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Publisher's Summary

An instant number one New York Times best seller!

Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid's Tale in this blend of Chinese history and mecha science fiction for YA listeners.

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.

©2021 Xiran Jay Zhao (P)2021 Penguin Teen

Critic Reviews

“The action-packed plot, involving battles both physical and mental, is original and incorporates queer themes and Zetian’s unwavering, cathartic feminism.” (Kirkus Reviews)

"Like its ferocious heroine, Iron Widow is brutal, bloodthirsty, and full of rage. Zetian's fight to shatter patriarchal definitions of power makes for a truly thrilling read." (Julie C. Dao, author of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns)

"Absolutely epic. This is the historical-inspired, futuristic sci-fi mash-up of my wildest dreams. Iron Widow charges headfirst into a world of giant mechas and uncompromising characters. The brutal beauty of Xiran Jay Zhao’s writing kept me glued to the page from start to finish." (Chloe Gong, New York Times best-selling author of These Violent Delights

"A bold and brash story that will grab you by the throat from page one. Zhao expertly weaves a story that polishes off classic sci-fi themes and re-imagines them in a lush futuristic world inspired by Ancient China. With an unapologetic heroine who pushes so far beyond the boundaries of expectations, the reader will go on a journey of twists and turns that will make them gasp with each page turn. Thrilling, heart-wrenching, and epic!” (Kat Cho, internationally best-selling author of Vicious Spirits)

What listeners say about Iron Widow

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  • Overall
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    5 out of 5 stars

🔥🔥🔥😎

legit good stuff here

good story, cool integration of chinese culture. having the actual chinese spoken in the story was a real immersive experience. that's not the point, but as a silly american mexican who doesn't have native chinese speakers around it was really neat to finally start to be able to recognize the tones just from hearing the story for several hours. i really think this is amazing!!

4 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars

Exciting without being exhausting

Shows like Handmaid's Tale can be exhausting to watch with the content need for the main characters to bend to save their own lives, but the protagonist of this story never feels like she is giving up any ground so it doesn't feel like watching or reading an hour of straight suffering to get to a victory. Whenever it feels too on the nose and heavy handed with the main characters learning a lesson or seeing something fall through, I remember it's a giant kaiju vs mech story and it feels in place for the universe. Not to mention the amazing twists in the ending that make me excited for the next book.

4 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars

A fun yet uneven read.

There are a lot of great concepts at work in this book. It has a very interesting setting and some great character moments. If you want some fun anime style mecha fights with Chinese culture thrown in, look no further, this book has what you need!

There are plenty of flaws here too. The dialogue often feels very awkward and the main character will come to many of her poignant feminist epiphanies seemingly out of nowhere. Being a fan of Xiran from her online presence and content, it often feels like the protagonist, Zetian, will be speaking with Xiran's voice instead of her own. Another issue is world building. This world has a ton of potential, but the world building left very bare, barring some reveals at the end. This may be rectified in the teased sequel.

Don't go into this book expecting a moral protagonist, this is a revenge plot. It is a female power fantasy and suffers from many of the issues that male power fantasies do.

Overall I enjoyed my time with this book, despite its flaws. It was a good first book for author Xiran Jay Zhao, and I look forward to seeing how she develops as an author.

3 people found this helpful

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Hunger Games meets Girls of Paper and Fire

This book did everything right that the Hunger Games did wrong.
I'm upset that I finished it because I need more.

2 people found this helpful

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Very entertaining!

I enjoyed the story but felt that the constant hammering on the male sex and making males over the top obtusely evil was difficult at times. The main character did a good job of portraying a strong female in a patriarchal society. Clever ideas reminiscent of some action SciFi movies in the last 10 years or so. I got a flavor of some aspects of asian culture and the treatment of women I had little idea of, and I appreciate the writer's including that in the book. I would definitely read more from this writer.

1 person found this helpful

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Awesome!!!

This story has everything. The world building and political mechanisms will keep you intrigued. The pilots and battles will have you on the edge of your seat. The voice actress did an amazing job, believe me it’s worth every penny!

1 person found this helpful

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Unconventional and Beautiful

This story was stunning from start to finish. It questions everything in an incredibly unique setting that combines elements of ancient history with modern and futuristic convenience. It is a stirring dialogue on what it means to be a woman, a man, and a partner.

The main character goes against the grain of most female ya protagonists, she is strong but she has her flaws, she can be ruthless and honestly evil but has her weaknesses. She is a terrifying and beautifully intricate character that barrels forth with an enviable fearlessness.

The narrator performed beautifully, and the pacing and pronunciation is authentic and consistent throughout. it can be a bit difficult to discern between characters at times but context and the specific way certain words are pronounced help greatly.

1 person found this helpful

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Fantastic

I first found this author on YouTube and have been following every single video on Xiran Jay Zhao’s channel. I have to say I was looking forward to this book and my expectations were blown out of the water. Amazing work. Hoping there is a sequel coming.

1 person found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars

A slightly different spin on a cliche

The performance for this story was amazing. It’s a very typical YA cliche with a slightly different spin that I loved. The different touches of Chinese history throughout the book was also an amazing experience and great addition to a book.

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Truly a wonderful read.

Loved it! It was an exillerating journey through fascinating world building and an amazing protagonist.