RATING: 4.5/5 stars
IRON WIDOW by Xiran Jay Zhao is a dark but beautiful sci-fi/fantasy reimagining of China’s first and only female emperor. It’s perfect for fans of strong female protagonists, enemies-to-lovers, and love triangles (that are actually real triangles). Xiran Jay Zhao artfully weaves Chinese culture and elegant fantasy worldbuilding together in a way that makes the novel accessible to readers who may not be very familiar with either of those two subjects.
The novel is a fast-paced and action-packed story that contains strong feminist themes without coming off as “preachy.” The characters and worldbuilding were the strongest parts in my opinion; right off the bat, I was able to get a great sense of who each of the characters are and their specific personalities, and was also sucked into the world and could picture everything perfectly in my mind. I was hesitant about the polyamory in the novel as it’s not something commonly found in YA, but I think Xiran Jay Zhao masterfully handled the romantic aspects of the book. I found myself rooting for all of the characters, and the timing of the romance was just right.
Overall, the main issue I had with the novel was the ending, which is why I’ve rated it 4.5 instead of 5 stars. I found myself getting lost in the final battle of the book, and felt like much of the battle was rushed. In the final few pages, I was more confused than anything–and that’s not the impression you want to leave the reader with. Additionally, I wish there had been more foreshadowing leading up to the twist at the end, as it felt a bit out of place compared to the rest of the novel.
That said, I loved reading IRON WIDOW and look forward to its sequel!