The Glass Arrow: Review + Giveaway

February 4, 2015 2.5 star books, 2015, dystopian/post-apocalyptic, Layla 38 ★★½

The Glass Arrow: Review + GiveawayThe Glass Arrow by Kristen Simmons
on February 10, 2015
Genres: dystopian, science fiction
Pages: 331 pages
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
AmazonIndieboundBarnes & NobleGoodreads
Once there was a time when men and women lived as equals, when girl babies were valued, and women could belong only to themselves. But that was ten generations ago. Now women are property, to be sold and owned and bred, while a strict census keeps their numbers manageable and under control. The best any girl can hope for is to end up as some man’s forever wife, but most are simply sold and resold until they’re all used up.

Only in the wilderness, away from the city, can true freedom be found. Aya has spent her whole life in the mountains, looking out for her family and hiding from the world, until the day the Trackers finally catch her.

Stolen from her home, and being groomed for auction, Aya is desperate to escape her fate and return to her family, but her only allies are a loyal wolf she’s raised from a pup and a strange mute boy who may be her best hope for freedom . . . if she can truly trust him.

The Glass Arrow is a haunting, yet hopeful, new novel from Kristen Simmons, the author of the popular Article 5 trilogy.

Oh, The Glass Arrow. How desperately I coveted you. At NCTE/ALAN this year, along with A Court of Thorns and Roses, you were the book I was most excited to find, take home, and tuck away into my heart forever. But unfortunately, our love was not to be.

Why was I even excited about The Glass Arrow in the first place? Ahem. It’s a dystopian novel about women’s reproductive rights and/or bodily autonomy being taken away! It features (in theory) a badass, bow-wielding protagonist! It was being compared to Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale!

Augh, how could I not want to read that? If you like those things, you may also be tempted to pick this up (and don’t let my review stop you from doing so, buuuuuut). In practice, you should probably just read The Handmaid’s Tale (for the first time! or again!) instead.

Here’s why.

1. I was disappointed in the world-building. Science fiction, I think, imaginatively engages with contemporary problems. (So, like, you can read something like Herbert’s Dune and say, hmm, what sorts of cultural anxieties about the Middle East does this novel work through in its portrayal of Arabs in Space?) As a result: if you’re going to write dystopian fiction about political issues that are currently relevant – like women’s reproductive rights – then I really want the world-building to be connected to those contemporary issues. Somehow. In some way.

Instead, this is why women are being kept in a cage and sold to the highest bidder: View Spoiler » And this is really most of the backstory we get? While I understand that Aya, our protagonist, has grown up outside the confines of the city – and spends much of the first part of the book in “solitary” confinement, so she’s not really actively engaging with the society she’s now forced to be a part of – I still really wanted a better-articulated backstory and some sort of coherent explanation for why the world has gone to shit. All of the trappings of dystopian sci-fi are there – people have meal-replacement pills! the dystopian state is the new religion! “unnatural” beauty and grooming regimes define female desirability! – but with … little explanation for why they’re there.

Additionally, some parts of the world-building just didn’t make sense to me. View Spoiler »

This is all to say: I think the world-building would have been much more interesting and complex if Aya had a sustained exposure to different communities (and if we were there for it). But one of the most potentially interesting moments in the book – when Aya is captured and taken to the Garden, where she will be groomed for prospective buyers – is totally glossed over. She’s captured – and then we’re 107 days into her imprisonment. And this happens repeatedly – when she’s purchased, we only get a brief glimpse of what the world outside the Garden is like.

2. Aya was not a particularly believable heroine to me. Point one: Aya has been living outside the city walls her whole life. She has a family she protects; she’s good with a bow and arrow. She’s supposed to be really, really good at surviving and evading capture. AND YET. Any time there’s trouble, she rushes straight into it without thinking! She screams at totally inopportune moments! I know she’s supposed to be capable, but I feel like we never actually get to see her being terribly capable and self-sufficient. View Spoiler »

