Book Review: The Dark Tower #3 – The Waste Lands

Title: The Waste Lands
Author: Stephen King
Year of Publication: 1991
Series: The Dark Tower
#: 3
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 4.22
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 3

You’ve Been Warned: Watch For Spoilers

the waste lands

Plot Description: Roland, Eddie and Susannah travel along the path of the Beam until they meet up with Jake Chambers, the boy whose death Roland had allowed to happen in The Gunslinger. Then they search for Blaine the insane monorail, who might be able to get them to their next destination.

What is it about this book? I almost feel like a failure for not liking it so much. Goodreads is filled to the bursting with glowing reviews. I also have a sneaking suspicion that I might have liked it more right after I’d read it, but since I binge-read the entire series at a go (and these are BIG books), the ending of the series as a whole spoilt most of the books that came before it. The only real exception to this rule is Book No. 4, Wizard and Glass. 

After all of the world building and game-board setting that the reader had to endure in The Drawing of the Three, Roland’s ‘ka-tet’ is almost complete – with the exception of Jake Chambers and Oy the billy bumbler, to whom we are introduced in this book. [The creation of the billybumbler? Pure genius]

The Waste Lands is a roadtrip book. The characters are constantly on the move, and their journey is peppered with notable incidents – gunfights, mental battles, even the odd sexual battle. (Yeah, that was pretty odd). It’s not a bad book, but it’s far too long and could have done with some paring down. It also ends on a cliffhanger, which as I understand it, wasn’t resolved for about a decade after this? That’s awful, and I’m glad I wasn’t a Stephen King fan living in the 90s.  Waiting two years for the next Harry Potter was torture enough, not to mention my current love-hate relationship with G.R.R. Martin. If you can look past the mangled language (or inexplicably happen to love it), and you don’t mind settling in for a long journey, then this is definitely the book for you. I’ve also begun to classify anything strange within the books as the natural consequences of Stephen King’s penchant for horror.

Next in this Series: The Dark Tower #4 – Wizard and Glass

Next Review: Bloodlines #4 – The Fiery Heart

Book Review: Dark Tower #2 – The Drawing of the Three

Title: The Drawing of the Three
Author: Stephen King
Year of Publication: 1987
Series: The Dark Tower
#: 2
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 4.21
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 3

A Few Important Spoilers Here and There

drawing of the three

Plot Description: In this sequel to The Gunslinger, Roland of Gilead must meet three strangers who will help him on his quest – the Stranger, the Lady of Shadows and the Pusher. Together with new characters Eddie Dean and Odetta Holmes, Roland journeys further along the path that he hopes will eventually lead him to the Dark Tower.

At this stage in the series, I was still pretty absorbed by the plot. This was despite the fact that the writing remained dry and cramped, and the whole time I was reading this book I felt like I was eating something completely tasteless out of some weird compulsion.

Fascination might actually be a better term for it, because in The Drawing of the Three, King actually introduces a few characters who are far more likeable and relatable than his Cowboy With An Extra Helping of Hero. The problem with Roland is that he’s presented as practically flawless – his only flaw is his singleminded determination to reach the Tower no matter what, and since that’s the whole point of the series, it’s not really considered a flaw. On the other hand, Eddie Dean and Odetta Holmes are both extremely flawed characters who must balance their personal struggles with helping Roland on his quest. This is despite the fact that both of them were pulled unwillingly out of their respective lives – lives which take place in different decades in our modern world – by Roland the Selfish Hero.

Roland was last seen waking from his conversation with his old enemy Merlin, only to find that ten years have passed since he sat down to talk to the wizard, and that the wizard is now dead. I mention these facts because they are completely out of line with the story presented in later books (plothole alert!) where it says that a hundred years passed while he was talking to Merlin, not ten, and that Merlin isn’t dead after all. As an afterthought, Merlin’s continued existence is ret-conned and we’re told he faked his death. What purpose was served by this entire rigmarole is something we readers will forever remain in the dark about, unfortunately.

