Spencer, Wen. A Brother's Price
. New York: ROC-Penguin, 2005.Clair
is the opposite of noir
.A Brother's Price
, like Her Majesty's Dragon
, is a very clair book. As most of y'all have probably guessed by now, my preference is for noir. Which doesn't mean I didn't enjoy ABP
--because I did--but does mean that there's a limit to how useful it can be for me to talk about, because at a very fundamental level, I'm not in harmony with its goals.
Which is also not the book's problem. It's mine, and I'm well aware of it.
I galloped through ABP
with pleasure; I'm just left with the awareness that most of the things I would say about it are predicated on the fact that I'd have taken the basic concept--gender role-reversal in the Wild West with some vaguely medieval trappings to keep the government working--and done something very very different with it. And avoided the category-romance tropes like the plague. Not because there's something "wrong" with them, but because they just don't do it for me. Again, that's on my side of the net, not the book's.
But I found the gender reversal very surfacy: Jerin's a little more emotional than most fantasy heroes are allowed to be, but other than that he's indistinguishable from Ren and Halley (the alphas of his five adult wives). Which in another kind of book, would make me give three loud cheers, but in this one--where the POINT is that he's been socialized to be analogous to a C19 middle-class woman and they've been socialized to be men--it felt like ducking the problem. It always feels more like Jerin is humoring his sisters and his wives than like he genuinely believes himself to be defenseless, helpless, and "naturally" inferior. The other trappings of a society in which women outnumber men by some astronomical rate felt equally tacked on. The heteronormativity is oppressive; we learn only very late in the novel--and in essentially a throwaway--that the women of this world indulge in same-sex relations at all. And she doesn't explore at all how this cultural structure is maintained. What she's positing, after all, is a reversed harem (one husband, many wives, but the wives in control) with creche-type child-rearing. Since our paradigm tells us that, yes, the fact that the women outnumber the man doesn't necessarily mean thing one about who's got the power, I really would have liked to have seen at least a demonstration of the kind of gender-politics doublethink necessary to keep an entire society complicit in pretending that one sex is inferior to the other. Spencer's book gives lip service, but it's mostly just tired male chauvinism with the pronouns reversed. And not even very much of that, since she's very careful to keep her protagonists sympathetic to her audience's (presumed) C21 feminist sensibilities.
The gender-reversal feels like a gimmick, not like world-building or like a thought-experiment.
But, as I said, I'm asking for things the book isn't interested in giving.ETA
: spoilers in comments, also.