• Iron Widow

  • By: Xiran Jay Zhao
  • Narrated by: Rong Fu
  • Length: 12 hrs and 14 mins
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (1,501 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

2021 GoodReads Choice Award

2021 Nebula Award

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

Instant #1 New York Times Bestseller!

An Amazon Editors’ Pick for Best Young Adult

An Amazon Editor’s Pick for Best Science Fiction and Fantasy

A Polygon Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Book of 2021

An Indigo #1 Teen Book of the Year

An Indigo Best Teen Book (2021)

An Indigo Best Teen Sci-Fi & Fantasy Book (2021)

A Barnes & Noble's Best YA Fantasy & Adventure of 2021

A New York Public Library Best Book for Teens (2021)

A Canadian Children's Book Centre Favourite Book of the Year (2021)

A Boston Globe Best Book of 2021

A Cultured Vultures’ “21 Best Books Of 2021”

A 2021 Goodreads Choice Awards Nominee, Best Young Adult & Science Fiction

Nominated for the Science Fiction Writers of America's Andre Norton Nebula Award for Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction

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

"[This] duology opener will appeal to those seeking high-energy, feminist, queer narratives."Publishers Weekly

"[An] incredible novel, fun and exciting, sometimes horrible to read, but in all the ways that make you fall in love with a character."Tor Online 

Editor's Pick

The Hunger Games + Evangelion
If I were ever in a fight, I’d want Zetian to be on my side. Zetian absolutely refuses to bow down to what is expected of her, which, in this Chinese-inspired fantasy world, is to sacrifice her life so her family will have enough money to afford a bride price for her brother. Just thinking about it makes my blood boil, which is exactly what made Zetian’s story so satisfying. She defies the system one increasingly impossible step at a time, from becoming one of the most powerful Chrysalis (aka giant robot) pilots in the army—let alone the most powerful female pilot—to basically crushing all her enemies. There are two boys who will do anything for her, but don’t worry, it’s not a love triangle; it’s even better. I was so appreciative of Rong Fu’s narration to help me understand the pronunciation, and I really felt Zetian’s deep rage and frustration through her performance. Xiran Jay Zhao is a name to remember, because this creator is exploding onto the scene in a big way with Iron Widow. —Melissa B., Audible Editor

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What listeners say about Iron Widow

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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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.

22 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.

15 people found this helpful

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Not Quite What I Expected

To be completely honest, the premise sounded amazing, so I was disappointed when I could only it a quarter of the way in before I gave up. The prose is just...disjointed. The heroine is one note (sulky/angry) to the point I couldn't get into the story. The narrator did what she could, but it's not written well enough to make up for it.

8 people found this helpful

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🔥🔥🔥😎

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!!

7 people found this helpful

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Maybe it was the timing

If I had rated this at 70% finished, I would’ve given it 5 stars. The writing, the world building, the story, the pacing are all excellent. Adored the feminist message as well.
But (spoilers from here on) the polygamous relationship was a turnoff. Still, to each his own. Could’ve gotten past it. However, reading about the murderous rampage the main character goes on, justifying the deaths because of how the people wronged her, was too hard to swallow a week after another high school shooting. Maybe would’ve cheered for her more if they were actively trying to kill her but most were unarmed and pleading for their lives when she killed them. Just didn’t sit well with me. Really wanted to love this. 😞

6 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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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.

4 people found this helpful

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I can't wait for the next one

the story: AMAZING
the romance: SO HOT
the struggle: REAL
I am emotional distraught after reading this, in all the best ways. It has been too long since a book has devastated me and I cannot wait until the next one.

3 people 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.

3 people found this helpful

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Great concepts - poor excecution

This book had some really interesting and unique concepts. However, characters and pacing felt inconsistent, throughout. There was a huge lack of build up to what was supposed to be significant moments, and overall it read similarly to a draft. If the writer had reworked this book I'm sure I would have enjoyed it a lot more. Overall it's a good first effort with many interesting ideas, but it majorly lacks consistency and natural dialogue, which felt extremely clunky and somewhat juvenile. I'm sure the author will improve with time and I am interested in what she'll come out with next as she has a lot of potential.

2 people found this helpful

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Great concept, heavy-handed execution

I really wanted to love this book because I thought the concept was very inventive and I watch and enjoy the author's YouTube channel. Even though I actually agree with the ethos of the messages in this book, I found their delivery to be very heavy handed. It also suffers from "perfect protagonist" syndrome, which doesn't let you feel afraid for the main protagonist whenever she's in trouble. In a highly creative book like this, I typically like it to be grounded by people who act like people...I wish there was a bit more of that.

2 people found this helpful