Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao
Narrated by Rong Fu
PRH Canada Young Readers
Publication Date: September 20, 2021
Humans in Huaxia are constantly under attack from Hunduns, giant bug-like aliens. Humanity has created two-pilot robot war machines known as Chrysalises in order to protect themselves. Boys dream of the chance to pilot a Chrysalis in order to find fame and honor. Girls, on the other hand, are either married off or serve as concubine co-pilots for Chrysalises. Concubine-pilots rarely survive a Hundun battle. Zetian joins Chrysalis training to avenge her older sister who was murdered by a Chrysalis pilot. She shocks the world by not only surviving her first battle, but taking full control of the Chrysalis on her own, an impossible task without the qi energy of both a male and female pilot. Zetian is then paired with the strongest pilot in the fleet: former prisoner Li Shimin. If Zetian wants to dismantle the Chrysalis system and stop the sacrifice of innocent girls, she will have to work with her new partner alongside help from her secret love interest, Yizhi, all while fooling eagle-eyed government officials and battling aliens.
Iron Widow is set in a patriarchal, Chinese-influenced future world. Zetian’s rage at a society that will not accept her as more than a future wife or servant is red-hot and propels her to succeed in dismantling the system. Themes of disability and queerness give the story additional punch. Narrator Rong Fu brings Zetian’s unapologetic voice blazing to life and deftly draws listeners into the breakneck action. Highly recommended for fans of sci-fi. Great for fans of Gearbreakers by Zoe Hana Mikuta and The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang.
Other Nominated Titles:
A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow; narrated by Amy Landon (10/5/21)
Skin of the Sea by Natasha Bowen; narrated by Yetide Badaki (11/2/2021)
A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger; narrated by Shaun Taylor-Corbett and Kinsale Hueston (11/23/2021)
Little Thieves by Margaret Owen; narrated by Saskia Maarleveld (10/19/2021)
The Selected Lists teams read throughout the year in search of the best titles published in their respective categories. Once a book is suggested (either internally or through the title suggestion form), it must pass through a review process to be designated an official nomination.
Each week, the teams feature a review of one of the officially nominated titles. Additional titles to receive this designation are listed as well. At year’s end, the team will curate a final list from all nominated titles and select a Top Ten.