Xiran Jay Zhao’s debut novel, iron widow, makes its way to the theaters! According to Variety, Picturestart has bought the adaptation rights to the mecha anime-inspired tale of revenge, love and war. Zhao had some exciting things to say about the deal on their Twitter account!
iron widow takes place in Huaxia, a fictional world under constant threat from alien attacks. To combat them, humanity uses giant transforming robots called Chrysalises, which require both a boy and a girl to control. But it’s not a level teamwork to pilot a Chrysalis, as the girl pilots are much more likely to die in combat due to the boy pilots sucking their life force away. The heroine of the story is Zetian, who offers herself to become a “disposable female concubine pilot”. But she has bigger plans, her goal is to find and kill the male pilot who has sucked her sister’s life away. She eventually gets revenge, but is branded the “Iron Widow”, a dangerous pilot and a great force to be reckoned with.
iron widow is a reinterpretation of the life of the real-life Chinese Empress Wu Zetian, who was a particularly fascinating person to Zhao. Zetian faced similar struggles and came to power through her own strength, will and intellect. Zhao spoke to Publisher’s Weekly about what first drew them to Zetian’s story for their first novel.
The moment I decided to bring an influence of Chinese Imperial Harems into the story world, I knew I had to base the main character on Empress Regnant Wu. There is no other woman in Chinese history who has leapt through the harem as iconic as hers, not only attaining the highest rank of empress consort, but also breaking the barriers of the inner palace and becoming the sole legitimate ruler of the empire herself. It was incredibly fun to re-imagine her as a teenage peasant woman in an intensely misogynistic world who suddenly gains access to giant fighting mechs – how would she change her world? That is what iron widow it’s all about.
A gigantic world with an equally gigantic battle
Jessica Switch and Julia Hammer have been signed on as producers, along with Picturestart’s Erik Feig. Signed on as executive producer is Samie Kim Falvey. JC Lee has been signed on to write the screenplay adaptation. Zhao admitted on Twitter that they “don’t have the utmost faith in Hollywood” but have hope for the team behind the project.
iron widow rose to success through word of mouth on social media, especially TikTok’s “BookTok” community. The book quickly spent 41 weeks on the bestseller list. The book also won the 2021 BSFA Award for Best Book for Young Readers, as well as the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award and the Barnes & Noble Award for the Young Adult category. Zhao also released their second book, Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperorand is currently working on Iron Widow 2.