It’s a world like but unlike the world we live in today. It is the future, or it is the past. Woman are taking over, are coming into the power, and nothing will ever be the same. Naomi Alderman’s speculative fiction novel, The Power, explores what we think we know about gender roles, the human body and the human condition, and imagines a world you want to read more and more about.
The Power begins as a manuscript from a male writer to a female critic of some sort and purports to be the historical, anthropological account of how the way the world got to be how it is. The history that this author, Neil ,tells is one of a world much like ours but very different. Women have a new power, a new body part: a skein in their collar bone that allows them to electrically shock people. It begins with teenagers, but they can awaken tthe power in older women, and now every female baby is born with it. It begins to change the world. Now, women are strong. They are powerful. They can take control. And they do. It doesn’t go how you might expect. This book really answers the question, “What would a matriarchy look like?” and while the writing can be a bit much and isn’t the best I’ve read, even this year, it’s a world I wanted to learn as much about as I possibly could.
This novel is told through many different narrators and characters, which allows the reader to get a sense of the way the world works from different points of view and even different countries. First, there’s Allie, also known as Eve. She escapes an abusive foster home by using her newfound power and finds a convent of young women, quickly rising to become their leader, and then launching onto a national stage and beginning a new religion. There’s Roxy, a mafia daughter who uses her skein, but mostly her wit and her grit, to run a drug trade and take over the family business. There’s Margot, an ambitious US senator who sees the potential for a private military made up of women using their skeins. There’s Jos, Margot’s daughter, a teenage girl who at first has troubles with her skein but then gains even more power as a NorthStar girl. There’s Tunde, a male Nigerian journalist who travels the world documentary what is happening with the skeins and the women taking power. Along the way his own life is threatened, he finds attraction and repulsion, and he ultimately discovers how the matriarchy manifests itself.
The only character I genuinely disliked and that I felt was a drain on the plot was Roxy. She felt more like a mechanical character, one there to help get stuff done and get fake passports and trade drugs, than a commentary on anything else in the novel. Her family mafia connections felt almost farcical at times and incongruent with the rest of the novel. She seemed so unconnected to her skein for most of the novel that at the end, when her big plot point happens, I didn’t care.
The post-script letters following the HUGE climax of the novel, what the countdown was towards, were ridiculous. They were far too didactic and on-the-nose and kind of made me like the whole book less. I get that they were supposed to relate to why this manuscript was being given to Naomi and all that, but it didn’t go over too well.
Anyway, I generally enjoyed this book, especially the world building and the use of other mediums, including drawings, to tell the story. Check this book out if you love futuristic, speculative fiction and if you love female-driven dystopias.