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The Current

The Student News Site of Ocean Lakes High School

The Current

The Student News Site of Ocean Lakes High School

The Current

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Iron Window: Characters battle aliens to break free from the patriarchy

Drawing by Ell Ruggles
A phoenix alights with radiant color in this digital art. Inspired by the war machine that the main characters of “Iron Widow” control, which resembles a flaming bird.

Set in a fantastical version of traditional China, the book “Iron Widow” sweeps readers off their feet and transports them to a new realm.  

Written by Xiran Jay Zhao and published on Sept. 21, 2021, it is a heavily altered retelling of the first and only female emperor of China. 

Inside the vibrant pages, giant suits of armor battle the mysterious Hunduns; mechanical creatures that have infested the world beyond the Great Wall. 

Through their descriptive writing style, Zhao crafts an incredibly well-developed world with a rich culture and intensive action. 

“Iron Widow” follows a girl named Wu Zetian who plans to enlist in the army as a female pilot, called a concubine. A concubine lives to sacrifice herself for the greater good, which in this case, is to help men win the battles. 

Epic, high fantasy elements and unforeseeable plot twists keep the reader engaged, while the text tackles the major issue of sexism still prevalent in today’s society.

I loved how Zaho shows just how far the main character, Zetian, will go to get what she wants: power that is currently in the hands of corrupt men. She wants to liberate the women of her nation who have been forced to hold their tongues and bow their heads. 

Like in today’s world, the social system is inherently built against women; built to take their power, their lifeblood, their voice. 

To win this unjust battle, the fiery heroine must partner with a boy everyone hates named Shimin. Zhao introduces him to readers as a criminal who slaughtered his entire family in cold blood, but it seems to be a necessary part of his character as it allows him to match Zetian’s blazing anger with a cool and collected rage. 

While I enjoyed the way these two characters built off of each other, the way their partner, Yizhi, offsets their intense nature with his gentle actions and supportive words added a dramatic depth to each character’s actions. 

As shown through the characters’ vastly different personalities, Zhao excels in balancing out the necessary dark elements of this book with light humorous scenes so readers do not get dragged down by the hopelessness the characters sometimes feel. 

This contrast took my breath away while reading. 

Charged with powerful emotions and unabashedly gory scenes, “Iron Widow” is truly a heavy read. By the end of the story, the main protagonist forever changes and will carry on the desperate attempts to make her world a society in which men and women are not just equal, but women are allowed to rise to their full, unharnessed potential.  

The sequel was scheduled to be released on April 30, 2024, but was postponed until Dec. 24, 2024.

I am extremely excited to watch these fearless characters continue to fight for what they have lost no matter the cost, but I am sure they will have to make undeniable sacrifices to get their true happily ever after.  

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About the Contributor
Ell Ruggles
Ell Ruggles, Staff Writer
Ell Ruggles is a sophomore and first year journalist for The Current. Outside of school, she enjoys cooking, drawing, creative writing, playing with her pets, reading, listening to music and shopping for new books and records. She is on the Teen Advisory Board at the Oceanfront Library, in book club and the publicity chair for Dolphin Dash. In the future, she would like to explore creative arts and hopefully become an artist or fantasy author.

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