This book is making me trust BookTok again. This is the debut of one of the first AuthorTokers I followed and I am severely late to the party while reading this. But this marked a milestone as the first book I read in 2023.
AND OH MY GOD YOU GUYS!
Zetian gets recruited as a co-pilot of a Chrysalis, Qi infused mecha that fight off the aliens threatening to demolish civilization. But Zetian is not looking to be a hero, she’s out for revenge. To kill the pilot who killed her sister in battle by draining all her Qi out of her. Just like many other pilots have done. But when is succeeds, an unbelievable power and source of Qi is found within her. And instead of being executed, she becomes a puppet to this scheme. Just like her even deadlier co-pilot she is paired up with.
Even from reading the blurb the atmosphere and vibes of this novel were incredibly strong. I mean, Qi infused mecha in a Chinese-inspired futuristic world? Sign me the hell up. It sounds like something where you’re unsure if it would work, but it absolutely does. I think where this particularly hits is with content dictating form, with the feminist and Chinese history retellings in a sci fi setting clearly dictated how the world and the story would behave. And it works so freaking well. I’m not sure if Zhao knew about Sondheim’s musical writing advice, but whatever they did such practices translated well in the creation of Iron Widow.
While at first seeming like a battle heavy plot, I appreciate to no end the variety of conflicts and plot points this novel had to mix things up. It was interpersonal, it was political, it got media practices and celebrity culture involved. Gender, colonization, patriarchy screwing the world over. What doesn’t this book have? Something to fall asleep to, that’s for sure. You really get your money’s worth in this book.
Zetian had a very interesting character development while reading about her for me personally. At first she read very much like any other girl who’s not like other girls, but her arc revolves around how she got put into that position and struggling to work out what to embrace and what to revolt against. It made my opinions on her reverse completely as she judged the systems and became very subversive from her initial starting points.
But need I talk about only her? Everyone in this book was incredible. It is rare for every person and their motivations to make sense within this book, but somehow Zhao manages to do it. I loved all of them and their unique perspectives, quirks and resolves. It was very easy to tell each of them apart and make sense of how they acted and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Needless to say, this was a stellar debut. And I’m so glad I read it just in time to hear promo of the sequel coming out later this year.
Iron Widow gets a score of 5/5. The story dictated the world like nothing else.
Yours in writing