We read the book Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao and were blown away. Come find out our favorite themes of the book and why you should check it out as soon as possible.
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.
The pretty facade
Kmuse: We are shown over and over how fake the façade of privilege, honor, and beauty is in this world. Zetian has to wade through a ton of superficial beauty that tells her how she should be and who she should support. Instead of playing the game, she sees into the world of the men around her to find who she can trust and who is looking for her to fail.
Kdrama Jen: This is definitely a recurring theme. It is a world where power is hidden by apparent fragility and evil hides behind beautiful masks. I appreciate how Zetian and others slowly reveal the truth behind the façades.
Drama Geek: Beauty meant certain death in Zetian’s society and she hid hers until she needed it for revenge. Then she spent the rest of the book pulling down the entire façade of her government’s system piece by piece. It was such a satisfying process.
Kmuse: This book is the perfect blend of historic Chinese culture and a fantasy machine-ruled world. The mixing of the two concepts created some great world-building that is both familiar, as well as futuristic. Of course, with the classic Chinese culture, you have a male-dominated society in which men are in charge and women are there to support them and be expendable as needed. Throughout the book, the author challenges these misogynistic ideas of gender and how limited a woman can be without a male to guide her. It makes you think and contemplate the kind of things we take for granted in our own society.
Kdrama Jen: This book takes a confrontation of typical gender roles and stereotypes and presents it in such a unique way that it feels like a fresh and new concept. I appreciated how Zetian’s growing awareness of what was happening felt very in sync with where I was as a reader. Sometimes there is a bit of a lag between where the readers figure things out and when the main character catches on. I felt like I was discovering information and putting ideas together at the same time as Zetian.
Drama Geek: The author was a master at playing with gender roles. Painting a picture that could be based on the past, but also felt like we were hearing echoes of things women grow up hearing even today.
Love is infinite
Kmuse: Rather than be stuck in a traditional romance, Iron Widow gives one of the best story arcs of a polyamorous relationship. It not only grows organically within the story but is yet another way that Zetian takes her power back. I also appreciated that the romance was a complimentary story arc but did not detract from the main theme of Zetian taking control of the patriarchy and kicking it to the curb.
Kdrama Jen: This story also had strong themes about self-love and self-awareness. I appreciated the emphasis on owning experiences and refusing to live in shame. I also found myself stopping to ponder some of the ideas presented, especially about the nature of love.
Drama Geek: I have never been more convinced that sometimes three is better than two. Each person in this relationship brought with them something the other two needed. They all appreciated each other and cared deeply for one another. The writer was a master and weaving their love story so it didn’t feel complete any other way.
Do we recommend
Kmuse: It was so hard not sharing all my favorite spoilerish moments in this book. I highly recommend giving it a try.
Kdrama Jen: I would recommend this book to adult readers, but I would also want any reader to be aware that there are some controversial topics that are addressed. While I have heard it is considered a YA novel, this is the kind of book that will likely be challenged if it is in a school library. I actually think that is an even better reason to read it, but I want to be clear that there are definitely themes that will get people talking.
Drama Geek: It was very hard to be spoiler free in this. I loved the characters and the storytelling so much that I wanted to share each piece of it. I would recommend Iron Widow to anyone who is willing to see the world a bit different, and love people for who they are.
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Til the next great find,
Dramas With a Side of Kimchi