Sometimes, rage can be useful.
Full disclosure: when I look at the world, and I see all the bad things certain people get away with, I’m filled with rage. Rage that leads me to think and wish things I’m not necessarily proud of. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy superheroes so much, because they tap into that power fantasy–the desire to hold accountable those society has let slip by.
Well, Xiran Jay Zhao’s Iron Widow doesn’t just lean into that justifiable rage; it dives head-first into it, with the majestic grace of an Olympic diver who gets all 10s and struts off with the gold medal. This book doesn’t just acknowledge that rage, it treats it like an asset. What starts as a revenge tale ultimately evolves into one where Zetian sets out to put the entire misogynistic out of its pathetic misery and set the whole thing on fire.
And she’s well within her rights to do just that.
Power fantasies get a bad rap in fiction, but fact of the matter is, almost every story is a power fantasy to some degree. The power to right a wrong. The power to save the aggrieved. The power to stand up to the bully. The power to admit when you fall in love. The power to live life the way you want. Iron Widow‘s greatest strength is leaning into that fantasy, admitting anger and other feelings we too often keep to ourselves. Zetian decides this world is no longer fit to exist, and she’s going to do whatever she has to in order to tear it all apart — and not once are we told to view her in a negative light.
That’s so damn refreshing. Especially after the past several years.
Iron Widow also takes one of my least-favorite tropes–the dreaded love triangle–and flips it on its head. The result is a tug-and-pull that doesn’t make me roll my eyes and includes LGBT representation that is too often missing from the trope. I actually wanted a little bit more in that regard, but there probably wasn’t room for it with all the rage and fury in the air.
Iron Widow is every bit the must-read it’s billed as, and I think everyone should have it on their shelves (yes, even the dudebros who would piss themselves in anger over a book like this). The sequel can’t come soon enough.
Iron Widow is available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook.