The words “feminist fantasy” are a major weakness for me. I love fantasy, and I really love feminist literature, so I kind of have to read any book marketed that way. Naturally, I was sold as soon as I read the synopsis for Jenna Glass’s debut novel, The Women’s War.
(All reviews are spoiler-free unless otherwise noted.)
(From Goodreads) In a high fantasy feminist epic, a revolutionary spell gives women the ability to control their own fertility—with consequences that rock their patriarchal society to its core.
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 crossroads of change.
Alys is the widowed mother of two teenage children, and the disinherited daughter of a king. Her existence has been carefully proscribed, 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 stumbles upon a new source of magic in what was once uninhabitable desert. This new and revolutionary magic—which only women can wield—threatens to tear down what is left of the patriarchy. And the men who currently hold power will do anything to fight back.
The Women’s War is definitely an epic fantasy – it’s nearly six-hundred pages. This is a tome. Which I found interesting both for a debut novel and the first book in a series. This is a long book, and for a debut this long to be published, it usually means it’s something incredible. So I was excited for a lot of badass female characters. And, honestly, I was a little bit disappointed. This book had the potential for some really amazing strong female characters, but they just didn’t quite get there. Sure, they were strong, but they were strong in the context of the sexist world they were forced to live in. I just wanted them to be more. This book actually reminded me quite a bit of The Power by Naomi Alderman. In both books, I wanted the female characters to use their new power to do something great, and the kind of don’t. The synopsis says they threaten to tear down the patriarchy, and I didn’t get enough of that.
It did take me a while to really get into the story. I enjoyed the world building, but it was a bit disorienting for the first chapter or two. Once I got into it, though, I thought the world was really interesting. I do really like how Glass focuses women’s power on reproductive rights, because that’s a huge issue even today. All in all, the magic system and world building definitely kept me intrigued.
This book had a great premise, good world building, and interesting magic system, and decent characters going for it. But where it fell flat for me is that it just was too slow for a book with “war” right there in the title. I wanted some exciting battles, damnit. Women should be angry at being oppressed, and the women in this book were just not. It was honestly frustrating. I felt like this should have been a story exciting enough for me to fly through, but – and I hate to admit this – I was bored a lot. I wanted more action, more diversity, more feminist anger. This book had a lot of potential and didn’t quite reach it.
★★★☆☆ – This was probably more like a 2.5-star book, but I’m in a good mood, so I rounded up (also don’t have a half-star symbol). The Women’s War just wasn’t what I hoped it would be. I struggled to get through it. There were elements I liked, but the end result was just kind of meh. And for a long book that I was really excited about, this ended up being solidly mediocre.
The Women’s War will be available in bookstores March 5. You can preorder a copy on Amazon now.
To get the audiobook for free, use this link to sign up for a free trial of Audible and choose The Women’s Waras one of your two free books.
This book was provided to me by NetGalley and the publisher. All opinions are my own.
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