Eddie Dean is the Prisoner represented in the first of the tarot cards Merlin draws for Roland during their ‘palaver’. (Old fashioned terms like this one are overused to the point of exasperation throughout this series). Eddie, it turns out, is not a conventional prisoner, but a junkie – a prisoner to heroin. Roland first encounters him as he’s endeavouring to get a couple of bags of cocaine through customs as a drug mule in 1987, and he eventually pulls Eddie out of our world and into his, where Eddie begins to experience withdrawal and is taught in the ways of being a gunslinger by Roland.

Odetta Holmes is a crippled civil rights activist from 1964 who suffers from multiple personality disorder brought on by multiple traumas in her life – including the accident which caused her to lose her legs. Odetta is educated, soft spoken and non violent, and thus the complete opposite of her alter ego, Detta Walker. Detta is extremely violent and dangerous, harbours a burning hatred for white people – especially white men, is delusional, and speaks in an exaggerated caricature of the stereotype of an uneducated Afro-American. Just as with Eddie and his drug addiction, Roland helps Odetta and Detta confront reconcile their personalities, thus creating Susannah Dean.

Both Eddie and Susannah (who have fallen in love and consider themselves married) prove to be ‘natural gunslingers’, picking up the knack of fast shooting and other gunslinger characteristics extremely quickly. This is despite the fact that neither of them have ever trained for any sort of active physical life, and considering it took Roland and his childhood friends a decade before they could be considered trained gunslingers, I find this premise unlikely (and therefore an example of shoddy and lazy writing). Eddie and Susannah are ‘natural gunslingers’ only because the plot demands it of them.

The final person Roland comes face to face with is Jack Mort, a lowlife criminal sociopath with murderous tendencies. Throughout his life, the Pusher has attempted to kill numerous people, either by dropping heavy things on them from above, or by pushing them – into traffic (as in the case of Jake Chambers) or into the path of an oncoming train (as in the case of Susannah Dean). When Roland realizes that Jack Mort is responsible both for Jake’s initial death in The Gunslinger as well as for the loss of Susannah’s legs and the development of her Multiple Personality Disorder, he kills Jack in revenge, and to prevent him from killing Jake (again). Roland’s actions here also set up for the return of an alternate version of Jake Chambers in the next book, The Waste Lands.

The vibrant and unique personalities of Eddie and Susannah Dean are what saved this book as far as I was concerned. Indeed, the further this series progressed, the more it became clear to me that of the eventual quintet, Roland was the least interesting, the least worth saving.

While The Drawing of the Three is still pretty good as far as novels go, the series is fast approaching decline, which is why I’d never recommend it to anyone. Unless they were stuck in Mid World with Roland of Gilead and had nothing better to do.

Next in this Series: The Dark Tower #3 – The Waste Lands

Next Review: Bloodlines #3 – The Indigo Spell

Book Review: The Blackcoat Rebellion #2 – Captive

Title: Captive
Author: Aimee Carter
Year of Publication: 2014
Series: The Blackcoat Rebellion
#: 2
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 3.77
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 2

Spoilers

captivecarter

Plot Description: Kitty is supposed to continue pretending to be Lila Hart, but her rebelliousness gives Daxton Hart, the Prime Minister, reason to publicly disown her and send her Elsewhere. In Captive, Kitty navigates survival in Elsewhere and continues her efforts to further the Blackcoat Rebellion.

The word Blackcoat is unnecessarily grandiose and superficial, just like everything in this book. I mentioned in my review of Pawn (Book 1 in this series) that the story could easily have been wrapped up by the end of that book. But Carter sacrifices good writing in favour of world building (and the mandatory YA trilogy) and Captive suffers the brunt of that choice.

In a word, Captive is as superficial and redundant as the name Blackcoat (which is what the rebels choose to call themselves). The book opens on a celebration of Lila Hart’s birthday, and talks about how Kitty is a 7 in a room full of 6s, which makes her more powerful than any of them. But as anyone who has read Pawn knows, Kitty isn’t really a 7. Sure, the back of her neck is marked by a 7, but the ridges of her original tattoo still exist – and they show a 3. She talks about how any of the people in that room (a bunch of Ministers) would have her killed if they knew her real identity. This is false – those Ministers couldn’t care less about her. Like Carter, Kitty focuses on the unimportant details, the fancy trimmings (like what rank she’s currently pretending to be) rather than the important details – like the fact that 7 or not, Lila Hart is a powerless puppet – a teenager who can’t make much of a difference in the world. She whines about none of this is actually part of her life, and how “stealing” moments with her real boyfriend is more important to her than celebrating her fake birthday with a fake fiance. And it is profoundly unclear as to why this celebration is important. What are they keeping appearances up for? What is the real cost of not pretending to be Lila, or of not being on her best behaviour? Who cares if Kitty does a less than stellar job in pretending to be Lila?

