(review originally posted on my livejournal account: http://intoyourlungs.livejournal.com/16215.html)
Read For: calico_reaction's Alphabet Soup book club (August)
Like many of the other book club titles I have read this year, I had never heard of Nicola Griffith, or any of her previous work. So, I went into this novel without any idea what to expect, except that from the blurb, I knew we were going to be dealing with some gender issues in a sci-fi setting (which I found quite intriguing.)
There will be spoilers for this book, but spoilers don't really *ruin* the novel -- I don't thinks so really -- because the book is about the transformation of the main character, so it's the journey that's important, not the destination. Still, if you'd like to remain spoiler-free, just read the My Verdict at the end of the review.
What really caught my attention about the premise of the book was its focus on gender; more specifically, it's focus on women, as Jeep is a planet that is populated solely by women who have discovered a method of pro-creating. Griffith pulled off this premise beautifully. All of the women featured in this novel are STRONG women, but they're all strong for different reasons. They also never, EVER, fall into the stereotype of "man with boobs", despite being strong women. The idea that women are "strong" because they behave in ways that are typically attributed to men is something I feel like our society is plagued with, so it was so nice to see a lot of these strong (and in some cases, absolutely ruthless) women be feminine as well as strong. It was also nice to see that they had vulnerabilities as well, especially Marghe and her revelation that she was living a somewhat hollow existence, and her subsequent yearning to belong somewhere, anywhere.
Speaking of characters, Marghe was incredibly fleshed out and well realized. Like I mentioned above, she's a woman who is very comfortable with her femininity despite her rather cool exterior, and watching her transform from being merely an observer/scientist, to a victim, to someone who felt an incredible need to belong, which led to being directly involved with Jeep people was well paced, and maybe not exciting, but definitely interesting and believable. The only bit that I found a little unbelievable was how Marghe was so willing to trust the people from Ollfoss. She had just escaped the Echraide, who treated her pretty horribly, so I thought she would be a little more hesitant to give herself so wholly to the people of Ollfoss. But that's just a minor quibble. Oh, and I also loved how the novel never established Marghe's sexual orientation; I don't know WHY I liked that so much... but I did. Now that I think of it, none of the characters are ever referred to specifically as lesbians, though Marghe isn't the only character who has a romantic relationship with another woman.
I also really loved that as much as this book was about Marghe learning about the people of Jeep, it was even more a bit about her road to self-discovery and finding herself and where she belonged.
The supporting characters were very well fleshed out as well, and I felt pretty bad for all of them, knowing what kind of danger they were on by staying on Jeep (not that they had much choice.)
So while I liked all these elements of the novel, I still can't say that I *loved* it. It was definitely a very interesting look at how a matriarchy society would work, and the way that the Jeep people produced was interesting (and reminded me a little bit of the oolois from Butler's Lilith's Brood, what with the genetic manipulation and stuff.) However, the novel is never exciting. I know it's not a book that's meant to be exciting, but it was still an element that kept from loving this book. I do, however, appreciate and respect a bunch, and as such is a book I plan on keeping, as I love what Griffith has done here. It's just not a book that I think I would re-read, or if I did, it wouldn't be any time soon. :)
Final Verdict: This is some really awesome speculative fiction and a great look at a matriarchal society in a sci-fi setting. Griffith has done some really interesting things with this novel that I absolutely loved, but it's not a book that I love as whole, just because it is rather more slow-moving. However, this is not a story that's meant to be fast-paced, so that's solely my personal preferences shining through and not a fault of the author's. This is a book I would love to keep, though maybe it's not one I would want to re-read any time soon. However, if you're interested in fiction that deals with gender (more specifically, the female gender) this is definitely a book to check out, hands down. The women that populate the novel are also very well realized, as they're women who are *definitely* feminine, without falling into feminine stereotypes, but they also never fall into the "man with boobs" stereotype, despite being strong female characters. It's also great how this novels also focuses on Marghe's road to self-discovery as WELL as being a study of an all-female society. I would definitely check out more works by this author. :)