Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Brother's Price by Wen Spencer

Wen Spencer is a Pittsburgh find. My husband and I both read and enjoyed the two books in the Tinker series which take place in a crazy-Pittsburgh future. Light fantasy, they were fun and amusing. Not terribly deep but engaging. When I found four of Spencer's other books at the used bookstore I snatched them up; she is not an author I find at most stores. I honestly didn't pay much attention to the titles or plots just picked them up based on the author.

In the mood for fantasy, I started with A Brother's Price because it is a stand alone rather than the first book in a series. In some ways, the plot of the novel is the extremely well-explored world of high palace intrigue: assassination, murder, kidnapping, and marriage contracts. However, Spencer throws a plot twist into the book which makes the entire world significantly more interesting than it might have been. She reverses gender roles. In the world of A Brother's Price men are rare and respected for their rarity. They play the stereotypical role of a woman - kept at home, sheltered, expected to care for children, clean, and cook.

The reversal is so pat as to possibly be trite, but it wasn't. I felt like Spencer did a remarkably good job of addressing contemporary social constructions (gender is a social construct, regardless of what Texas textbooks want to argue) and turning them on their head without being too tongue-in-check. There are humorous moments when the long-haired men get called honey and coddled for being overly emotional. Admittedly though, I found myself startled when she would address a military officer as she - sad to admit but I'm so used to those roles being expectedly male that the difference did call me out. However, for the most part I found myself buying into Spencer's world and the way she outlines the social norms she has written. Her role reversal rather than just a way to create a novel twist in a fictional, fantastical world is believable. The problems in the society she has written cater to the control and care of the males.

Spencer's novels walk the fence as part of what I have learned is a large and growing genre known as Sci-Fi Romance. The books have a clear romantic undercurrent. There is not explicit sex, but a sexual tension that grows. One sticky-wicket on that note - the cover art is SOOO wrong. Whoever drew it never read the book and Spencer could not have agreed with it. It suggests a plot point in the book but the characters are drawn completely incongruously. I am not going to go out of my way to read all the Sci-Fi Romance I can, but I would read more. All in all, A Brother's Price is a good addition to my catalog of Wen Spencer books - light, fun, and it made me think - a little bit.

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