Kitty whines to Knox about how they had a deal – that she’d play nice for a couple of hours and then be allowed to leave. Knox lectures her about the importance of keeping up appearances – a lecture that Kitty completely ignores in favour of snagging something to eat off of a nearby table. As a result of this conveniently stupid narrative device, both Kitty and the reader are left in the dark as to the potential importance of this celebration.

When Kitty is rude to a Minister who is ogling her chest, Knox pulls her away and tells the Minister that she’s being rude because she had too much to drink. I resent the implication – that a well behaved girl is supposed to put up with the unwanted advances of lecherous men – and I resent the fact that Kitty’s actions here aren’t in any way supported by Knox or by the author. The author seems to use this example to demonstrate the gamut of Kitty’s bad behaviour, rather than to subtly condone her reaction.

Here’s a pathetic attempt to explain the reasons why the plot is the trainwreck that it is:

That was the only reason I’d agreed to stay when Knox had asked me three weeks ago. It had been after an exhausting night and day, when Augusta Hart, Daxton’s mother and the real iron fist around the country, had tried to not only kill me and Lila, but Benjy, too. Instead, I’d put six bullets in her. Now, with Lila seriously injured, it was up to me to pretend to be her until someone took the Prime Minister out of the picture.

Um. Why? Who is going to take the Prime Minister out of the picture? The Prime Minister has no back up – and he’s not even really the Prime Minister. He’s a fraud like Kitty, a 5 who’s been masked to look like a 7. Why is this so difficult?

Kindly suspend your disbelief, the book seems to be saying to the reader. Nobody cares about logic here.

Daxton arranged a pyrotechnical surprise for the fake Lila on her birthday, but the fireworks send her into a PTSD infused gunshot flashback. Once again, Carter manages to take a serious issue (PTSD) and completely trivialize it. It’s normal for someone who shot her fake grandmother only a few weeks ago to react this way. But with Knox already by her side, Kitty ends up looking weak and foolish when Benjy appears in response to her screaming. As with prostitution in Pawn, the PTSD is used as a narrative device here – to introduce the other part of the love triangle onto the scene in defiance of all logic. Neither Kitty nor Benjy seem to care about the fact that their little display might end with their covers being blown in front of all the ministerial folks.

It’s a cringe worthy moment, and one where neither Kitty nor Benjy are at their best. Rather than being mature, responsible adults who are working to overthrow a regime, they show themselves for what they really are – silly teenagers who are in over their heads and who don’t care about anything other than themselves. I’ve accused Carter of being inconsistent in her writing, but her portrayals of Kitty and Benjy continue to be as consistent as it is bad – this is a page right out of the same book that saw Benjy offering to run away with Kitty so they could be together right after she took the test, and to hell with the consequences.

This is precisely what makes the characters of Carter’s book unsympathetic – their defiance of logic, and their utter selfishness.

Nor did I have any ends to justify my means. Killing Augusta hadn’t done me any favors—it had only removed Daxton’s leash completely, leaving all of us in grave danger. And that, I thought, was the worst part of all. I’d saved Benjy’s life in the short term by pulling that trigger, but in the long term, we were both one whim away from death.

Thanks to her fainting spell, Knox refused to allow Kitty to attend the midnight meeting of the rebels. Then he catches Kitty sneaking away to try and attend the meeting anyway:

“Maybe if you stopped acting like I’m an untrained dog and started treating me like a person who’s as much a part of this as you are, I’d stop pulling against your invisible leash,” I said. “I have every right to be there, and you know it. If you keep acting like I’m a liability—”

“I wouldn’t if you stopped being a liability.”

“—then I’ll leave,” I finished, ignoring him. “If I can’t work with the Blackcoats, then I don’t have any reason to be here anymore.”