Additionally, she makes decisions that are both stupid and kind of offensive to me. For example: she meets a Driver (sexy, teenage Driver) while she’s in solitary confinement. From what she’s heard, Drivers are all mute. Ok. She begins talking to him, and when he doesn’t seem to respond, she concludes that he can’t understand language. (This is DESPITE the fact that she knows at least one Driver who understands her just fine!) But she’s just like, “Well, he’s mute. He probably doesn’t understand what I’m saying. I shall proceed to tell him all my secrets! All! It’s funny how he seems to like hanging around me, but I guess I enjoy the sound of the wind through the trees, maybe my voice is like that for him.” And like … to assume that someone can’t understand you because they’re mute is just plain offensive to me.
View Spoiler »

3. Finally, one of my pet peeves in books is women hating on other women. And that happens a lot in this book. Almost every single one of the women Aya meets in this book is horrible and selfish. (If they’re not horrible and selfish, they’re either dead, dying, or children.) This is to say: Aya is constantly bothered by how vapid and superficial and competitive all of the women she meets are. Even though she knows that they’ve all been training to be chosen by men all their life, she can’t help but hate them for not making more of their lives. There is this gem, as women who are in a harem fight over the Magnate’s favor: “A groan rises in my throat. These girls have no idea how pathetic they sound, each fighting for a position as the most valuable slave. They’ve forgotten, or maybe they never learned, that their worth is not determined by how much a man wants them. If I weren’t so preoccupied with getting out of there, I’d feel sorry for them.” And Aya is like this all the goddamn time! Are the women she’s around obsessed with being chosen by men? Sure. Have they been trained to feel this way? Absolutely. Have they been trained to compete for male affection? Sure. Is it fair to blame them individually for the social forces that constrain their lives? NO.

Aya has one half-friend. One. Who gets better. And, I mean, although Aya articulates that there are “more important things in life than being chosen,” which is a great sentiment, I’m bothered by the female exceptionalism!1! that characterizes Aya. It’s that horrible thing where someone is special because she’s not like all the other girls (materialistic, shallow, only interested in finding a romantic partner).

So: I really wanted more from this book, and I’m more bummed about this than any of my reading adventures lately. I thought this was a sure thing! Someone write me a good dystopian novel that’s like The Handmaid’s Tale or When She Woke, okay, you all?

Finally: If you want a copy of The Glass Arrow, let me know. Since I didn’t care for it, I’m going to mail my ARC out to one of you all. (Fair warning, I’ve dog-eared a few pages, but otherwise, it’s looking good.)

To win a copy, all you need to do is leave a thoughtful comment below telling us

1. an email where we may contact you
2. why you’re interested in The Glass Arrow.

Open to US and Canadian residents aged 18 and older, or 13 and older with parental permission. Please see our giveaway policies for complete details. Contest ends 2/11/15, the day after the book is released!

So … has anyone else read this? What’d you think?

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An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.

38 Responses to “The Glass Arrow: Review + Giveaway”

  1. Ann Jacobus

    Late to the party, but wonder if you have read Catherine Linka’s A GIRL CALLED FEARLESS? It takes a similar premise, the commodification of females, and sets it in a parallel-universe Los Angeles–where a hormone fed to beef caused the death by cancer of the vast majority of the country’s women ten years ago. The author’s a friend so I’m biased, but I think she did a fabulous job of painting a chilling political-sociological alternate universe that COULD happen– and telling a great fast-paced story.

  2. Hylla

    Not sure if my comment got through before so I’ll just post it again:

    The Glass Arrow….

    I have been waiting for this book ever since I randomly happened upon its goodreads page about a year ago.

    When I first read the summary, all I could think was that it seemed a LOT like “Eve” by Anna Carey. I mean a society where woman are basically just breeding machines…Pretty similar, right?
    Eve was good, so I admit I was really curious about this one.

    After your review, my expectations aren’t as high but I’d still love to give it a try! Been wanting to read it for a pretty looong time after all ;)

    To enter the Glass Arrow giveaway, do I just comment my email here?

