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Book: “Scorpica” by G. R. Macallister
Publishing Info: Saga Press, February 2022
Where Did I Get this Book: e-ARC from the publisher!
Book Description: A centuries-long peace is shattered in a matriarchal society when a decade passes without a single girl being born in this sweeping epic fantasy that’s perfect for fans of Robin Hobb and Circe.
Five hundred years of peace between queendoms shatters when girls inexplicably stop being born. As the Drought of Girls stretches across a generation, it sets off a cascade of political and personal consequences across all five queendoms of the known world, throwing long-standing alliances into disarray as each queendom begins to turn on each other—and new threats to each nation rise from within.
Uniting the stories of women from across the queendoms, this propulsive, gripping epic fantasy follows a warrior queen who must rise from childbirth bed to fight for her life and her throne, a healer in hiding desperate to protect the secret of her daughter’s explosive power, a queen whose desperation to retain control leads her to risk using the darkest magic, a near-immortal sorcerer demigod powerful enough to remake the world for her own ends—and the generation of lastborn girls, the ones born just before the Drought, who must bear the hopes and traditions of their nations if the queendoms are to survive.
Review: It seems like I just finished up reviewing a book with a very similar concept to this one. “The First Girl Child” was also a fantasy with a plotline centered around the sudden loss of girl babies being born in the land. This book’s set up, however, promises to tell a very different story, centering the tale around a matriarchal society where the dearth of women means a loss of leadership, military prowess, and much more. So I was very excited when the publisher reached out to me with an eARC to review this book. Let’s dive on it!
The world is made up of five nations, all queendoms ruled by powerful leading women. This world order, so stable for so long, is suddenly thrown into question when girl babies suddenly stop being born. As the land shifts beneath their feet, each Queen must confront the peril that comes with this delicate balance being thrown into chaos. Alliances are broken. Trust is shattered. And fear seems to rising in every sector of the land.
While this book wasn’t quite what I hoped it would be, there were still several things that were quite well done. The world-building, at first, did come off as a bit simplistic with its five little kingdoms neatly divided into specific traits, such as an emphasis on military prowess, bureaucratic guile, or magical abilities. It’s kind of a YA tactic that I’ve seen all too often: a get-out-of-jail free card to replace complicated culture building when peopling one’s world. But, luckily, here, as the story continued to unfold, I did find more work put in to this world than just these easily defined kingdoms. Through the various queens we see, the nature of each people became more complex, making for a more interesting interplay between these kingdoms.
The story is also committed to it’s slower style of story-telling. This is a very dialogue-light tale, with a lot of work done in the narration itself. Sometimes this worked, and other times, less so. It took quite a while for me to become invested in the story, partly due to this slower pacing and partly due to the split POVs (a pet peeve of mine and by no means an objective ding to this book.) With less dialogue on the page, it did take a bit longer to feel like I really understood the difference between the characters. But again, as the story built, I did find myself becoming more invested in certain characters (less so in others, always my problem with multiple POV books it seems).
In some ways, the book was almost too believable. In the face of such a sudden, completely unexpected devastation as the loss of girls in a matriarchal society, most people have no idea what to do, including many of the queens we see here. On one hand, looking at how real-world countries struggle to take meaningful action in the face of disasters that happen on such a grand scope (pandemics, climate change, etc.), it’s easily believable to see the struggles of these leaders to react in any true way. Largely, many of them came off as very passive in the face of this disaster. I was pleased to see one of these queens actively moving forward, and it’s no surprise that her story was my favorite.
Overall, I liked this book fairly well. It’s definitely a slow-moving beast and is dedicated to the minutia at heart of the situation created. Those fantasy readers who enjoy geopolitical stories will likely find lots to like here. If you’re more into action and quick dialogue, however, this probably isn’t for you.
Rating 7: An interesting concept and world that is ultimately hindered by being maybe a bit too realistic.
“Scorpica” is on this Goodreads list: Upcoming 2022 SFF Books With Female Leads or Co-Leads.