book: A Brother’s Price

A Brother’s Price (by Wen Spencer) was in the book order that arrived on Friday. It’s not a new book – it came out in the summer of 2005, but I’d added it to our recent order because I was ordering other books dealing with gender and social roles. (I came across it originally because it was on the short list for the 2005 Tiptree Award, an annual literary prize for science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender.

A Brother’s Price is an alternate world where male children are very rare – a family of 30 sisters might have two brothers, and Jerin’s family is considered extremely fortunate to have four. This basic fact turns a number of assumptions about gender roles upside down – men are heavily protected, while women take on a number of more active and aggressive roles in society (as soldiers, farmers, traders, and everything else.)

The world of the story is agricultural. While the alternate world aspect makes this into speculative fiction, there’s no sign of magic, and science fiction only in the broadest strokes (i.e. something happened to change the birth rates, but this is not an immediately post-apocalyptic novel.)

All of that said, what makes the book for me are two things. Jerin’s voice and struggle to figure out what he wants in a world where he has very little control over what happens to him – and the competing demands of the various women, who often want similar things, but go about getting them different ways. It also looks at what it means to be family – and how to pick yourself up after betrayal. Both of them continue to intrigue me, and drew me rapidly in to read the book not once but twice this weekend.

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