Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Book of Etta

The Book of Etta by Meg Elison
47North: 2/21/17
eBook review copy; 314 pages
ISBN-13: 9781503941823
The Road to Nowhere #2

The Book of Etta by Meg Elison is the second book in the post-apocalyptic series that started with The Book of the Unnamed Midwife. You have to read the first book in the series before The Book of Etta. About a hundred years have passed since the time of the unnamed midwife when a plague wiped out nearly everyone, but especially women and children. Childbirth is still dangerous.

Etta/Eddy comes from Nowhere, the village of survivors (located in the present day Ozarks/Odarks) that reveres the unnamed midwife. Etta wants to be a scavenger, not a midwife or a mother, the only two recognized positions for women in her village. She goes out on forays disguised as Eddy where she looks for useful items and rescues any women/girls being sold by slavers she might meet on the road. After one foray into Estiel (St. Louis) where the powerful leader called the Lion is located, she now tries to avoid the city. His followers raid nearby communities, demand tributes, loyalty and especially women and girls to all be taken for the Lion.

There are small communities that are becoming established now and each of them deal with the gender inequality differently. Women in Nowhere have hives, where one woman has a group of men. The Lion keeps a harem of women and rules by fear and power, but there are also catamites (castrated boys) for his men's use. (Girls are being cut too, so genital mutilation is an occurrence now.) There are several other settlements introduced here that have their societies set up differently.

The big, overriding theme in The Book of Etta is the question/complication of gender identity, inequality, and the firm roles in place for various communities. Etta identifies as Eddy and is transgender but is not allowed to be Eddy in Nowhere, where women are either midwives or mothers with a hive, while other communities have different rules in place for their men and women. Each different community Eddy visits is like a different, weird societal cult where there are specific roles assigned based on gender. Eddy doesn't have a place.

I was eager and excited to read the second book in the planned trilogy because I loved The Book of the Unnamed Midwife so much. The writing is still very good. I wasn't as captivated by this second installment, however. It could be the second-book-in-a-series syndrome since it is obviously a bridge to the final installment. Although it is still brutal and gritty, the focus and anxiety over gender questions among several characters is almost overwrought, taking up more pages of anxiety than would seem necessary in this changed world.  It will be interesting to see where Elison is taking this series.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of 47North.

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