Knox has begun to act suspiciously in the meantime, appearing to hold back vital information from the rest of the Blackcoats. This leads Kitty to suspect that Knox is secretly working with Daxton.

They could try to out him, but the media is in Daxton’s pocket. Anyone who went to press with the news would be labeled a traitor and executed before sundown. No one should have to make that sacrifice for nothing.”

The other reason why Kitty and her allies haven’t outed the fake Daxton yet is to protect Greyson – who would obviously be targeted by the rebelling masses the minute Daxton’s real identity was revealed.

Knox’s mouth formed a thin line, and he wrapped his arm around my shoulders. Normally it would have been a sweet gesture, but tonight it felt more like a threat. “Do you want to see the masses go after him once the rebellion begins?”

“You mean it hasn’t already?” I said, but he didn’t answer. I bit my lip. Greyson was one of my only friends, and the last thing I wanted was for him to get caught in the crossfire.

We were meters from the bunker when Knox stopped and faced me, his dark eyes bearing into mine. “Listen to me, Kitty,” he said in a low, hurried voice. “Telling the others about Daxton doesn’t outweigh the risks of Celia finding out—and if the other Blackcoat leaders know, she will find out sooner rather than later. And what happens after that is anyone’s guess. Do you understand me?”

Against Knox’s wishes, Kitty goes snooping for information about the Fake Daxton. With the help of a magical high tech lock-pick that Greyson had fashioned for her, she manages to get hold of two files – one on Daxton, and one on herself. Unfortunately, Kitty’s dyslexia and illiteracy helps serve as a literary device to keep both Kitty and the reader in the dark.
Kitty’s sojourn in Elsewhere is as pointless as the rest of this book, except as a world building exercise. She is introduced to a cutthroat population that simultaneously includes children growing up without having known any other sort of life, and punitive executions which require one condemned person to save themselves by fighting another to death in public cages.
Although she’s offered comfortable lodgings at Daxton’s guesthouse by virtue of her status as a 7, Kitty opts to live with the rest of Elsewhere’s population. The mysterious couple who double as her sector’s wardens turn out to be inextricably linked both to the imposter Daxton’s and to Kitty herself.
She also meets a portion of the Blackcoats while in Elsewhere, and attempts to help them with retrieving military codes securely held somewhere on the premises.
Carter’s fondness for senseless plot twists and faked deaths spills over from Pawn to Captive. So too does the inexplicable need to appeal to a readership of ordinary girls while maintaining the trope that a heroine is always special – a secret princess, if you will. While these plot twists make for interesting storytelling by themselves, they don’t do the books a favour when taken together. An invested reader will welcome further information about Kitty’s parentage, for instance, but won’t fail to see that all the twisted storytelling is achieving is plot confusion.

Next Up – Book Review: Sisters Grimm # 4, 5 & 6 by Michael Buckley

Next in this Series: Blackcoat Rebellion #3 – Queen

Book Review: The Blackcoat Rebellion #1 – Pawn

Title: Pawn
Author: Aimee Carter
Year of Publication: 2013
Series: The Blackcoat Rebellion
#: 1
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 3.80
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 2

SO MANY SPOILERS

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Plot Description: Kitty Doe lives in a world where everyone takes a test at the age of 17 which evaluates their worth in society. She receives a 3, rather than the average 4 on her test. Just when she thinks she’s doomed to a life of menial work, she’s whisked off to be a doppelganger for the Prime Minister’s dead niece, Lila Hart. As Lila Hart, Kitty is supposed to help stop a rebellion against the current regime – a rebellion Lila had secretly been fostering.

Disclaimer: I didn’t want to read this book, but it was lying around at home and I was starved for options. Since I was going into this book with no expectations whatsoever, I actually ended up pleasantly surprised at times.

It was only after I started reading YA almost exclusively that I came across the phrase “TSTL” (too stupid to live). And that’s precisely what first comes to mind when we see Kitty Doe stealing an orange and hoping she’ll be shot on sight for theft. The idea gets even more ridiculous when you realize that her boyfriend, Benjy is with her, and she’s putting both of them in danger. The writing is vague and disconnected even here, at the beginning, and this really doesn’t bode well for the rest of the book.

