Why you should care
Because this book envisions how the revolution could actually happen.
Naomi Alderman’s The Power picked up steam at the end of 2017, when — after winning the Women’s Prize for Fiction in Britain — it made all sorts of lists, including former President Barack Obama’s year-end favorites. The tale of puberty-as-literal-lightning-
Kingdom of Women by Rosalie Morales Kearns shares many of the plot points that make The Power so very now. Set in the near future, it follows several characters through a period of overthrowing the patriarchy. There’s a warrior-assassin on a quest for justice, various other role models for female ambition, the first tiny country to proclaim itself a matriarchy and (since we seem to like our feminist utopias tinged with blasphemy) a true believer/saint. The men range from predatory bastards to sympathetic allies, and there’s plenty of gripping gore and trauma along the way. Neither novel points us toward a blissful Herland, which is as it should be in a moment when we see clearly that it’s power, not gender, that corrupts.
It is what the grandest of speculative fictions are: a comprehensive, compelling, epic thought experiment.
Where Kingdom of Women surpasses The Power is in its deep intellect. The author’s theology degree shows, as the novel’s supernaturalism is nimble and mystical, tinged with a bit of madness — more Teresa of Avila (whoosh, whisper) than Harry Potter (zim-zap!). Starting with a relatable pre-#MeToo scenario, in which a graduate student seeks vengeance against her rapey professor, Kingdom of Women deepens rapidly into an alternative future history: one in which women can become priests, but are targeted by mass killers for it; in which a shadowy, loose network of assassins begins to take matters into their own hands. All over the world, with no apparent coordination, women warriors begin to dole out justice where the police and courts fail. Occasionally, their swords of justice turn into brutal out-of-control vengeance, so then the patriarchy’s crackdown on “terrorists” begins in earnest — setting the scene for full-scale revolution.
Morales Kearns has her finger on the pulse of now, writing with what seems like prescience about a moment when women, in the face of ongoing harassment and assault committed with impunity, declare Enough. She’s adept at imagining the global scope of the revolution across cultures and various sorts of atrocities. (That’s no small feat, as Alderman shows when she frequently falters in her not-quite-right depictions of non-Western cultures; someone could have told her that cardamom-bhindi is not a thing in New Delhi.)
Spy-thriller tropes keep Kingdom of Women moving at a lively clip — I read it in two days with barely a bathroom break — and there’s plenty of passionate this-is-so-wrong-but-don’t-
It’s also a damn good, cathartic read. I don’t know how the author knew we’d need Kingdom of Women at precisely this moment — but thank the gender-indeterminate-but-