I learned about Wen Spencer through the random bookshelf promotion at a local book store via her Tinker and Wolf Who Rules books, so began reading further into her work. This one caught my eye for its very different take on male-female relations:
In a world where males are rarely born, they’ve become a commodity–traded and sold like property. Jerin Whistler has come of age for marriage and his handsome features have come to the attention of the royal princesses. But such attentions can be dangerous–especially as Jerin uncovers the dark mysteries the royal family is hiding.
Combined with a cover that points to a more classic view of the handsome prince rescuing a maiden (which is actually a scene in the book), I was curious to see what direction the story would take.
I didn’t expect something akin to the old west (19th-century technology for the most part), where horse-riding, gun-slinging, and an ability to wield a sword would be so prized. I was, however, rewarded with a world that so enabled me to suspend disbelief that the whole “only 1 in 10 children born is a male” was just another piece of the world-building and didn’t jolt me out of the story at all. (Of course, given my own fertility issues, that whole challenge rang pretty close to home anyway.)
More intriguing, though, was the absolutely consistent portrayal of an absolute inverse of the standard female position in our society. To whit:
That afternoon he took a stroll on the sundeck with Summer and Corelle. He had stepped out of his room intending to pull down his veil. The unobstructed sight of the sunshine on the water checked him. He climbed the stairs to the sundeck with his sisters trailing him.
Jerin expected Corelle or Summer to say something about his veil being up, but they didn’t. Feeling someplace between guilty and free, he walked the sundeck, more interested in the fellow passengers. They gave him wide smiles and nods of greeting, but, with quick looks at his armed sisters, didn’t speak to him.
At the stern, over the churning paddle wheel, he met Miss Skinner.
“Tch, Mr. Whistler, what are you doing?” Miss Skinner reached up and tugged down the veil. “There are people on this boat not to be trusted. If they thought you were an ugly thing behind that veil, they might leave you alone. Don’t tempt them by showing them how stunningly beautiful you are.”
“I’m not stunningly beautiful.”
“Most women only see a few men in their lives. Their father. Perhaps their grandfather. If they are lucky, a brother and their husband. Any other men they see are always veiled. To them, anything with both eyes and sound teeth is a handsome man. My family are portrait painters. My hand is not as good as my sisters’, so I decided to teach instead, to see a bit of the world. Before I left, though, I had seen an extraordinary number of men and paintings of men. You, Mr. Jerin Whistler, are the most stunningly beautiful man I have ever seen.”
I’ve loaned my copy quite a few times by now and have not yet had a negative reaction–even from friends who are not typically into fantasy. This book is such a careful tapestry of gender, politics, and mystery that there’s something to appeal to any thoughtful reader, and has thus earned unabashed fandom from me. For anyone who wants whole-hearted escapism, this works well for sucking you in and surprising you in every chapter.