After escaping from the Shields and relinquishing their orange, Kitty and Benjy discuss her options. With that particular brand of clear thinking apparently omnipresent in sixteen year olds, Benjy proposes to Kitty, because this means they won’t be separated. Thankfully, she has the sense to turn him down, because she’s afraid being married to a 3 will hurt his ranking chances when he takes the test.

Kitty decides to go speak to Tabs, a local prostitute who has been trying to recruit her. Benjy is dead set against this. And while Benjy seems to be speaking purely from prejudice, I agree with him because I don’t think Kitty really understands what it means to be a prostitute. The way she talks about it gives me the impression that she thinks the worst thing about prostitution is having to sleep with strange men. She doesn’t sound like she understands the physical danger involved, or the lack of choice that will end up haunting her with every step she takes. She certainly didn’t know Tabs was recruiting her because Tabs would get a cut of her pay.

“You’re my girlfriend,” he said roughly. “I don’t want those pigs touching you.”

Okay, Benjy, I know you’re sixteen, but you can’t build your life around a girl. Like, seriously. Also, possessive much?

Before she leaves, Benjy asks her to sleep with him. I don’t really know what to make of that, but it makes me a little uncomfortable. Kitty tells him that it’s better for her prospects if she’s a virgin, and then he tells her he should be her first.

Why? I know it’s hard for your sixteen year old love-crazed brain to comprehend this, Benjy, but plenty of people who are in love are never each other’s firsts. And you don’t really get to decide who should be someone else’s first. You can want Kitty to be your first, sure. Similarly, she’s the only one who gets to decide who she wants to be her first.

Kitty tells him he’s always going to be her first because sleeping with anyone else won’t count, and she breaks up with him for a month – until he knows what his ranking is going to be.

Prostitution is illegal in Kitty’s country, but since it’s the ‘oldest profession’ in the world, and since many of the highest ranking men in the country frequent these clubs, a blind eye is turned. Since she’s young and still a virgin, her virginity is auctioned off – starting with a thousand gold pieces and ending at thirty thousand. That’s more than she would have made as a sewage worker in ten years, and she’s amazed at the idea that anyone would spend that much for one night with her. Kitty’s naivete is once again starkly obvious, since she doesn’t seem to have understood that what was being bid for wasn’t her – not her as a person, but just the fact of her virginity. She’s very much still a child here, because the idea that prostitution can sometimes dehumanize the people working in that field isn’t something she’s completely recognizing.

This is the point at which I set the book down and momentarily wish that this was what this book was really about – the story of a young girl who begins to gradually understand the world through her life as a sex worker – her journey from innocence and naivete to maturity, if you will. It would definitely have made for a better plot than that of the real Pawn. But I guess that’s not what real YA literature is looking for.

I wished this because even though prostitution is not the subject matter of Carter’s book, she introduced it all the same, and then trivialized it. In another review I read, the reviewer described the prostitution sub-plot as a gun that wasn’t loaded, and I think this gun shouldn’t have been brought into the picture and then portrayed as inconsequential. Kitty leaves the club not realizing the exact nature of the bullet she just dodged, and I think a lot of younger readers would have ended up doing the same. Prostitution and virginity auctions are not, after all, some myth conceived of in Carter’s precious fictional dystopia. They exist in the real world, and have a lot of real world dangers and connotations attached to them. Treating the subject as a convenient plot device and reducing it to prejudicial stereotypes is not okay at all.

Okay, that was intense. And it’s only now that the real plot kicks off.