    Thanks! ^.^

    • Layla

      Oooh, what was her debut like? I haven’t read it, but after reading this, I’ve been curious. I do like dystopian fiction a lot …

      If reading this review has reminded you of your issues with her debut novel, I think it’s probably safe for you to skip this one. Although I should note that plenty of readers did seem to really enjoy it! So your mileage may vary. :)
      Layla recently posted…I Was Here: Review

  3. Pili

    Women hating on women is something I really don’t like that all! =/
    I’ve heard rather good things about this one, but given how spot on you were with your recommendation of Queen of the Tearling for me, I might skip this one, Layla!
    Pili recently posted…Waiting On Wednesday #80!!

    • Layla

      Haha, Pili! You may still want to give it a go anyway. Plenty of readers enjoyed it quite a bit, I think? And it’s verrrrrrrry different from The Queen of the Tearling – which everyone should love, EVERYONE – so whether you liked QotT or not isn’t a good way to measure if you’ll like this one, I think.

      (It’s also ok if you want to skip it. I was whelmed.)
      Layla recently posted…I Was Here: Review

  4. Mary @ BookSwarm

    Oh, I”m sad! This story really did get me all excited with the comparison to The Handmaiden’s Tale but it sounds like it disappoints on that score. I read each and every spoiler, too, and now I’m even less excited. I might still give it a shot, just because I’m curious but this one will probably be a DNF and wind up on my classroom bookshelf (hey, someone will love it!).
    Mary @ BookSwarm recently posted…Pre-Squee: Dead Heat by Patricia Briggs

    • Layla

      You should still read it. I think lots of people liked it and if you were interested in reading it already, maybe give it a go! Perhaps you will be among their ranks, and if not, as you say, it might still find a good home on your classroom bookshelf.

      I like The Handmaid’s Tale so much and think maybe this could have been advertised differently; IMO, The Glass Arrow suffers from the comparison.
      Layla recently posted…I Was Here: Review

  5. Kristy Petree

    Sorry you didn’t like it, but I’d love to win it and read it. My tastes tend to differ a lot from other people, so hopefully I’ll really enjoy it. I like Kristen Simmons, and most of the dystopians that I’ve read (probably my favorite genre), and the theme sounds interesting. I also liked The Handmaid’s Tale, but I don’t always expect the genius of Atwood; she has a special knack for speculative fiction. I like lots of styles. Thanks for the chance! kristypetree(at)gmail(dot)com

    • Layla

      Hope you get to read it! I’m not familiar with anything else Simmons has written, so I can’t say whether this looks like her previous books or not. But if you like dystopian novels and Simmons’s writing already, this seems like a safe bet for you.
      Layla recently posted…I Was Here: Review

  6. Samantha @ BookishSerendipity

    I hate women hating on other women! That sounds irritating. Otherwise, I still have high hopes for the book though. The concept is great, after all!
    (ps. I’d love to have the chance to win. You could contact me at jessieamb AT hotmail DOT com if I win. :-)
    Samantha @ BookishSerendipity recently posted…Waiting on Wednesday #1

    • Layla

      I hear you. I was going to read this come hell or high water. (I’ve been waiting on it for months!) Parts of it are pretty irritating, but maybe you’ll like the book as a whole! I hope you’ll get to read it whether you win or not, and come back and tell me what you think about it!
      Layla recently posted…I Was Here: Review

    • Layla

      Yeah, I mean, this is different in some ways. The hating on other women thing is certainly pretty explicit in places, but mostly it seems like this simmering low-grade judgment of all of the other women that Aya meets (and I think it’s supposed to be directed at the society that makes women into reproductive objects, but in execution, it’s also kinda not). The moment I cited above – where Aya is like, “Man, these women don’t know that there’s more to life than getting a man’s attention!” – is pretty representative of the novel as a whole. (She does stop to consider that if she weren’t trying to survive, she might have more pity for them, and that maybe they’ve been trained to ignore other options, but blargh. Maybe she could have met one other woman who didn’t entirely suck and wasn’t dead and / or a child? Maybe we could think about how women resist oppressive cultures from the inside? Blargh. Blargh blargh blargh.)
      Layla recently posted…I Was Here: Review

  7. shay

    I am also very excited about this book for the feminist-y tilt it seems to have. I’ve read a couple bad reviews of it lately, but I think I’m still going to go for it because I’ve been so psyched for it. We shall see :)
    shay recently posted…Waiting on A Madness So Discreet

    • Layla

      You should still go for it! Even if I’d seen more than a handful of bad reviews before I started it, I would have still read it. (I’ve been wanting to read it for for-ev-er, and you never know when you’re going to love something other folks dislike, i.e., my reading experience of The Queen of the Tearling.) This is all to say, I think it’s worth picking up.

