In this dystopian suspense novel, a falsely imprisoned woman learns grim lessons about the new world order during her stint in a re-education camp in a postwar, matriarchal society.
This sequel to Aguila’s Women’s Work (2013) returns to a post-apocalyptic Pacific Northwest society in which a devastating war between the sexes has left women in power, and they place severe restrictions on men. This novel focuses on Rhia, a secondary character in the previous novel, who’s now tasked with delivering essential supplies to three coastal neighborhoods using her battered old boat, Betty. She goes overboard during a storm and gets rescued by two exiles, John and Carol. The trio, waylaid by Rhia’s injuries, get captured and taken to a re-education center for their alleged “transgressions.” The sickeningly sweet Miss Deacon runs the camp and seeks to transform the inmates into docile, compliant citizens. Rhia is hopeful that she’ll be released shortly and finds strength in her roommate, Ruth, whose will to resist remains unbroken. Rhia also comes to realize that the male prisoners are subject to barbaric experiments. Faced with the grim reality that she’s not getting out anytime soon, she befriends one of the male inmates and begins to hatch a plot to escape the camp and return to her boat. However, the leaders of the camp—and others—have different plans. The novel’s slow-burn plot and nuanced characters will draw in regular readers of dystopian fiction. Meanwhile, its multifaceted discussion of issues surrounding gender and power will appeal to those looking for more than just a beach read. For example, male prisoners are forced to “experience what pregnancy feels like. An expanding balloon is surgically inserted into their abdomen, and it’s filled up with saline over the next nine months.” The book works very well as a stand-alone novel, but it may be more fully appreciated in the context of its predecessor. Aguila’s depiction of this engaging world is sure to leave many readers impatient for the next installment.
A captivating story and a thought-provoking consideration of gender, systemic inequality, and the cost of willful ignorance.