To say that this book is a work of feminist fantasy is a lot like saying the ocean is wet. The Women’s War is a definitive work of raising women up in a patriarchal society, of that there can be no question. However, there is so much more to the story that it defies simplistic characterizations. This tale strives, and often succeeds, to ring the bell of resistance in an otherwise bleak world devoid of equality.
The best part of this novel is, hands down, the depth of character that author Jenna Glass brings to her work. So much time and paper is devoted to all of the characters that the setting seems to suffer quite often. As the reader connects quickly and strongly with the protagonist Alysoon, so do they empathetically bond with the women who are subjugated at every turn. This is a man’s world and not many are apt to forget it; even the magic of this world is divided. But it is through this division that something new has arisen. Something that will not just equalize but enable the women to turn the tables on any who would oppress them.
A momentous turning point of the story happens fairly early on when a curse is placed upon the world, allowing for a balancing of powers. The cost is high, almost too high for Alysoon, who loses so much but also seems to be one of the principal women to gain much. For her, a woman whose life is not really her own, this is tantamount to a rebirth. But as the story progresses and the unwanted women of this world find themselves with a raw new magic, the men who have controlled them prior are not eager to give up their dominance easily.
I loved the way the book immediately started off with action instead of the slow start that many epic fantasy stories have. Unfortunately, there is so much going on and it skips around so quickly that it is easy to get lost if you set the book down for the day. There are such a variety of characters in this book that it felt like I needed to make a list. In fact, chapters fly by and characters enter and exit so often that I recommend reading this 500 plus page book in long bursts, so as to stay abreast.
There are some tumultuous parts to the book, as well. If anyone is disturbed by detailed rape and violence, this might not be the best book for you. Sex is liberally laden throughout the text, so be warned. This is an emotional tale, loaded with pain and betrayal, love and anger. The writing style is that of a well-produced young adult novel, though the text belies that category. I was rather more taken with Alysoon, just as I was not with Ellin who seemed the lesser of the protagonists throughout the book. But that may well just be my own perception of the story. As I mentioned before, there is a lot going on and I tended to zero in on the story of Alys and Jinnell.
The book was good, often great, but still seemed to be missing a certain something that would have elevated it. This was not a case of women are good, men are bad. In fact, almost every character had flaws and strengths. This helped to truly bring them to life.
No, I think the world-building might have taken a backseat but perhaps Glass is saving that for her sequel. For let me just tell you that the cliffhanger in this one had me wanting to throw the book across the room in frustration. What was it, you ask? Well, you will have to read the book, I suppose.
When a nobleman’s first duty is to produce a male heir, women are treated like possessions and bargaining chips. But as the aftereffects of a world-altering spell ripple out physically and culturally, women at last have a bargaining chip of their own. And two women in particular find themselves at the liberating crossroads of change.
Alys is the widowed mother of two adolescent children, and the disinherited daughter of a king. Her existence has been carefully regulated, but now she discovers a fierce talent not only for politics but also for magic””once deemed solely the domain of men. Meanwhile, in a neighboring kingdom, young Ellin finds herself unexpectedly on the throne after the sudden death of her grandfather the king and everyone else who stood ahead of her in the line of succession. Conventional wisdom holds that she will marry quickly, then quietly surrender the throne to her new husband. Only, Ellin has other ideas.
The tensions building in the two kingdoms grow abruptly worse when a caravan of exiled women and their escort of disgraced soldiers stumble upon a new source of magic in what was once uninhabitable desert. This new and revolutionary magic””which only women can wield””might well tear down what is left of the patriarchy. The men who currently hold power will do anything to retain it. But what force in the world can stand against the courage and resolution of generations of women who have tasted freedom for the very first time?