Review: “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

A review by Emily.

The Handmaid’s Tale, written by Margaret Atwater in 1985, is a story that eerily parallels events in our world today… but goes a step further to describe our worst nightmares turned reality. In the tale, the United States is at war with Islamic Radicals who have laid out chemical attacks leaving 25 percent of the population sterile. The new regime of the U.S. ironically decides to oppress its women in order to propagate the human race by making it illegal for them to read and hold jobs or property. The fertile women called “Handmaids” are ordered to be clad head to toe in red puritan robes and bonnets and are assigned households to serve a master. They are abused and submitted to servitude by putting the fear of God in all of them. It is a dystopian society where the women are forced to be suspicious of each other so they can never unite against their oppressors. Their identities are anonymous, being named after their household’s master and are renamed when their ownership is exchanged.

The tale is written as a stream of consciousness that jumps back and forth between story plot and its main character Offred’s ruminations. This makes the main character relatable and underscores her loneliness and isolation but leads to a storyline with no real momentum. The story lacks backstory which would have helped to explain the main character’s motives and emotions. A more in-depth backstory also would help us feel perhaps a little less disappointed in a character that is less than a heroine and at times seems pathetic; character development that would have added tremendous value to it as a way to contrast and highlight the main character’s present suffering.  Also, character development of the people she interacts with would have added another layer to the story and may have led us to feel the true depth of Offred’s helplessness as those close to her disappoint and betray her.

Atwater’s work lays the foundation for the abysmal and intriguing new world order which MGM/Hulu’s TV series The Handmaid’s Tale adapts. It satisfies the character building and backstory that the book lacks and casts Offred in a more heroine-like role that we can admire. The MGM series takes us on a more fulfilling journey into her world and moves us beyond the stage that Atwater has set.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

This page contains affiliate links. Read our full disclosure here.

Advertisements

Review: “The Dark Intercept” by Julia Keller

Review- The Dark Intercept by Julia Keller

A review by Amanda.

In the year 2294, on a glorious world called New Earth, crime is almost non-existent. Thanks to a highly advanced computer program, called the Intercept, crimes are stopped before they are committed. The Intercept monitors and records the emotional responses of every citizen on both New Earth and Old in order to keep the peace. Each citizen is implanted with a chip that allows the Intercept into their minds, giving up their right to keep their emotions private. When an emotional spike indicates a potential crime, the people whose job is to utilize the Intercept watch closely to determine if an intervention is necessary. The Intercept will then use an individual’s worst emotional memories against them, creating a horrible feedback loop that incapacitates the offender. Violet Crowley, daughter of New Earth’s Founding Father, is one of the employees of the Protocol Hall, where they watch for patterns that indicate potential criminal activity. It is her job to decide if an intervention is needed, a job she does not take lightly.

Violet understands the necessity of the Intercept and how much easier life is with it. Her curiosity about Old Earth and sympathies for the poor people who still live there pushes her to ask difficult questions, especially when her crush, a cop named Danny, makes unauthorized trips to Old Earth and won’t tell her why. Violet decides to investigate on her own, and the answers she finds only lead to more confusion. When threats arise against people she cares about and to the society her father painstakingly built, Violet takes matters into her own hands.

This story has some similarities to Minority Report, without the precognition aspect, and has a frightening take on futuristic class warfare. When New Earth was created, the deciding factor for who was allowed to come along and who had to stay behind was mostly wealth. Many doctors and scientists left Old Earth and the people who were forced to stay behind had very little resources. Many are dying of fevers and infections and crime is rampant there, even though many citizens have had chips implanted because they are rarely monitored by the Protocol Hall.

Violet is a lovely character if a bit naive in the beginning. She loves her friends and her family and is torn between following the rules and protecting her loved ones. She feels some ambivalence towards the Intercept, despite accepting its usefulness. The supporting characters are a little less developed than Violet, although still interesting. There are a couple of unexpected twists that added more substance to the plot, and the ending could work as a standalone or to continue in a series.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

This page contains affiliate links. Read our full disclosure here.

Review: “Bannerless” by Carrie Vaughn

A review by Amanda.

I read this book for free as part of the Prime First program, offered to those with Amazon Prime memberships.

Bannerless is a post-apocalyptic tale, set along the west coast one hundred years after the Fall of civilization as we know it. Communities have been formed, run by committees, and populated with people who know the value of hard work and family. Several family units live together in households, working together to make their household prosperous. Every household works for the good of the community, with quotas to fill. Intentionally surpassing quotas and hoarding goods is illegal. Most technology has been forgotten, in favor of a precious few that would make rebuilding easier. One such item was the birth control implant. Households must earn banners to show that they can provide for a child. If someone has a child without a banner, they and their entire household will face grave consequences.

Enid is a twenty seven year old woman who has just started a household with three others. She works as an investigator, traveling to different communities as needed to settle disputes and investigate reports of bannerless pregnancies and suspicious deaths. Investigators also assign punishments as they see fit, and are looked upon with fear and wariness. Nevertheless, Enid is proud of her position and enjoys the travel as much as enforcing the laws, ensuring that everything is fair and just. When she and her partner, Tomas, get a message regarding a suspicious death in a nearby town, she is eager to get down to business. Upon arrival, however, things are clearly not what they seem and Enid’s job may be harder than she had imagined.

The idea of a post-apocalyptic world is not a new one but this author brought interesting elements into an established genre and made it feel new. The idea of earning the right to have children is also not a new idea but it is intriguing when combined with other aspects of the world building. Enid is a solid character, devout in her beliefs. She believes strongly in doing whatever needs to be done to keep things fair and balanced for everyone. The book goes back and forth between the present and Enid’s past, leading to the mystery that starts the story.

