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  • Iron Widow

  • Written by: Xiran Jay Zhao
  • Narrated by: Rong Fu
  • Length: 12 hrs and 14 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (231 ratings)

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Iron Widow

Written by: Xiran Jay Zhao
Narrated by: Rong Fu
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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

What the critics say

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 

What listeners say about Iron Widow

Average Customer Ratings
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Reviews - Please select the tabs below to change the source of reviews.

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    5 out of 5 stars

A wonderful surprise

When I went into this book I was a little hesitant, not usually being a fan of giant mechs. But I have to say, my worries were immediately put to rest. It really doesn't feel like any giant mech stuff I've ever seen or read.

This is defiantely worth listening to, I loved every second of it!

3 people found this helpful

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A book you won’t be able to stop

This book has action chapters that kept me up late saying “one more chapter.”
The romance is slow growing and more naturally paced for the story.
The story is fresh and with little western influence. Western audiences will not be lost though. Xiran Jay Zhao has made sure that anyone can enjoy their story.
With Rong Fu narrating I have a better understanding of how to pronounce names and non English words from the story.

Those who enjoy dystopian, fantasy and fictional socio-political books will enjoy this.

2 people found this helpful

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Absolutely brilliant

This audiobook was beautifully performed and extraordinarily well written I was gripped from start to finish. Culture is high lighted was amazing and the issues that effect us today were so beautifully written into this story. This is truly a masterpiece and gosh I hope this story will continue cause man oh man am I invested. 100/10 would recommend

2 people found this helpful

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This is sooo freaking good!!!

I am kicking myself for letting this sit unread for months before I got to it.
Amazing dystopian sci-fi with intense relationships and even more intense fight scenes.
This is like mixing Hunger Games with Tron and then adding entirely new bits to both.
GO READ THIS BOOK!!!
The audio made it easier to keep the characters sorted, and the pronunciations accurate.
The narration was delightful on this one.

2 people found this helpful

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AMAZING

This book is an amazing read both audio and non-audio. I got the same giddy feelings of enjoyment while listening to Iron Widow as I did when reading the physical book. The narrator is excellent!

1 person found this helpful

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A bloody battle and an iron will

I loved the voice actor and really enjoyed the story as well. I love Zetian. Really need to buy the book now as a trophy for my shelf.

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Loved it!

The narration, first of all, is great! Her pitch, cadence, and acting are all perfect and she pronounces all the names correctly (as far as I can tell)!
The story has exciting battles, challenges, and a bit of romance. The characters are all flawed and feel more realistic because of it. The main character herself is very passionate about her cause but also a hypocrite when she meets opposition. However, I wouldn't call it a character flaw or poorly written because anyone who experiences trauma and betrayal, will be passionate about getting justice.
I recommend this book if you're looking for something exciting and action-packed, with a female lead and perspective!

1 person found this helpful

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Representation I never thought I'd see

Polyamory. This is the first time I have ever seen this representation and it made me cry with joy on multiple occasions.
The story is incredible, beautifully written and the performance by the reader was enthralling.
It gave a grim reality of society with blooming hope that there are those who fight to do right and make it better.
Long live the Iron Widow.

1 person found this helpful

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Great read

I was engaged every second. The relationships and world building were so interesting, I cannot wait for the second book. The narrator did a great job conveying the emotions of each character. I highly recommend this book, even if you’re not normally into sc-fi.

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Loved this story

I loved the adventure and thought provoking relationships. The hints of Chinese culture added a layer of historical interest.

Narrator has a nice clear voice which is enjoyable for listening

1 person found this helpful

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  • Cody McGrath
  • 2021-09-28

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.

24 people found this helpful

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  • Emma Pickens
  • 2021-09-23

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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  • Becky's Book Recs
  • 2021-12-06

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. 😞

8 people found this helpful

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  • KinDallas
  • 2021-11-23

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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  • Daniel J. Mijares
  • 2021-09-26

🔥🔥🔥😎

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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  • Laura R.
  • 2021-11-29

I absolutely loved it!

The acting was fantastic! The story was amazing! I've listened to it probably 10 times already, it is my regular companion around the house and on long drives. Really an excellent listen.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Jordan
  • 2021-09-25

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.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Babushka
  • 2021-09-23

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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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Jim
  • 2021-11-15

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.

3 people found this helpful

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  • ema
  • 2022-01-07

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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  • Morgane Lainard
  • 2022-06-03

Bi/poly unhinged woman piloting a mecha

I'm usually difficult with sci-fi but THIS, this was quite the ride & I want MOAR. It could be summurised as: a bi/poly unhinged woman pilots a mecha to get her revenge on the patriarchy.
It has bisexuality, polyamory, feminism, mechas, "magic", treasons, love.
Lots of chinese words but it helped get into the book and its lore. The choice of voice actress was good.
The book was so captivating I had trouble pausing to rest x) And that ending... good thing there's a second book on the way :D

1 person found this helpful

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  • Alexandra C.
  • 2023-01-16

A very good surprise!

The performance of the narrator was a delight to listen to, and the fact that I got to hear the Chinese names and words said right is a big bonus point.

The story was interesting, the main characters captivating, and the lead's attitude against oppression just so satisfying to hear.

Overall a very good queer YA book, and I was so thrilled to find polyamory in there! Very much looking forward to the next book.

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Profile Image for Lou Chappuis
  • Lou Chappuis
  • 2022-01-26

A debut novel with some punch

Well rounded characters that will surely catch your heart, a compelling world building unapologaticly rooted in mecha culture, but the writting is still green and it shows!