on February 10, 2015
Genres: dystopian, science fiction
Pages: 331 pages
Amazon • Indiebound • Barnes & Noble • Goodreads
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.
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 » Two men were fighting over the same lady. She slept with both of them. And then they rounded up and killed a lot of women and took other ones as slaves which created some serious problems for the continued reproduction of that society – presumably – but even this last part isn’t super clear. And now … women are groomed to be sold to the highest bidder as breeders of primarily male children. « Hide 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 » For example, part of the ostensible reason that ladies are getting hunted in the wilderness is because there are (a) too many women and (b) too many women who suffer from infertility. So, for the women who are being married off to the Magnates, they’re supposed to be focusing on producing male children. HOWEVER. Male eunuchs serve as Keepers! And we’re told that – in order to pay their debts – sometimes families surrender their male children – who are then chemically and physically castrated and become Keepers. And I’m like … ok, but in a city with low birth-rates, where very few men are born, and we’re told that boy children are explicitly desired … WHY?
I’m open to explanations around this – that they want to maintain a low number of men in actuality to consolidate power, that biological relation to the Magnates matters, that this is meant to articulate some sort of class distinction (preventing people w/ fewer economic resources from reproducing) – but as it is, it doesn’t make sense. Also, they’re called “Pips,” because after being castrated, they tend to say “pip pip pip” a lot when they’re flustered. According to the book, it’s a result of their medical treatments. But, bah, that doesn’t make sense! « Hide 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 » This is to say nothing of her loosely-planned rescue of her family in the city, which had me rolling my eyes from here ’til eternity – YES, please scream your cousin’s name and rush towards her while you’re trying to be discreet! « Hide 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 » Especially when it is clear from like a thousand miles away that he can understand her. Perhaps that is not a spoiler. Additionally, Drivers aren’t really mute! They’re just pretending. Baaahhhhhhhh. « Hide 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?
An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.