ARC REVIEW: Iron Widow

Thank you to Penguin Teen Canada for sending me a copy of the ARC. Iron Widow is on sale as of September 21st!

One of my most hyped releases of the year is Iron Widow by the absolutely flawless Xiran Jay Zhou. After bothering Penguin for several weeks (I love you, Penguin~) I was able to get my hands on a beautiful physical copy of the ARC. Now, believe me when I tell you that you are not ready for Iron Widow.

In a world overrun by large parasitic creatures called Hunduns, Zetian has lost her big sister to the military and her death has only brought pain to her and her family, resulting in increasingly horrible treatment towards her. Making the decision to enact her revenge on the pilot who murdered her sister, Zetian signs herself off to the same fate as a concubine used as fodder to pilot the Chyralises against the Hunduns. What Zetian doesn’t know is that her abilities far outweigh that of what the Sages of the army have told her. 

I can honestly say that this book was perfection from start to finish.

Iron Widow is a permission slip for people to be angry, to be unforgiving, and to say “No, fuck you.” As Zetian is used and belittled and controlled over and over again, she begins to learn that the only person who can shame her is herself. The only person who can tell her what to do is herself. She is absolutely a badass to look up to as she refuses to be anything other than her powerful self and will subdue anyone who gets in her way. Her rage is so raw and visceral that it made my blood sing especially considering the reasons she is mad. The injustice is rampantin this book and I have never seen a lead in a YA novel – or potentially any novel really – who seeks to change the world as much as Zetian does. 

Meanwhile, this book also has one of the greatest romance subplots I have ever read in my life. Bad ass bad boy with a sunshine heart? Check. Wholesome sunshine study boy who is ruthless on in the inside? Check. A female lead that doesn’t want to need to choose between the two and instead and truly wholesome and functioning polycule forms? CHECK! Iron Widowis one again the first example I’ve read of a truly healthy relationship in YA and it’s actually between three people!

So I truly want to say thank you to Xiran. Thank you for this beautiful book that is a permission slip to be angry. A permission slip to take your life by the goddamn horns and take what is yours. To love how you want to and be who you are. Thank you for giving the reminder that we don’t owe forgiveness or compassion to those who have genuinely abused us and that found family is no less legitimate than blood relatives.

Thank you for this incredible book that is going to mean so much to so many people who have been put down and stuffed into boxes of expectations. For fans of Pacific Rim and Darling in the FRAXXwith the feminist anger of Handmaid’s Tale, please pick it up when it hit shelves tomorrow if you haven’t already pre-ordered it.


TRIGGER WARNING NOTE: Please be aware that this book does contain instances of foot binding, abuse, sexual harassment, alcoholism, and extreme withdrawal.

REVIEW: You are Eating an Orange. You are Naked.

In his debut novel, Sheung-King weaves a story of a dying relationship through a combination of first and second person POV. The layers created by folktales and references to classic literature make for a bubble of reality that feels like being stuck in a dream. 

As “you” and the narrator twist their way through the world, the style of the writing was reminiscent of the surrealness Murakami Haruki is most known for while reminding me specifically of the odd “real but slightly-to-the-left” unease of Murakami Ryu’s work – but without the violence, of course. This is a very arty story and I don’t know who I would ever really recommend it to while also being a book I would absolutely recommend simply for the beauty in Sheung-King’s metaphors. Similarly to the complicated comparrisons Lars von Trier makes in his film Nymph( )maniac (such as fly-fishing to nymphomania or cake forks to femininity in wealthy men), Sheung-King manages to grasp a similar method using a man who walks pigs as an antonym of corporation and national pride as a lie made by dictators and white colonizers. Even cucumber sandwiches. I live for this kind of poetry in writing, and it doesn’t hurt to mention Yozo’s antonym game from No Longer Human in order to win me over.

(If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll be more than aware of my deep-seated adoration for Dazai Osamu)

But what’s ended up leaving a true mark on me after devouring this novel in a few hours, was the section discussing anti-Asian racism. Sheung-King draws specifically at one moment on the Hollywood example of Lost in Translation. As a white person, my problems with that film have always been the age gap between Scarlet Johansson and Bill Murray, not truly looking at the racism issues within the film until far more recently. The gist of the film is two lonely white people are lonely and white in Japan until they meet and bond over their mutual isolation in a country they are unfamiliar with. It reinforced that “others” are always meant to conform to white people needs – even in their own countries. In North America, immigrants and tourists alike are expected to adapt and conform to white society or else risk facing harassment and/or violence. Meanwhile, white tourists are constantly expecting to be catered to no matter where they go. It made me wonder if Lost in Translation would still be critically acclaimed and “profound” if it was about people of colour attempting to navigate the US or even Canada.

This section also made me sad as the narrator “apologizes” for growing angry and upset about the strange kind of racism he specifically faces. I cannot know this pain, I will never truly understand it, but it hurts to think of anyone feeling they need to apologize for being angry in regards to the racism they face. No one should be made to feel like that.

You are Eating an Orange. You are Naked. is a book to think about in regards to have to simply live, to simply love. I absolutely adored how it unfolded like a collection of stories from Akutagawa Ryunosuke I read recently, layered as it was in varying formats. I loved reading the descriptions of Toronto as it really feels instead of how it’s more often discussed as if it’s the only big city in Ontario.

I may have gotten a little ramble-y with this review so I’ll end it here by saying that I will certainly be keeping an eye out for what Sheung-King comes out with next.