Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao
Iron Widow #1
Young Adult LGBT Fantasy
September 21, 2021, by Penguin Teen
This cover, y’all. Absolutely gorgeous. It sets my cover-loving heart on fire. There was so much buzz about this book on Twitter that I couldn’t help but go looking for a blurb. So when I saw it described as “Pacific Rim meets Handmaid’s Tale” I knew I just had to read.
I would say the description is right on the money. Iron Widow introduces Wu Zetian, an 18-year-old woman who is angry and determined to become a concubine pilot in order to take revenge on the pilot who killed her sister. Zetian lives in a male-dominated society where women are sacrificed to the government in order to help males pilot Chrysalis in their war against the enemy. She is sick and tired of living by society’s rules and is merciless in her quest to bring change.
Along the way she is paired with Li Shimin, the Iron Demon, who is a fascinating character. Both a berserker like strong and ruthless warrior, but also a studious, academic young man who righted a wrong with violence and ended up tortured and used by the government machine. They are joined by the gentle, empathetic son of a business tycoon who fell in love with Zetain when she was still just a poor girl living in a small fishing village. But don’t worry, there is no love triangle here, this is the perfect polyam romance with all of these characters coming together to form a formidable triad.
Iron Widow is 100% a feminist battle cry fantasy with amazing world-building and well-drawn, interesting characters. I was riveted from beginning to end. This author left off the first book in this new series in such a way that I am aching to get back into this world to find out what comes next.
CW: death, gore, torture, addiction
Final grade- B+
A Spindle Splintered by Alix E Harrow
October 5, 2021, by Tordotcom
I’m always up for a good fairy tale retelling, especially one written by Alix E Harrow. This is a novella-length reworking of Sleeping Beauty featuring a woman with a genetic disease counting down the days until her death. She becomes consumed by the myth of Sleeping Beauty as a child and goes on to research all the different ways the story has changed and evolved over the years.
Despite having the best of best friends and loving parents, she feels smothered and over-protected at times. Almost like in their quest to find a cure, they’ve forgotten to just let Zinnia live. But after spending her 21st birthday with her BFF Charm in a forgotten tower she pricks her finger on a spinning wheel and ends up in another realm, with a real sleeping beauty, desperate to escape her own fate.
A Spindle Splintered was a wonderful surprise. This feminist retelling is short on page length, but a satisfying read nonetheless. Introducing some truly unforgettable characters and spanning multiple worlds. It sets the original version on its head, changing the narrative of the “villain” and lending its heroines agency to fight for their independence and change their future. There is even a sweet romance that made my heart happy.
Final grade- B