Review of ‘Iron Widow’

Xiran Jay Zhao blends elements from Pacific Rim, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Chinese history to give Iron Widow the most compelling and engaging read.

Strong Foundation

Iron Widow

Iron Widow
Xiran Jay Zhao
Penguin Teen

The fact that Iron Widow is inspired by China’s only female emperor, Wu Zetian, is incredible. Now, Iron Widow is not historical fiction but instead blends history and futurism to make the story work.

There are practices in this novel, such as foot-binding that do not take place much, if at all, nowadays. Furthermore, I think it was powerful of Zhao to bring this bit of history to light because it does highlight the rampant sexism and misogyny going on in the novel.

There is no balance in power in this novel; the women are supposed to be subservient to the men. Ying and Yang, Zetian knows this but does not like it. Being a concubine-pilot costs Zetian her sister’s life, and Zetian is determined to figure out why the balance tipped so much in favor of men. Women are constantly asked to sacrifice themselves daily in giant robots to help the men win battles.

However, Zetian refuses to be fodder. Using a historically influential figure gives the story its richness and strong feminist edge to draw in the reader.


Iron Widow is, without a doubt, engaging. Zetian is a compelling character with her resilience. She is constantly standing up to her family and against the sexism that has built their society from the beginning.

Zetian resents her family, first for crushing her feet to practice foot binding and then sacrificing her sister and herself as concubines for money.

Her entire journey begins as revenge, but her strength motivates her to do more, to be a weapon against a society that would keep women subservient and beaten down.

What I also loved alongside Zetian’s journey was the romance and friendship that blossoms between the characters. The polyamorous relationship gives the dynamics such an excellent stage for them to develop.

There is such an insurmountable amount of respect between these characters, making them a team you want to root for.

These are unforgettable characters who love one another and respect one another, keeping up the flow and momentum of the story. That is what makes them so incredible.

Final Thoughts

Iron Widow is a remarkable novel. Utilizing a strong female character with roots in history while layering in futurism allows the plot to tackle misogyny and sexism in a compelling and forthright way.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

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Product Details:

Pub Date: September 21, 2021Page Count: 400ppAge Range: 14 & Over
ISBN: 978-0-7352-6993-4Publisher: Penguin TeenList Price: $17.99

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