Fresh Fridays: Iron Widow (#1) by Xiran Jay Zhao

Fresh Fridays: On Friday, I review a brand new series (ie. only has one book released so far) to see if the series is worth keeping up with. Here is this week’s offering:

Iron Widow Series

Other books planned to be in the series:


Synopsis for Iron Widow (from Goodreads):

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.


SERIESous’ Top Picks: Fav Reads 2022
Series: Iron Widow
Author: Xiran Jay Zhao
# of Books: 2 (Full Reading Order Here)
Book Order: Chronological
Complete?: No
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Romance, LGBTQ
Heat Rating: Warm *suggestive content*
Point of View: First Person, Single
Publication Date: September 2021 – ongoing
Source & Format: Public Library–eBook


Why I Picked it Up / My Expectations:

So I first heard of this book in K A Linde’s author newsletter and was really intrigued by her brief review of it. When I read the synopsis I immediately thought this was something I needed to read ASAP! It seemed like it was going to be a blend of Mulan and Gundam SEED (the anime that got me into anime!) so I was really excited to dive in!

What I Liked:

–Gender in Society–

Before you even start the novel, the author has left a note stating “This book is not historical fantasy or alternate history, but a futuristic story set in an entirely different world inspired by cultural elements from across Chinese history”. And I think that is important to keep in mind that she is exploring various aspects of the female role in society throughout various points in history.

I think a lot of readers will draw allusions to Mulan when they read this because Mulan is a mainstream, popular culture story about Chinese Tradtions. Zetian’s story about joining the “army” and the expectation that girls need to serve their families by getting married is very similar to Mulan’s. It was fascinating to see Zetian say “why does being a girl stop me from doing this?” and then proceed to see that yes, she can do it and slowly release herself from the binds that have been placed on her for her whole life.

I enjoy books that challenge the way you think and I felt like this book did that a lot when it comes to societal norms. There have only been a few times in my life where I have felt like my sex has been used against me in a negative way. I couldn’t even fathom Zetian’s reality being a true reality but I know that there are many places in the world where girls are treated as second class citizens simply because they are girls.

–The Romance & Sexuality–

I don’t want to give too much away about the romance but all I’ll say is that it went the way I expected and wanted it to go and I can’t wait to see how it will go in the sequel!

I feel like you can’t talk about gender roles in society without bring sex and sexuality into it. And, again, I liked how we explored sexuality in a lot of different tones throughout the novel. From the male pilots using women sexually before fights, to females needing to be virginal, to the use of violating someone to control them and to queer relationships. There is a lot to unpack but I felt like this book hit the right balance in all respects.


She’s an interesting heroine to follow and understand because she truly doesn’t understand herself. It was fascinating to watch her grow and evolve as the story progressed and she had obstacle after obstacle thrown at her.

What I Didn’t Like:

–Truly Understanding the Qi World–

I think this is mostly a “me” thing because I feel like things are explained well enough. I usually read this book just before bed, so sometimes I don’t remember the finer details of how things work. So I struggled keeping the moments of reality and fantasy straight sometimes or remembering how or why certain people could do certain tasks.

My Expectations for the Rest of the Series:

I have a lot of questions I want answered and I can’t wait to see how they are!

My Rating: 4.5/5

Iron Widow 4.5/5 | Book 2 TBP


This book certainly lived up to the hype for me! I can’t wait to explore more of this fantastic world!

Read if You Like: fantasy novels, strong heroines
Avoid if You: dislike science fiction


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Comments 3

  • Great review! This will be a must read for me!
    (And it’s so cool to see another Gundam Seed fan, btw..)

    • I adore Gundam Seed — still one of my all time favourites years later! I think you’ll enjoy the mechanica aspect for sure! Let me know your thoughts when you get a chance to read it!

      • I agree! Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, Evangelion.. all the ‘oldies’ were so good. Now I watch stuff like MHA and, no offense to anyone, but I wonder what happened.
        I’ll do that! Have a great week!😊

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