In short, Kitty is made to stand in for the PM’s dead niece, as a cover up for her death. Lila is a bit of a Princess Diana figure – she’d been going around saying things that were technically treasonous, and had acquired a vast following among the common people through her charisma and charm. A lot of time is devoted to describing Kitty’s eleven days of training to replace Lila, and in this time, the rest of the family is introduced. There’s Celia, Lila’s mother. Augusta, Daxton’s mother and the matriarch of the Hart family. There’s Knox Creed, Lila’s fiance. And Greyson, Daxton’s younger son and sole surviving heir.
This is where Pawn becomes a confused piece of writing, and having read the sequel – Captive – I can tell you it doesn’t get better. Pawn has a lot of things going against it. For one thing, it’s a chip off the old Hunger Games block, and derivative as such. For another, it suffers from less than sympathetic protagonists. With the exception of Knox and Greyson, even the auteurs of the rebellion are motivated by selfishness. Celia is out for power and revenge. Kitty’s heroism is impulsive and inconsistent. She’s as confused about her motivations as can be – oscillating wildly between sympathizing with the downtrodden and helping the autocrats in order to save Benjy’s life.
The confused storylines don’t help Pawn’s case. Plot twist is piled on top of plot twist, and one ends up disliking all the characters on principle. Carter seems to care more about shocking the reader and keeping them guessing than on good writing. As a result, by the time it is revealed that the real Lila Hart is still alive, one gives up.
Pawn was greatly evocative of a Meg Cabot book on similar lines – the Airhead trilogy, where a smart girl’s brain is transplanted into a supermodels body. (Spoiler: Airhead also revealed that the original owner of the body was still alive.) These books seem eager to appeal to the everygirl reader while reaffirming the idea that a heroine needs to be conventionally beautiful. It’s a sad attempt at having one’s cake and eating it too, and undermines the lesson that physical beauty isn’t the be-all and the end-all.
The book ends with an action filled showdown between Kitty and the matriarch – Augusta Hart. Where she was previously unable to assassinate Daxton, Kitty now shows herself capable of killing when Benjy’s life is at stake. With Augusta out of the way and Daxton still in a coma, it seems like the perfect moment for the rebellion to take control. This opportunity is, however, wasted in favour of a set up to a sequel that honestly seems unnecessary.

Next: The Blackcoat Rebellion #2 – Captive

Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Title: The Handmaid’s Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood
Year of Publication: 1985
Series: N/A
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 3.99 
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 5

thehandmaidstale

Plot Description: In a dystopic world ravaged by pollution and sexually transmitted diseases, infertility is the second biggest problem faced by what once used to be the United States of America. The biggest problem is the Religious Right, although they probably don’t see it that way.

Offred, the eponymous protagonist, is a part of one of the Gileadean empire’s greatest schemes to combat infertility – that is to say, the imprisonment of women of child bearing age and their subsequent induction into sex slavery as Handmaids. The Handmaids are surrogates to the infertile wives of rich and powerful (and ever fertile) men deemed worthy of this shot at reproduction.

This review falls smack dab in the middle of my reviewing of the Shifter series, which is, incidentally also set in a universe where women are controlled for reproductive purposes.

Offred provides a first person narrative voice that is muted and numbed in tone but unceasingly rebellious in its content. Her thoughts shift from scene to scene the same way one would flip through a book one has read too many times already. And while her memories may not make for a pleasant book, it’s a compelling one all the same.

Sometimes she isn’t in the mood for the really tough parts, so she might read to you from a different, only slightly less horrifying scene. This gimmick, in my opinion, works well for the empathetic reader, because by the end of the first chapter, you’re dreading hearing Offred tell her story just as much as she dreads telling it.

The Handmaid’s Tale has been marked down both as feminist dystopia as well as speculative fiction. I find these classifications incredibly stupid for one particular reason: Both terms refer to a vague and distant future filled with horrid things that may or may not happen, and this is a singularly inaccurate way of describing The Handmaid’s Tale. 

This book is Contemporary like nobody’s business. Look around you, and you’ll see the events described in this book happening on a large scale, systemic basis somewhere or the other in the world. Sex slavery? Saudi Arabia has perfected it to the extent that their diplomats feel it’s NBD to be practicing it* carrying on with it in their embassies to foreign countries. 

* These guys don’t need to ‘practice’ sex slavery anymore, because they’ve got it down pat.

Regulation of human rights of women with regards to reproduction? The State of Alabama tried to terminate a woman’s ‘parental rights’ to her foetus. On grounds of chemical endangerment of said foetus. Because she wanted an abortion

Between the Planned Parenthood Bill and the rising prices of female contraception everywhere, there really shouldn’t be much doubt as to whether there’s a call to increasing regulation of female bodies, should there?

