A feminist alternative history novel explores the morality of violence.
In a world slightly different from readers’ own, women suffer the same primordial trespasses against them: unwanted sexual advances, harassment, violence, silencing. In this realm, however, a vigilante organization exists in order to strike back against those who trespass against them. One woman who has suffered more than most is Averil Parnell. The lone survivor of an infamous massacre meant to snuff out the first-ever class of female Roman Catholic priests, Averil is of two minds on the nature of violent justice. The church teaches forgiveness, of course, but some acts may be impossible to pardon. “What do you do with the anger?” Averil muses while counseling a young woman who wants to kill her male blackmailer. “And the young woman’s more immediate, more pressing concern: What should I do with it?” Regardless of Averil’s association (or lack thereof) with extralegal groups, her symbolism and mysticism place her at the center of an ever expanding cult of admirers and believers even as her failure to meet a different vow—that of celibacy—threatens to upend everything this priest has built. Whether peaceful or violent, no movement that challenges the status quo can hope to escape the notice of the powers that be. Kearns writes in a precise prose that elegantly skates the line between literary and conversational, delivering sharp images and observant barbs: “Nothing could rattle her calm, not the seedy diner with its greasy windows and tasteless meat loaf, nor the equally seedy convenience store across the street, where she sensed the usual unwanted male attention as soon as she pushed through the door.” The world the author has created is inventive and provocative, but she does not rely on premise alone to sustain the book. Averil and the other point-of-view characters are fully formed and richly motivated, and the novel’s daring critique of today’s patriarchy never feels didactic or forced. As in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, this novel offers an alternate reality that feels disturbingly real. It demands the reader live inside it and see who gets destroyed.
A bold, politically minded tale with a spiritual soul.