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.
Review of The Women’s War
The Women’s War is one hell of a story. Based on a society where women are considered second-class citizens, if they are lucky, this is the story of revolution led by two extraordinary women.
Alysoon Rai-Brynna is a widowed mother of two and daughter of a king. When her father divorced her mother in favor of a more politically advantageous marriage, Alys and her brother were declared illegitimate. And her mother became an Unwanted, sentenced to life at the Abbey.
Princess Ellinsoltah of Rhozinolm will become queen when the two most likely male candidates to the throne would most like cause a war. The plan: after her year of mourning, Ellin will take a husband who will then become king. Or so her council thinks.
These two women will become the pivotal characters who react and overcome so many obstacles thrown at them in the aftermath of the world-altering spell.
The story is complex and so many characters lives are intertwined it is impossible to represent all of that here in a review. So I will pick and choose a few characters…
Crown Prince Delnamel (half-brother to Alys and Tynthanal) is the villain to boo at every time he turns up. Occasionally, he seems to have a teeny tiny bit of heart, but don’t let that fool you. There is one horrible scene where Delnamel arrests three senior abigails and then allows his men to rape the women of the Abbey. My heart ached at the scene, but it a critical event that changes the raped women in such a way that those men will have cause to regret.
Tynthanal, brother of Alys and lieutenant commander at the Citadel, escorts the women of the Abbey to the wasteland to their new home. It is because of him that the women discover the new Well of magical elements. Thus Women’s Well was founded. Tynthanal is one of the few male feminists in the book.
Semsulin, is the lord chancellor and head of the royal council of Rhozinolm. He is the man who talked Ellin into taking the crown. His motives are not entirely clear, though as the book goes on, he seems to support Ellin more and more. I think he only wants what is best for the kingdom and that is a difficult thing to determine.
In a society where only men are allowed to use magic, it will come as quite a shock when those men learn that women are not only able to use magic in many ways, but they are also quite good at. If they don’t make room for women as equals, they will loose. Take as much of that as you wish as a commentary on any aspect of women’s history in our own world.
The cover by Elizabeth A.D. Eno, is beautiful and inciteful and truly represents the story. Ms. Eno must have read the book before she crafted her cover.
The Women’s War is 560 pages long according to the published page counts. You would think 560 would be enough to tell a story. It isn’t. Be prepared for a huge cliffhanger. The only characters whose stories are resolved are the ones that died. The description on NetGalley gave no indication that this was the first book of a series. The Women’s War gets 4 stars from me, losing one star due to the gigantic cliffhanger. (I may have thrown a fit when I finished the book. I don’t remember. It is all kind of fuzzy.) But if I was the type of reader who didn’t mind cliffhangers, I would give it all 5 stars.
Heartbreaking, hopeful, magical and emotional. The Women’s War truly is an amazing story.
Here is a quote from the book. It was said by Alys’s mother, right before the world upended:
Something is going to happen tonight. Something … momentous. Something that will change the world in ways I can’t entirely foresee.
Through Netgalley, the publisher provided a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
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