This novel is a complex, absorbing classic and rightly so. It posits a future matriarchal society, one that depends on fostering and maintaining a trumped-up religion to wield power over gullible people. (Wait a minute…)
The societal structure is intricate but not so much that readers can’t follow it. What truly fascinates are the preconceived notions of what constitutes gender roles and behavior. Blue and pink were colors once associated with girls and boys, respectively, and then flip-flopped for no apparent reason. The ideas of what women are supposed to be like as compared to men (who are seen as vastly inferior) are exposed as being just as arbitrary as a perceived color preference.
Wars, disease and famine have all been eradicated in the walled-off cities. But it has come at the cost of near-stagnation, a worry even the most elevated women have been unable to ignore. Once upon a time, there was a chance at space travel. Now most of the planet has been left unexplored or unpopulated except for scattered bands of roving males. History is ignored and the general sciences don’t advance. One character states that men were responsible for many of the world’s evils but also many of its advances. Maybe it was the competitive urge, largely absent in the urban female population, that was necessary for both.
The novel shifts perspective among three characters within and without a female-run and -occupied enclave. Most prominent are the musings of Birana, an exiled female, and Arvil, a curious male who gradually realizes that the female traveling with him is not a goddess, after all. The third is Laissa. She is timid, nervous and lonely. Having lost people in her lives to other loves and interests, she fears ostracism and makes terrible choices because of it. She becomes a historian and then a chronicler and it is her musings that gradually wind their way through Birana and Arvil’s harsh struggle for survival in the outside world.
“The Shore of Women” is a romance with an epic sweep, as people inside and outside of the enclave struggle to effect change. Perhaps all changes start with a story…which may be why the book begins and ends with Laissa’s account.
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