Iron Widow (Part 1)

I don’t know if it’s part of having ADHD, some other neurodivergence thing, or just a me thing, but one of the most frustrating things about my brain is how it will just…not let me start a new story. It most often applies to books, though occasionally TV shows hit it too. But I’ll have a book I’m excited to read. I’ll get the book. And then I will be completely constitutionally incapable of picking it up and even reading the first page. This can go on for years sometimes, and there is very little I can do to change it. It’s excruciatingly frustrating.

But! This week I figured out a brain-hack finally! I simply downloaded the audio-book and started listening in the car, making myself a captive audience! It may not work all the time, but it’s working so far. The book, which I’ve been trying to read since it came out in 2021 is Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao. I follow Xiran on some social media and have enjoyed their content about historical Chinese subjects and their nerdery around cosplay and other things. And then when the book came out I heard that it had a canonical gay poly triad and I was immediately sold. I’ve been getting into more Chinese fantasy over the last couple of years with translated Chinese web-novels as well, so this seemed to fit right into that interest niche as well.

Image of the book cover of Iron Widow. At the top it says #1 New York Times Bestseller Xiran Jay Zhao in white. The background is a chinese woman dressed in a futuristic black suite with hair put up in a guan. She is surrounded by enormous red-orange wings. At the bottom the white text reads "Iron Widow"

I’m only on chapter two so far in my listening (hence why this is a part 1, I’ll do a retrospective on the whole book once I finish) but I already have so many thoughts and feelings. Zhao’s writing is extremely good, and also extremely intense. The titular character, Zetian’s, voice is strong and interesting, and I’m already getting nonbinary vibes from her and I love that for me. But the most intense part is the setup of the society, based loosely on Medieval Chinese society but with futuristic technology and alien monsters, which is so spectacularly dark by modern standards. The treatment of women and girls as disposable components for war, or else strictly controlled wives only, hits me right where I live. The extremely graphic first person account of undergoing foot-binding affected me so strongly that I was having fits half an hour after listening to it. I am definitely going to have to go slow with this one to allow myself time to process bits of it.

The audio-book is excellent though! I have it as a physical book, but borrowed the audio-book from the library when I came up with my brain-hack plan. I know from following Xiran that they had a bit of a struggle which they ultimately won with their publisher to make sure that the audio reader was capable of pronouncing the many Chinese names correctly, so I am reasonably sure the pronunciations are correct (not that I would be able to tell if they weren’t, I have no ear for Mandarin at all, but it’s nice to know I’m not absorbing incorrect things). The reader, Rong Fu, is also a talented narrator, using her voice to good effect to bring life to an engaging script. She is enjoyable to listen to, so I definitely would recommend the audio-book as a way of consuming this book!

Anyway, more later once I finish!

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