Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao
⭐⭐⭐.5 out of 5 stars
Iron Widow is an exciting science-fiction novel inspired by Chinese history and culture. I think it is supposed to be YA, but adults can enjoy it too. It focuses on Wu Zetian— a strong, young girl ready to fight for her beliefs.
In the future, in a world almost entirely destroyed by the alien invasion, humanity managed to build the last line of defence— Chrysalises. They are giant robots forged from defeated enemies and piloted by a boy and a girl. Like the whole culture of Zetian’s country, the pilot system is built to favour boys. They are meant to become famous and privileged, while the girls are drained from energy during battle to the point of death. Outraged by her society, Zetian decides to join the army, not to protect her country, but to seek revenge for her Big Sister, murdered by a pilot, and every girl killed in a Chrysalis.
This novel starts as a fascinating story of a girl who thinks for herself in a world where women are treated as property. Zetian makes her own decisions and takes action in her hands. I loved her. But somewhere in the middle of the story, she changes. [SPOILER]Her confidence and independence are lost when she has to face her feelings, especially those concerning her love interests. Zetian becomes so lost and weak and confused, needy and greedy that I believe the contrast with her usual self is a bit too strong. At some point, she is a personification of all the feminine traits, that empower men in the patriarchal system— weak, emotional, unable to make a decision, swaying between chastity and strong desire. It makes her seem unstable, and her actions look like a misguided rebellion of a stubborn teenager. Her emotional rollercoaster ride is what ruined for me a 5 star read.
Despite all that, I enjoyed the lecture. I liked the world created by the author and the usage of the elements of Chinese culture, especially the five elements and their specific features. The ideas around the Chrysalises were fascinating. Obviously, I hated the way women were treated and the horrible practice of foot binding. It actually made me check the historical base for this trait and weep for the women who had to experience it. In general, I found rating this book quite tricky, but I would still recommend this position to the fans of science fiction and strong female characters.