Top critical review
Problematic Feminism and Short on Details
Reviewed in Canada on January 10, 2022
I keep waffling… two stars, three stars? I mean it’s YA/teen and it fits the genre and target audience well; but sadly Iron Widow is mediocre at best. It comes off as a teenage soap opera that has: boxy characters, too many twists, not enough explanation of what is happening (if you’re going to write fantasy/sci-fi then expect readers to want to understand what is happening please), and is frankly obnoxious and preachy.
On the flip-side it’s also: immensely readable, fast-paced (in an omg what a train wreck kind of way), and with more over-the-top twists people are likely to love (seriously might as well have the line “Luke, I am your father” or “It was Earth all along”) written into the narrative. I know many will love it. But just like Twilight, I would bet money, it will not stand the test of time and the writing is not good enough to have any lasting power. A second read of Iron Widow will bring it to its knees for most readers as they realize it’s: contrived, poorly explained, badly written, and just rife with issues regarding its use of: feminism (which should be about equality not power), vengeance, intellect (if I’m supposed to think our lead gal is brilliant then I’m sorry to say, even with her bit of character growth, she really isn’t (what she is: obnoxious, shallow, and power hungry), and blatant male archetypal characters (her men all fit perfectly in a cookie cutter persona) which is ironic given one of the main themes is how women don’t just fit into one or two molds like the patriarchy seems to prefer us in. Oh, and there is a love triangle; although ironically the romance is very well handled and easily the best written narrative of the whole story.
If you want to get an idea of the type of attitude you will get from the lead gal here read the acknowledgements at the back. There are no spoilers. You’ll get a sense of the type of bragging and (frankly) immature tones that exist in the novel. From comments like how her (previously unsupportive) family can serve her fruit on a plate to the bragging that she now was a big multi-book deal (this is her debut novel), it’s apparent that the arrogance and immaturity of her lead girl is really a big reflection of her own thoughts and views. Obviously this isn’t surprising; all authors write from their own place in the word. It’s just unfortunate that a number of teens will gobble up the themes of hatred and revenge thinking they are just being feminist and getting retribution for what should be theirs). If you’re under 20, and love this, give it ten years, read it again and then let’s talk. I bet your opinion will have drastically changed.
Maybe this review is just a showing of my age (I realized I’m more than old enough to be the young authors mother, ack!) but I love lots of YA/teen books and this just isn’t one of them.
My suggestions to read instead of Iron Widow (and I’m sad to say that as Zhao is a young Canadian author I wish I could endorse) would include: The Last Namsara by (another fellow Canadian) Kristen Ciccarelli, Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim, or A Curse so Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer.
Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.