Although this book had potential, it was a bit of a disappointing read. Enid, who is our protagonist and narrator, is not a deep character. She is predictable, even during exciting moments. The majority of the supporting characters are even more shallow and less interesting. The plot is mediocre, with the mystery being the only thing propelling it forward. There are a few surprises that may keep a reader interested, and world the author has built is worth more exploration, but the overall story is mediocre.

The author has an urban fantasy series, Kitty and the Midnight Hour, which I greatly enjoy. She also has several fantasy standalones, including Steel, Voices of Dragons, and Discord’s Apple, which I highly recommend.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

This page contains affiliate links. Read our full disclosure here.

Review: “The Gender Game” by Bella Forrest

Review: “The Gender Game” by Bella Forrest

A review by Vanessa.

I purchased this book from Amazon after an advertisement linked me to it and the synopsis seemed interesting.

In a world where your gender rules your fate, Violet Bates is happy being a woman born in Matrus, where the females rule the government. Violet doesn’t know what exactly caused the great war that brought such destruction upon them, but everyone knows why the surviving populace living in the only fertile mountainous area left, split into two different ruling factions. Men had proven to be monstrous, and violent, and had already brought about the eradication of their previous way of life. Women thought it was time for females to lead. The men disagreed, and the majority of the women left, with those men who agreed, to form a separate government in the flat lands beyond the toxic river. Peace reigns in Matrus; power and masculinity reigns in Patrus.

Even though 19-year-old Violet committed a crime that put her in jail until her upcoming 21st birthday, she was better off than in Patrus where women were no more than property. Still, when her brother was marked at an early age as unfit to reside in Matrus, she loved him too much to see him condemned and tried to smuggle him across the river. She failed, and he was taken away. Now all she wants is to get through the rest of her sentence without trouble. But fate has other plans when Violet’s scuffle with another prisoner ends in womanslaughter. The Queen has made Violet an offer: help with a secret mission to recover something that was stolen, or face death as punishment. The mission comes with a heavy price. Namely, marriage to the Queen’s spy in Patrus. If she succeeds, she might just get the chance to see her brother again. But first she must survive having no rights, and no bodily autonomy. Still, it’s not all bad. Violet has always loved the thrill of physical combat, which is outlawed in Matrus. But in Patrus she is drawn to a lean handsome fighter who serves as a warden for the government her new scientist husband works for. Things just aren’t what they seemed to her before, and she finds herself torn between her mission and her heart.

The classic futuristic dystopian genre gets an interesting twist in this book. Focusing on the gender dichotomy as the source of the main conflict is an all too familiarly painful, and eerily possible, future. The turns the story takes are expertly executed, and will definitely keep the reader engaged. Violet, the main character, is a highly relatable lead to the story. Her personal journey is particularly captivating, as she discovers more about the world outside of her own experience. A rather large flaw in the world building, however, is the complete lack of acknowledgment of what happens to those who would be transgendered, non-gendered, or outside of the societal expectations for sexual orientation. Considering that this world is supposed to be the future fate of our own world, it is insanely disappointing that such a large part of humanity is simply not addressed. I have to hope that the great potential for what could have been a fascinating conflict within this world will be covered in future books. That being said, it has been a very long time since a book has actually kept me up all night to finish it. And though the prose could be just a little bit stiff at times, it flowed just right in all the places that mattered the most; the first moments of Violet’s real self-discovery, the height of the romantic tension, and the shocking twist of the story’s climax. I will definitely continue on in this series.

My rating: 3.5/5 stars.

This page contains affiliate links. Read our full disclosure here.

Review of “Gambit” by C.L. Denault

Gambit by C.L. Denault A review by Amanda.

I would like to thank the author and publisher for allowing me to read Gambit in exchange for an honest review. There are mild romantic spoilers in the last paragraph of this review.

Sixteen year old Willow Kent has a secret. More than one, actually. She has a skill, a genetically enhanced ability that makes her extremely valuable to the Core, the ruling industries of war-torn Earth. It’s been centuries since battles over genetic coding destroyed Earth as we know it. Now, the population is divided. Those who live in the Core have every technological advantage conceivable; elsewhere, citizens live in primitive villages where technology is forbidden. Patrols from the Core round gifted individuals up to be put to use working for the wealthy or breeding to make stronger skills. Willow has done everything she can to keep herself out of the hands of those who would use her skill, to keep her freedom, and to keep her loved ones safe. When an elite patrol arrives just ahead of terrifying news from the Core, everything Willow has worked for will be undone.

I am a big fan of speculative and dystopian fiction. As such, this story drew me in immediately. Willow is smart, stubborn, and tenacious. While those traits could have made her come across as harsh or cold, the author does an excellent job of balancing with Willow’s warmth and humor towards her family and closest friends. The story itself is intriguing, combining science with fantasy. The differences between Willow’s village and the Core give the story a time-travel effect; the village lifestyle has a 19th century feel to it, whereas the Core is much more modern and advanced further than today’s technology by far.

The Core commander who throws Willow’s life into disarray is sharp, cruel, and intimidating. He alternates cruelty with kindness and confuses Willow more than anything. This is the only aspect of the book that gives me pause. It bothers me to see another YA story with the heroine finding herself attracted to someone who has hurt her, both emotionally and physically. He blames her for his actions and either apologizes or does something kind to make up for it. He also uses his powerful position to manipulate her. That being said, he is still a fascinating character and to my chagrin, I found myself warming to him. I can only hope that his character changes for the better.

The real heart of this story is in the richness and depth of the supporting characters. I will definitely continue with this series.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

This page contains affiliate links. Read our full disclosure here.