ARC Review: The Women’s War by Jenna Glass

The woman's war

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When a nobleman’s first duty is to produce a male heir, women are treated like possessions and bargaining chips. But as the aftereffects of a world-altering spell ripple out physically and culturally, women at last have a bargaining chip of their own. And two women in particular find themselves at the crossroads of change.
Alys is the widowed mother of two teenage children, and the disinherited daughter of a king. Her existence has been carefully proscribed, but now she discovers a fierce talent not only for politics but also for magic—once deemed solely the domain of men. Meanwhile, in a neighboring kingdom, young Ellin finds herself unexpectedly on the throne after the sudden death of her grandfather the king and everyone else who stood ahead of her in the line of succession. Conventional wisdom holds that she will marry quickly, then quietly surrender the throne to her new husband…. Only, Ellin has other ideas.
The tensions building in the two kingdoms grow abruptly worse when a caravan of exiled women and their escort of disgraced soldiers stumbles upon a new source of magic in what was once uninhabitable desert. This new and revolutionary magic—which only women can wield—threatens to tear down what is left of the patriarchy. And the men who currently hold power will do anything to fight back.

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When I first read the premise of this book, I was blown away and I was so sure I was gonna fall in love with it. And when I actually got approved for the ARC, my joy had no bounds. However, I’m quite unsure about how the experience turned out to be. So, let me share my thoughts.

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I definitely went into this book expecting a very fiery feminist fantasy world where the women are finally ready to take down the patriarchy, but I got was a very understated version of it – which is not necessarily a bad thing. This is a highly misogynistic world where women have very few rights and there are levels of apathy towards women based on the kingdom where they live. So, when women finally gain the power of conception/fertility due to a devastating spell, it’s not a dramatic shift of power. The men are nowhere near ready to give up everything they’ve grown accustomed to and most of the women still need to outgrow everything that they’ve been taught since their birth. What we see happening is a group of women who slowly realize the other magical powers they can access now, and how to navigate this new world. This is a very slow process and they rely a lot on other men in their lives to get what they want. While it was wonderful to see a couple of men in this sexist world truly support the women in their quest for power, I think it would have been more effective as a story if the women were more independent thinking – they certainly are very capable. The pacing is also consistently slow throughout, there is more of the day to day lives of the characters and lots of political intrigue, but hardly any action at all. There is also no diversity at all in the book (or the author deliberately leaves the descriptions very vague) and despite many women going through deep trauma due to rape and assault, we never get to explore how they are affected or their stories of survival. While all the characters were quite good, Ellin is the one I felt most fascinated by and I think she has some of the best and important scenes in the book. Jinnel is also such a thoughtful and selfless young woman and I would have liked to see so much more of her.

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While this book was not what I really expected, it has a well realized world and magic system that I really liked. I would still recommend this book if you don’t mind a slow paced book with more intrigue and no action and which felt more like a setup for the sequel. I enjoyed it enough that I might be interested to know what happens next.

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PS: Thank you to Del Ray Press and Netgalley for providing me with this advance review copy. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.

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