Wednesday, February 03, 2010
A Brother's Price, by Wen Spencer
A Brother’s Price
Imagine a world where women outnumber men by a factor of something like twenty to one. Women are the soldiers, the butchers, the bakers, and even the candlestick makers. Women do all the jobs that, in another world, might be considered “men’s work”. Because of their scarcity, men are heavily protected and valued for breeding (if a husband) or for building alliances in trade or sale (if a brother). The gender roles in this world are completely flipped.
The basic plot structure of A Brother’s Price is fairly simple and standard. Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Girl falls in love with boy. It can never be because girl is a princess and boy is not a prince, except, you know, maybe he kind of is. Will love win out?
The twist, of course, is that it is the girl that has to pursue the boy and have her family negotiate with the boy’s family regarding any possible marital union. Jerin is loved by his family, but Jerin is also a commodity and his “brother’s price” could earn his sisters a husband or a good deal of money. If he remains pure.
Without assuming the intentions of the author, my impression is that the point of this book is to tell a straightforward romantic adventure story with a pointed flip of gender role. The flip serves to make the reader think about the social mores of this culture. Is it right for men to be treated as property, even humanely? Is this right?
The quick answer is that no, it isn’t. That despite their relative scarcity in this world, men should be as free as the women are. Free to be whatever they want to be. Those are our modern American mores and are what we feel are basic human rights.
This may be the point, to force us to examine more closely the historical role of women in society.
Now, perhaps that is too obvious. Perhaps part of the point is to answer the assertion that if women ruled the world, everything would be different and so much kinder. A Brother’s Price tells us that it will not, but that women are just as capable of ruling and creating technology and culture.
Had Spencer chosen to tell A Brother’s Price with traditional gender roles, this would likely be viewed as a deeply offensive novel. Instead, because of the flipped gender roles, the reader may experience some discomfort, but not the level of offense as yet another repressed woman story would cause.
Here’s the thing, though. I spent all this time talking about what the novel might be saying that I haven’t spent a single word on what it did. That’s because the largest part of me is more fascinated by what is or may be going on behind the scenes.
The reason I spent all these words on the behind the curtain stuff is because A Brother’s Price is a book I could not put down. I read A Brother’s Price in great big chunks and I was completely wrapped up in Spencer’s storytelling. Sure, this is a fairly standard story with a twist, but it’s damn compelling. Readers can fairly well guess how this is all going to end, and there is a little bit of a telegraphed “surprise” coming near the end, but it doesn’t matter. Once you start reading A Brother’s Price, you’re going to want to continue to the end.
This is a believable and rich world. There is a history to the setting and to the characters, and though A Brother’s Price is a standalone novel, I would really love a chance to visit the Whistlers once more. Spencer left me satisfied with the story she told, but also left me wanting more.