By Shannon Stoker
Another book picked up during my smash and grab of dystopian fiction, this time from the adult (non-teen) section. It was a bit of a surprise to see this in the Sci Fi section as it really reads like a teen dystopia.
The book has the premise than in the future, the relationships between men and women are regulated. Women at 18 becomes listed in the registry for men to buy as wives. If they are not purchased after a year then they are married to the Government (become low grade workers). Men have an obligation to join the military and only have the right to a wife when their service is complete. The society is very conservative and the rules are applied rigorously.
The execution of the premise is messy. It really is. There’s too many holes for it to be believable. Firstly, the society described is too uniform. The U.S. is a diverse place and the book seems to have turned it into a white mono-culture (there’s no hint of other races). Secondly, the structured and rigid nature of the society is so at odds with the modern U.S. it’s hard to see how they would get from the modern society to what is depicted. The selling of women into marriage doesn’t make sense. The expensive ones get sold and the cheap ones don’t and end up in government service? Really, doesn’t seem like a free market in action. I’m sure the lower socio economic classes would happily take a cheaper wife. Men are pushed out of the household, often at birth to be raised by the state. By whom? Really? It ignores the strong need that many men feel to have a son. I just can’t believe that these tough, hardened military men would boot out sons (that they could relate to) and surround themselves with daughters (with the main motivation being profit from their sale into marriage). Really the whole thing ignores basic biology.
The characters are a strange lot. The main character, a girl trying to escape an arranged marriage is manipulative and naive. That’s fine. The boy that helps her is a strange fish. Originally introduced as a trustworthy and sympathetic farm worker, he has rather unexpected and explainable bouts of violence. He just not consistent and there’s no explanation for it. The villain is the man that pays the bride price for the main character. He’s too over the top. OK, I get that it’s good to hate the villans but he’s to over the top that he erodes credibility of the story. He throws a law enforcement officer out of a helicopter without consequence. Like really? It’s a different society but if the laws were that permissive, it would be wild west.
Essentially, this is a variation on what seems to be a common theme of dystopias that remove rights from women and see how it goes. An interesting and valid topic to explore to be sure but if the story isn’t credible, then it undermines the whole thing.