      The book was a mix of feminist and, eh, more problematically feminist moments for me. I think the novel very much wants to be on the side of women’s autonomy! Sometimes the execution there was spotty for me, though. I’d be interested in seeing what you think of it.
      Layla recently posted…I Was Here: Review

  8. Carina Olsen

    Aw, hugs :( I’m so sorry that you didn’t like this book Layla. I kind of adored it, four stars from me, but I also understand why you had these issues :( Sad face. I wish you could have liked this book more :\ But I very much understand you too. <3 Thank you for sharing your awesome and honest thoughts :D
    Carina Olsen recently posted…Waiting on Wednesday #173

  9. Nikki

    Biiiig “heck yes” to this whole review. I felt almost exactly the same way – the believability was what clinched my dislike. Nothing about the worldbuilding made sense, and there was a lot of “mayyybe this could have been plausible if it had been better explained, but it wasn’t”. I didn’t like Aya’s character too terribly much either — I did like that she was so determined in her knowledge of her own self-worth, but you’re right, she definitely strayed to exceptionalism a lot of the time. =/
    Nikki recently posted…ARC Review: THE GLASS ARROW by Kristen Simmons

    • Layla

      Yeah, I mean, I think there were some easy fixes for the world-building (you can still focus on Aya and her family, but like … don’t throw her in solitary confinement, where she can’t interact w/ the world around her! Tell us what her first hundred days in the Gardens were like! make some connection to the world around us NOW by saying something more complex than “women once had autonomy, and they poisoned their wombs with it!” Give me more than that, yo.) I thought your observations about the use of technology in the society were on-point – bah, so much of this was unclear to me, and then learning about the mutants outside the city gates? What? Where? Why?

      Layla recently posted…The Glass Arrow: Review + Giveaway

  10. Allison

    I’m sorry to hear this one was a disappointment! World-building is so tough but so crucial, especially in dystopian novels. When done well, it can make a book so rich and utterly engrossing (I always think of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series). And yes, women hating on other women is a pet peeve of mine, too. It’s hard for me to relate to characters who do that. I’d still be interested in checking this one out because the subject (women’s reproductive rights) is so interesting to me and so relevant to our society right now. Thanks for a thorough review!
    Allison recently posted…Waiting on Wednesday: God Help the Child

    • Layla

      I mean, I think I would have liked the novel more if Aya had been more a part of any of the places she goes to in the novel. But instead, there are just these huge gaps – what’s it like for her to be captured and learn how to navigate the Garden? No clue! But that could have been really interesting. Or *any other of the communities* she sees in the novel! At one point she passes through this land that is like infested with weird, zombie-like mutants, but they are in and out in a heartbeat! Or the harem with other ladies? What’s that like beyond your initial perceptions, Aya? BLARGH.

      I hope you get the chance to check this out. Let me know what you think? I just wanted it to be so much better than it was, especially because women’s reproductive rights (and access to them) is super important to me IRL, and yet, Aya’s world isn’t even like an imaginative extension of our own. I wanted the book to teach me something about how I think about women’s rights now, and it didn’t.

      Layla recently posted…The Glass Arrow: Review + Giveaway

  11. Nikki

    Wow, this is a killer review and definitely one that made me not want to read this. I definitely would’ve picked it up based on the description, but from what you’ve indicated, it does not go in the direction its labeled as.

    • Layla

      I mean, if you’re interested in it, why not give it a whirl? (Do you want to be entered in the giveaway? If so, just say the word!)

