Iron Widow

Penguin Teen. 2021. 1,214p. $17.99. ISBN 9780735269965.
Gr 9 Up–In a futuristic Chinese society, the boys of Huaxia pilot giant robotic Chrysalises to protect their world from mecha aliens destroying it. The boys pair with girl “concubine-pilots” to power beasts that can change into more powerful forms depending on the strength of their combined chi. Unfortunately, in many cases, the female does not survive. Zetian, deeply angered after her sister dies, decides to volunteer so she can seek revenge and kill the pilot who was paired with her sister. When she kills him using their psychic link, she is branded an Iron Widow, someone leaders fear but also want to use for her powerful chi. Now paired with Li Shimin, one of the most powerful and most deadly pilots, Zetian is frightened, but as her power grows, she seeks to stop the misogynist structure of the pilot system and save more girls from her sister’s fate. Zetian unexpectedly finds herself in a love triangle and explores her own power over her body as she decides who she loves and what that means for her newly awakened independence from her family and from society’s expectations. Rong Fu expertly voices Zetian’s rage and Li Shimin’s heartbreak, instilling battle scenes with chaotic tension while giving the softer moments a palpable gentleness. Hearing the Chinese words and accents performed accurately enmeshes listeners into the culture and setting.
VERDICT An excellent addition to any audiobook collection. While savvy readers may get a hint of the conclusion, many will be surprised by several twists. All will be in anticipation of the next installment.

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