A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Post-apocalyptic fantasy/sci-fi meant to entertain.
Women can and should have meaningful lives beyond just raising a family. They can and should live for justice, change, vengeance, and power. Women should be able to decide their own boundaries and values, and not let others take them away. Sometimes change, and exposing truths, has to be brought about by violence. People can make you feel ashamed of your body and use that shame to humiliate you; be proud of your body and don't let them. Love is infinite, and comes from synergy and trust, not chemistry. Having feelings for more than one person doesn't take away from your feelings for any one of them. Attraction to the same or both sexes is normal and not worth fighting against.
Positive Role Models
Wu Zetian, 18, is an antihero, an extreme example used to make a point about gender roles in society. She's so full of rage against her circumstances and the way women are opressed, repressed, and suppressed that she tortures and kills to bring about change. Love interest Yizhi models communication, integrity, and teamwork. The other love interest, Li Shimin, models courage, perseverance, and self control.
All characters are Chinese, and all but one belong to a single group. One of the main characters has parents from two neighboring groups and is described as having distinct physical features from both parents in combination. Romance involves two men and a woman; the men are attracted to both the woman and each other, and the woman's attracted to both men.
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Violence & Scariness
Real-world violence includes torture, murder, and abuse both physical and psychological. Some aspects of torture like foot binding, waterboarding, and force-feeding alcohol are described in detail along with pain and suffering. There are references to sexual assault but nothing's told directly. Real-world fights are mostly hand-to-hand and mention choking, smashing faces, breaking bones, pain, and blood. Fantasy violence includes confrontations in a spirit-world type realm as well as large-scale battlesagainst fantasy creatures with large-scale destruction, pain, and death by piloting giant, shapeshifting, gundam- or kaiju-type robots. Sex is paired with violence once by a kiss that draws blood.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A few kisses, one mentioning tongues, and making out on beds that mostly describe emotions. Sex is implied twice but not narrated. Sex is paired with violence once by a kiss that draws blood.
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"F--k" and variations, "s--t," "ass," "bitch," and "whore."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
One character struggles with alcohol addiction. Drinking to excess and drunk behavior are described. A character has memories of violence and pain from family members' drinking alcohol. Alcohol is used to torture, both to induce addiction and to kill by "waterboarding" with alcohol instead of water.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Xiran Jay Zhao's Iron Widow is a fantasy/sci-fi blend set in a post-apocalyptic China, the first in a planned duology. There are depictions of torture, murder, and abuse with pain and suffering described. Other real-world violence includes fights with choking, breaking bones, blood, descriptions of pain, and suicide ideation. Fantasy violence includes large-scale battles between fantasy creatures and people piloting giant gundam- or kaiju-like robots. Anger against oppression, repression, and suppression of women is the central theme, and the story shows many examples. Addiction to alcohol is a prominent theme; causing addiction to it via torture and killing with alcohol "waterboarding" are described. There's a love triangle between a woman and two men, with positive depictions of same-sex and opposite-sex attraction and having strong feelings for more than one person at a time. Other sexy stuff includes descriptions of kissing, including one that draws blood, and having sex is implied but not directly narrated. Strong language includes "f--k" and "s--t."
Is It Any Good?
Author Xiran Jay Zhao's sci-fi/fantasy debut doesn't pull any punches and packs a real wallop. Emotional intensity drives Iron Widow forward as much the thrilling action does, and both are balanced nicely by moments of genuine warmth and humor. It's a unique imagining of a far-future world that draws heavily on Chinese history, culture, and the power of qi.
Make no mistake, antihero/protagonist Zetian wants to burn the patriarchy to the ground, and will destroy anything and anyone who gets in her way. But readers can understand, empathize with, and even root for her as her past, and the shocking realities of her present, are revealed. It's a good opportunity to talk with mature teens about how, when, and if violence is an acceptable way to bring about change in the face of so much misery.
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Our Editors Recommend
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