      It’s also okay to not read it though. I’m glad I did – because I’d been wanting to read it so badly – but it was a huge disappointment to me.
      Layla recently posted…The Glass Arrow: Review + Giveaway

  12. Jessica @ Rabid Reads

    Yeah . . . I’m thinking I’m definitely going to skip this one for the time being. All of it sounds pretty terrible. I’d rather have a lack of world-building than have shoddy, nonsensical world-building. And I hate women hating on other women too. Not only is it upsetting (b/c nasty), but it’s lazy (b/c generic). SO. You have my sympathy and appreciation for the heads-up. Someone else can take that ARC off your hands ;)
    Jessica @ Rabid Reads recently posted…Blog Tour Stop, Review and Giveaway: Dearest by Alethea Kontis

    • Layla

      Skip it! At least for now. Maybe give it time to see what other people are saying? So far, I think I’ve seen a bunch of folks really, really like it, so it’s possible that I am in the minority with this one.

      Yes, I’m usually pretty willing to suspend my disbelief when it comes to world-building? So, like, I would be totally willing to accept any kinds of reasons for things that seem logically inconsistent to me, but like … I want a reason for them! Don’t tell me that male babies are like the greatest treasure of all – and structure an ENTIRE WORLD around the lack thereof – and then tell me that some guys get castrated? When infertility + lack of dudes is the main problem you’re engaging with? Sigh! At least tell me whyyyyyyyyyyyyy. (I can think of lots of reasons for this! Just give me one! Throw me a bone, man!)

      Yeahhhh. I mean, I think what Aya is responding to in her negative feels about other ladies is the culture that they’ve been raised in, but like, it seems to get projected onto the women themselves in this really uncomfortable way. (And also in ways that are super stereotypical for teenage girls, right? To be like, “Oh, other teenage girls are so shallow and vapid and materialistic and only concerned with what boys think about them!” Those resonances are still there!) Blah.

      If you do end up reading it – however cautiously – let me know what you think.
      Layla recently posted…The Glass Arrow: Review + Giveaway

    • Layla

      Kim has given me a copy of V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic, which I’m really hoping will kick my reading blues to the curb. Since A Queen of the Tearling, I haven’t read anything I’ve really, really loved this year. Womp womp. And it’s already February!
      Layla recently posted…The Glass Arrow: Review + Giveaway

  13. Cherie

    I’m so sad that you were disappointed by this one! I’ve been looking forward to it for a while. Like you, I’m a fan of The Handmaid’s Tale and was hoping this book would also be great. I’d still love to read it for myself, though. :)
    Cherie recently posted…Review: The Wonders by Paddy O’Reilly

    • Layla

      I KNOW. I KNOW. I am seriously still kind of bummed about this. I have been looking forward to this book for months and months and months. (And it’s so pretty! Wah!) I was really hoping to find another YA novel to teach in conjunction with The Handmaid’s Tale, but sadly, this book wasn’t it. It’s like The Handmaid’s Tale only insofar as it is (a) dystopian and (b) about women’s reproductive rights being taken away. I think the comparisons really end at that point.

      Haha, good luck on the giveaway! Maybe you’ll like it!
      Layla recently posted…The Glass Arrow: Review + Giveaway

  14. Ellie

    Oh man…. I was really interested in this book. But form the sounds of it, it seems to be a let down like Defy. :( I’d still be interested in reading it, though warily.
    Thanks for the giveaway!

    • Layla

      It is exactly a let-down like Defy but worse. You’ve got it! (That reminds me of how disappointing Defy was and how I will never, ever, ever be over it. How could a book about a lady being a badass be awful? Auuuugh.)

      And yeah, because a lot of folks have seemed to like this, I wouldn’t necessarily want to discourage anyone from reading it. I don’t think it’s very good, but you know, your mileage may vary and stuff. Just proceed with caution! :)
      Layla recently posted…The Glass Arrow: Review + Giveaway

    • Layla

      Yeah, it didn’t work for me. (Which is such a bummer; if a book ever looked like a Layla book, this book did.) I will say that I’ve seen a ton of positive reviews for this one, though? So it’s possible that you might like it!

      I just thought the pacing was kind of off and that the novel was underdeveloped in many places. I think it would have been different if Aya were more involved in any of the settings she finds herself in, but she seems to be kind of forever apart from them, and so we never get more than a glimpse (it seemed to me) of the world she’s in.
      Layla recently posted…The Glass Arrow: Review + Giveaway