Iron Widow Book CoverThis month’s Appendix Lit book club selection is Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao, a novel that boldly melds fantasy and science fiction, taking readers on a relentless journey towards empowerment in the face of adversity. Earning a well-deserved D8 rating, Iron Widow delves deep into the issues of patriarchal societies, the importance of defying tradition, and the strength of character required to fight for justice.


The story follows Zetian, a fierce young woman who willingly enters a deadly mecha-piloting program to exact revenge on the pilot responsible for her sister’s death. Set in a world inspired by Chinese history and mythology, giant Chrysalises are employed to protect the nation against alien monsters. Male pilots are paired with female concubines who act as conduits for power, often left lifeless and drained after the battles.

Iron Widow shines in its portrayal of the complex relationship that develops among the main characters, Zetian, Shimin, and Yizhi. Their polyamorous triad is a refreshing addition to the narrative, and although moments of drama arise, the overall dynamic is both engaging and satisfying. The world-building is skillfully executed, with riveting elements of Chinese history and mythology seamlessly interwoven into the story.

I give this book a D8. D8s. These dice are some of the coolest looking and most satisfying to roll. A d8 book is one that satisfies an itch other books don’t or can’t. These are often solid niche books that are big in small circles. They provide new settings or different ways of approaching old tropes. This book did just that by forcing me to face difficult content and feel with the protagonist. It also has some wicked stuff to draw from.

A picture of the GM Tim

The novel’s intensity might be challenging for some readers, as it delves into dark themes and presents an emotionally charged storyline. However, this intensity lies at the heart of what I believe is the book’s purpose: to evoke a spectrum of emotions, from anger and frustration to love and compassion, and the masterfully crafted conclusion – wow. Iron Widow is a bold and daring tale that will resonate with readers long after the final page has been turned.

The themes of polyamory, sexism, and societal restrictions are expertly tackled, reflecting the author’s intention to provoke thought and challenge preconceived notions. The range of emotions experienced by readers aligns with the messages and ideas that the author aimed to convey.

In a gaming context, Iron Widow offers a rich and diverse backdrop for adventures and campaigns. The themes and issues explored in the novel provide a thought-provoking foundation for players and game masters to build upon. However, the intensity and complexity of the storyline would be best suited for a close-knit group of players, who can comfortably navigate the challenging themes together. I would never use this gaming world at a public convention. There are way too many ways it could go south.

Overall, Iron Widow is a powerful and thought-provoking read that pushes boundaries and challenges societal norms. With its unique protagonist, complex themes, and richly imagined setting, it is a book that will leave readers thinking long after they’ve finished. Whether you’re a fan of speculative fiction or a seasoned gamer looking for new ideas, Iron Widow is a book worth exploring.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.