"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." (Francis Bacon)

Saturday, July 22, 2006

A Brother's Price

Title: A Brother's Price
Author: Wen Spencer

Before I say more, I want to say that I enjoyed this. I just wish I had enjoyed it more. It's listed on the spine as Science Fiction and the author is known for her SF series Ukiah Oregon as well as a fantasy novel or two. The only thing about this book that fits the SF genre is the role reversal of the sexes.

Men in this tale, which is set at past-like time from present-day Earth, are far outnumbered by the women and are, therefore, treasured. They're coddled and groomed to be sold into marriage. They take care of the children, lots and lots of children, they father with many, often dozens of wives. They are fairly docile and most can't read. Jerin is an exception in many ways.

After he helps rescue a princess who's been attacked, he comes to the attention of her sister Ren who falls in love with him and him with her. But given their disparate social standings, a union between them and her sisters is unlikely to be allowed. Except....

There's political intrigue, lots of "romance novel" situations made a tad uncomfortable with the young male character in the typical woman's role, and an air of predictability about this book. I figured out most of it ahead of the revelations, yet the revelations I was longing for didn't come. If these are humans, why are male births so few when in reality, the births of males to females is almost equal? Why do the men act so docile? It can't be lack of testosterone, because they look manly enough, despite hair kept long and clothes more feminine than not, and their equipment works just fine.

If not for the simple fact that a woman could not service so many men at once and keep up the population thusly, the roles could be reversed without much affecting the story. I could figure out if a point was being made or if the author simply had an idea and ran with it. The characters are likeable enough, but I never cared for them the way I do her characters in the Ukiah books. I don't like reading about fainting females and I like it just as little when it's the men doing the fainting, so to speak (actually, he vomited, rather than fainted). I kept waiting for resentful men to make an appearance or for a male uprising or some such, but the story focused on Jerin, and Ren, alternating between their povs. And that led to another problem. The lack of suspense.

Scenes with Jerin showing he was alive, when followed by scenes of Ren worrying that he was dead, instead of coming after the Ren scenes, diluted the tension. We the readers know he's alive so the suspense isn't there the way it could have been. Without that, the book has to rely on other factors to keep the story flowing. What works best for it is the breezy writing style that makes for fast reading. There certainly were few or no surprising plot twists to fill that role.

One thing that struck me in this sex reversal is that somehow, the male gets to play hero. If the purpose is to show how harmful denying equal rights and privileges to one sex can be, I missed it. If the point was to portray women as strong and men as weak, that didn't quite hit the mark, either, as it was Jerin's specialness, the training his sister's gave him in self-defense and such that enabled him to help save himself and others. While he had to rely on the women, he still provided the necessary means to their escape and he was the one who helped uncover the truth about assassinations the royal family suffered prior to the story. I suppose if Jerin had been female, this would have shown how resourceful women can be in a world where females aren't granted equality, but here, with the male in the female role, it just seemed silly.

A half dozen or so, that I spotted, grammatical errors that have plagued Spencers Ukiah books surfaced here, with sentences with repeated words ("he" before and after the verb, for ex) and other odd constructions, indicating poor editing or proofing.

I suppose a good test of a book is whether or not one would read a sequel. I would read one to this, but mostly to see if some of my questions are answered. If you're looking for a quick read, a book that poses an interesting situation and you don't mind that its potential isn't fulfilled, you might enjoy this. It can certainly help pass a lazy, hazy summer day.