Xiran Jay Zhao on polyamory in YA, disappointing anime and their debut novel, Iron Widow

"I’m really proud of past me for not giving up, even though I wanted to do so at many times."


Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid’s Tale in Iron Widow, Xiran Jay Zhao’s debut YA polyamorous reimagining of China’s only female emperor. Action packed from the first page until the last, Iron Widow is a sci-fi fantasy must read and we’re honoured to have had the chance to ask Xiran a few  questions all about it.

Hi Xiran! It’s so exciting to have you on the site today to chat about your action packed debut YA fantasy, Iron Widow. How does it feel knowing Zetian’s story is now being read by readers all over the world?

It is absolutely wild. I’ve had a long, difficult journey to getting published. At many times, I’ve basically begged people to read my stories, and they still didn’t. Now, people from so many different countries are not only eagerly reading something I wrote, they’re making FANART?! That’s blowing my mind. I’m really proud of past me for not giving up, even though I wanted to do so at many times.

Iron Widow has already garnered a huge amount of excitement from readers (and rightly so) but do you have an elevator pitch to sell it to those who aren’t yet familiar with its premise?

It’s a Pacific Rim meets the Handmaid’s Tale reimagining of the rise of the only female emperor in Chinese history! Featuring 400 pages of female rage conducted through gigantic mecha inspired by East Asian myth creatures.


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Can you tell us a little about what inspired you to write Iron Widow?

Believe it or not, it spiralled out of my disappointment with the anime Darling in the Franxx. It featured the super fascinating concept of boys and girls being paired up to pilot giant mecha, but it didn’t explore things quite as deeply as I wish it would have. While ranting to a friend about what I wished it had done differently, the character and plot changes I was describing became SO different that I realized I could write it as an actual book. I still have screenshots of that conversation. I kept them because even then, I knew this book was going to be something special.

If you found yourself stranded on a desert island with one of the cast of Iron Widow, who would you want it to be and why?

Oh, it would have to be Shimin, because he has the big muscles to help gather food and wood and build shelters.

Iron Widow features some pretty epic and cinematic battle scenes. I can imagine they must have been super fun to write but also hard to co-ordinate at times?

They actually came super easily to me! I basically just let my mind run wild with what flashy moves the Chrysalises could do and did my best to capture the sense of size and impact of the battles. My lifetime of watching shonen anime definitely helped, LOL.


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Polyamory is something rarely seen in YA. Was there anything in particular that pulled you towards featuring the polygamous relationship in Iron Widow and is it something you’re hoping to see more of in YA?

I was actually surprised that Iron Widow is considered a pioneer in YA poly rep. I mean, everyone always says that YA love triangles should just end in polyamory. I’d assumed it was already a common thing, but apparently not? I did it because I liked the idea, and it was super exciting to write. You have romantic tension between THREE people, not just two. I’d definitely love to see more takes on it!

If you were to find yourself in Zetian’s position, would you volunteer as a Chrysalis pilot and how do you think you’d fare in battle?

You know, I wanted to say no at first because I can’t even drive a car properly, but my fear of driving comes from a fear of causing accidents. Since the whole purpose of piloting a Chrysalis is to cause destruction, maybe I’d be okay?

The ending of Iron Widow left readers on a major, mind bending cliff-hanger… Is there anything you can share with us about book two in order to keep us going until its release?

The only thing I’ll say is…drastic actions have drastic consequences 🤐

Get your copy of Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao here.

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