In this sequel to The Women’s War (2019), Glass continues to explore the question of what happens when women wield power.
When last we left our two heroines, Alys and Ellin, both were exploring their power as sovereign rulers, and their journeys continue in this volume. Alys is going to have to overcome a terrible loss if she’s going to lead the citizens of Women’s Well, a newly founded colony in which men and women are equal. And Ellin must fight to keep her crown in a country not quite ready for a woman to reign supreme. Both women are adjusting to a new reality in their world. After centuries in which men ruled both state and religion, a spell cast by Alys’ mother, Brynna, has made it possible for women to decide whether or not they conceive and carry children. Not only does this present a grave challenge to patriarchy, but it also reveals that women’s magic might well be as strong as that of men. The writing here is a bit more assured than it was in the first installment of this three-part series. A surfeit of scene-setting detail often slowed the narrative in that book; this one moves at a slightly faster clip. But one aspect of fantasy—present from The Lord of the Rings to the Earthsea trilogy and beyond—that's missing here is a sense of existential drama. Glass spends a lot of time on court intrigue and international alliances and trade agreements and interpersonal relationships—all of which seem to go on much as they always have. The fact that women are in control of their reproductive destinies and the discovery that women’s magic is more powerful than anyone imagined feel like they should be world-changing, but…they just kind of aren’t. Of course, there are readers who might argue that traditional sword-and-sorcery epics often fail when it comes to character development and emotional richness, especially with female characters; such readers might appreciate Glass’ more intimate, character-driven approach to fantasy. People who enjoyed the first installment in this series should enjoy the second, and people who wanted to like it but got discouraged by the slow pace might want to give Glass another chance.
An assured second volume in this feminism-inflected saga.