The fact that male politicians continue to legislate female bodies (on the basis of arguments that sound like they came out of a Insult and Dehumanization Randomizer) whilst carrying on with their often hypocritical personal lives merely holds a mirror up to characters like Commander Fred. I’m talking about those people who are literally half a step away from instituting a Gilead involving morally legitimized surrogacy cum sex slavery whilst maintaining that prostitutes are still a necessity because “men like variety”.

Patronymics (the handmaids are stripped of their original names and named after the man they now belong to – E.g.: OfFred, OfWayne, OfWarren, OfGlen), victim blaming, male privilege, and systematized rape culture. All of it exists in the extremely non fictional here and now.

(What are our surnames but patronymics after all?)

And the Religious Right is everywhere. ‘Which religion?’ is an irrelevant question. All of them. And they’re all always Right. And the one thing they all seem to agree on is woman’s rightful place (or rather, the lack thereof) in the universe.

Ookay, point made. Rant over. The next rant observation has to do with the other reviews of this book on Goodreads. In hindsight, I suppose it shouldn’t have been surprising that The Handmaid’s Tale has a wildly polarizing effect. For one thing, the style of writing doesn’t work for everyone. Some think it’s inconsistent to juxtapose Offred’s everyday monotone (submissive, quiet, repressed) with sentences that suddenly end with “The Commander is fucking.” Others just found it too distracting.

The other notable thing about the reviews is that on the one hand you have reviewers who – like me – see in this book a very accurate description of the world around us today (and possibly read dire warnings of the book eventually coming true). Others are quick to denounce the book as the most speculative of speculative fiction, and state categorically that “Time has not been kind to Margaret Atwood’s vision.” [As I’ve already stated, I firmly believe that the latter lot are completely wrong.]

Something I grappled with quite a lot was my inability to understand why all the characters were so subdued. It wasn’t possible, my brain reasoned, for human beings raised in lives of independence and freedom to bend their knees so easily.

Throw a frog into boiling water and it will hop out immediately. Drop it in ordinary water and slowly bring it to boil, and the frog will cook in it and die without realizing what is happening to it (until it’s too late).

Besides, that’s basically what happened during the Holocaust anyway.

The Handmaid’s Tale is a beautifully nuanced book that looks at all aspects of life under the patriarchy. It looks at the impact on the Handmaids – simultaneously the objects of revulsion and hope by the rest of the community and on the Wives – considered Failures because of their inability to conceive and set aside. It looks at the Young Men who are both considered ineligible for wives (and by extension Handmaids) as well as forbidden to masturbate by religion and on the Daughters fated to grow up to be Somebody’s Wife. The book even takes pity on the Husbands who seem to have it all, even Husbands like Commander Fred who wrote the system only to find, too late, that he’d robbed himself of the twin pleasures of intimacy and variety.

Motherhood is one of the central themes of the book – Offred is a mother to a lost child who is now someone else’s daughter somewhere else in the city. She is also expected to be a mother again – only for a while, only for nine months – and she hopes for this as well. Except a new pregnancy means something different to her than the first one had – it’s freedom from the threat of exile, protection from a variety of punishments, and sadly, a hunger for approval, like a dog hungers for its owner to recognize that it has been a good dog. (This makes quite a lot of sense, because in addition to the fact that she’s a sex slave being forced to bear children, it’s also important to note that the real mother of any children born to her would be the Commander’s wife.)

The book’s real ending depicts an academic conference at least a couple of centuries into the future, adding additional context in a manner reminiscent of the found-footage genre of horror movies. And as with that genre, the reader finds themselves stepping out of an intensely engaging personal narrative of horror into a disorienting context where characters who are centuries removed from the book’s subject remark upon those past events in a lighthearted manner.

After I was done reading, I compared notes on the book with the friend who recommended The Handmaid’s Tale to me. We were specifically talking about which part of the book made us feel the most physically nauseous. For her, it was the scene where Offred and her fellow inmates at the Rachel and Leah Re-education Centre are made to repeatedly chant “It was your fault!” at a new girl who had recounted her story of having been gangraped at the age of fourteen.

For me, it was the moment Offred realizes that the government’s move to remove women from full citizenship made her inoffensive husband happy, not sad. She has lost everything, she thinks, but he has gained instead. Everything that was hers is his now, and she too, is his.

Next: Shifters #4 – Prey