[I received a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]
A strong premise that definitely caught my interest (what’s not to like about a female-driven version of “Lord of the Flies”, so to speak?), but whose execution unfortunately didn’t work for me.
The story starts with a typical “dystopian place where women are expected to behave in certain ways, and are under men’s yoke without any recourse”. Bleak (and sort of over the top), but that’s why it provides for a good starting point: heroines aren’t born from cozy lives where nothing unpleasant ever happens, after all.
Tierney is that person: a girl on the cusp of her sixteenth birthday, after which she’ll be exiled for one year with all the other girls born the same year as her, to live in some remote camp in the woods where they’ll all have to expel the “magic” out of them. (A magic that is clearly threatening only because it is meant to have an impact on men, of course, such as the girls being rumoured to be able to seduce anyone if left unchecked, and so on.) So that’s where we start: on the eve of that fateful day, with Tierney disagreeing with it but not having much of a choice, and determined to make the most she can out of it—she knows that no boy in the county will give her a veail (= propose to her before she leaves), due to her being the local tomboy, so she wants to work in the fields instead when she’s back, to at least have some kind of freedom by working outdoors. To no reader’s surprise, things don’t go exactly as planned, and Tierney finds herself leaving with the promise of enmity in that camp, rather than of working together to survive the upcoming year.
The “grace year” is clearly not a good year for these girls, and I did like that part of the world described in the book. Again, not a rosy part at all, rather an infuriating one at that, for the girls having to live in that camp on an island was an obvious attempt at breaking them and better subdue the future wives and female workers of the county. Is the magic real? Most people in Tierney’s town probably wouldn’t be able to recognise it if it stared them in the face, but they are nevertheless quick to seize this as an opportunity to get rid of a wife judged as too old now, or to smear someone’s reputation. You want to root for Tierney here, hope that she, at least, will find a way out of this, or a way to turn the table and bring change to her society…
…But that’s where the book lost me, for several reasons:
- The camp setting could’ve been a perfect opportunity to show us young women having to cooperate in spite of their differences, and perhaps finding and retaking their own power in a place where no one else would see and judge them. Unfortunately, it went down another road, one I don’t care for much, in a “one vs. all the others” way, complete with mean girl extraordinaire and appalling behaviours. Although the latter was somewhat part of the very patriarchal society depicted here, the problem was how it only contributed to pitch girls against girls, even more than in their hometown, instead of giving them a common ground on which to build something else.
- Tierney was introduced as resourceful, but there were several moments when she was helpless in situations where she should’ve made more use of her skills, and let herself be bullied to an extent that could’ve been lethal. Maybe I was expecting too much here? I expected her to catch on much more quickly on how the others would behave towards her, and have, I don’t know, some backup plan?
- Following this: the huge problem, for me, of having the female lead placed in dire situations… and get out of them only because men helped. This completely underminded the feminist aspects, from the man who helps Tierney in the woods, to the one who lies to save her skin. Not only did it make her look helpless, but it also enforced the message that, all in all, men were deciding everything about her life. Again.
- The romance. Unnecessary in such a plot, and without any real chemistry anyway.
- The world itself. I’m still not sure whether it’s a fantasy world, or whether the county is located in England or the future USA or something (mention is made of people from varied origins with different languages, then of English having become the common language; Vikings are also briefly mentioned). It was pretty much a bubble world, with only the county and the one town in it, and nothing else beyond this. Still unsure whether societies in other counties was the same or not, if they had grace years as well or not, etc.
Conclusion: I filed this one as “it was OK” because I did finish it and it had a few points I liked, but it could’ve been so much more, and ultimately wasn’t.