader feel more a part of understanding their relationship with each other. The final thing I didn’t like about the book was the ending. It seemed very forced, setting up the storyline for another book. It also had the generic screaming of “nooo…” scene at the very end, which took me out of the experience of the story and instead made me feel annoyed.

In the end, I think this book was an okay read. I thought the idea of the story was interesting and something new with the added Chinese culture, but I couldn’t get past the faults of the character development and the storyline. I rate this story with two stars because of how I was prevented from really getting into the book because of the characters, and how the men in the story were presented as all inherently evil with no chance for them to have character growth. If you like Pacific Rim with a revenge arc story and the inclusion of Chinese culture, then I would recommend this to you. Otherwise, I would recommend getting this book from the library instead of spending $15.00 on this story. This story could have a lot of potential, but for me, I want character growth throughout the story, rather than the constant need for revenge and hate towards the male gender.