The Conqueror's Child
is the fourth book in Suzy McKee Charnas's Holdfast series. Like a smith at the forge, Charnas hammers out a neorustic dystopia where the individuals become myths and the once-barbarous relations between men and women begin to be resolved.
Previously in the series, the fem-slave Alldera escapes the men-cities into the grassland wilderness where she is adopted by the Riding Women. These genetically altered nomads are devoid of males, reproducing without them and producing only female children. They are also deadly with the bow and lance. With their help, Alldera invades the men-cities and frees the fems.
Conqueror's Child begins here, with Sorrel, Alldera's daughter. Rape-conceived during Alldera's slave-days but born and raised free among the Riding Women, Sorrel yearns for a relationship with her hero-mother. For years Alldera kept Sorrel safe, far way, while she built a new society in the former men-cities.
Though safe, Sorrel feels herself a misfit--a conqueror's daughter ignorant of battle. She bonds with a fellow misfit, an orphaned child of another escaped slave--a male child. Because he is shunned by the unisex horsewomen, Sorrel adopts him, resolving to find him a better life. With the child, Sorrel rides out for the cities where fems now rule and men still live.
But there's danger in reunions. Sorrel will not only meet her mother but also two of her rapists. Either could be Sorrel's father, and either could betray her.
The appeal of Conqueror's Child spans genres. Readers of both science fiction and women's studies will find it a powerful read in which institutionalized violence is examined through its very personal effects. However, though Charnas's skill lies in crafting the epic, characterization sometimes falls short, especially with minor personas who seem somewhat interchangeable. Regardless, Charnas's works belong among the SF luminaries for her even-handed examination of relationships and sexuality--themes negligently ignored for much of SF's history. --Tamara Hladik
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From Publishers Weekly
When Charnass dystopian novel Walk to the End of the World appeared in 1974, followed by similar work by Joanna Russ, Marge Piercy and Alice Sheldon, SF found itself in the middle of an angry feminist revolution. Charnas continued her exploration of the world of the Holdfast and the Riding Women in Motherlines (1978) and The Furies. Now she brings her classic series to a conclusion in the tale of Sorrel, daughter of Alldera, the woman who in the earlier novels escaped slavery, then raised a female army to return and destroy the misogynistic evil of her homeland. Sorrel has grown up strong among the Riding Women, but is embittered by her mothers abandonment. Traveling across the mountains with her adopted son, she discovers that the women of the Holdfast have largely mirrored the evil theyd previously fled, holding their men as slaves, using them for procreation and as beasts of burden. Some want to change this, Alldera among them, but the prospects for reform are endangered by the return of a charismatic, unscrupulous man known as the Sunbear, who may be Sorrels father via his long-ago rape of Alldera. Avoiding clichs and easy answers, Charnas brings this powerful series to a fitting end. There is much of the darkness and pain found in the previous books, but there is also hope as it becomes clear that, within limits, some of the women and men are ready to at least think about living together in peace. The year is less than half over, but this potent, thoughtful novel by a talented writer at the top of her form clearly counts as one of the best SF novels of 1999.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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