I’m going to warn you now, this is going to be a bit of a ranty review.
Sometimes you just start a book and you know you’re not going to like it. Somehow you just keep reading because you need to know where it ends.
In other words, I’ve finally managed to break my good book reading streak. This was it. The Glass Arrow. Chelsey made it about 50 pages into it before chucking it onto her DNF pile. I on the other hand, I kept going.
Meet Aya, our protagonist. She lives in a world where woman are kept as property. Because well… some revolution? We are given two different versions of why society is the way it is. They are:
The Official Version:
“The Governess has launched into her speech about how our great country Isor was nearly destroyed by the vicious workings of our ancestors. How simple things used to be, when free women could be trusted to know the value of their place in the shadows. Before greed infected their minds and their hearts and they used their bodies to seduce the very men who cared for them. She talks about how our grandmothers’ grandmothers tore down the barriers between men and women with their trickery, and destroyed cities with their petulance. How they began to poison their wombs so that they could not bear children, and murdered men with their wicked powers.” 63-64
And the Most Likely True Because A Good Character Told it Version:
“My ma used to tell this story differently. In her version, women walked free and proud. No one owned them. No one hunted them. Their bodies and minds were their own. That was until two Magistrates fell in love with the same woman. Competing for her affection, they turned against each other, forcing other men of power to take sides with them. The Brotherhood began to crumble. A council was called to rectify the issue, and when they learned that she had willingly given herself to both, had her killed. The rules changed then. My ma said it was because the men were scared by their own weakness and how easy it was to succumb to temptation” (pg 65-66)
BLOODY REVOLUTION! WOMEN ARE EVIL! BLAH BLAH BLAH! KILL ALL THE VAGINAS!!
Woman are raised in places called Gardens, and then are bid off to men for pleasure and to make babies. Girl children are sent to the garden and boys are raised by their fathers and their household staff. Once a man grows tired of a girl she can be sent back to the garden and the cycle starts again, save for now she’s at a lower price because she’s no longer pure. Before the beginning of the novel, Aya was lucky. She lived out in the wilderness with her family and was safe from the bonds of this society. The novel begins with her being hunted and captured and the fast forwards through time till she’s at the garden.
My first major problem with this novel is the world building. There are a lot of contradicting elements in this society. The front of the book claims that women are scarce. This is not the case. The majority of pregnancies end with daughters. This is blamed on the pills people eat instead of food. But food is still available for people with enough cash… so wouldn’t it make sense to purchase a woman and feed her normally so she can have sons?
Also the whole purity thing translates weirdly into this world. If a woman isn’t pure on her first buy, even if she’s born in the wild (and not raised on pills). She’s marked and given to a pimp so she can work the streets. So there goes the original plan and no point in trying to save your current way of life we must punish the woman instead.
Instead of focusing on one or two things to build the society, Simmons tries to do all of the awful things at once creating a flawed and convoluted belief system. For example: Aya’s mother escapes the city because she is marked. Aya is trying to escape the city and it doesn’t occur to her for a very long time that maybe getting marked is the easy way out.
Which brings us to our main character. I didn’t like her. Reading Glass Arrow was like having someone complain at you for 300 pages. I’m not saying that Aya’s situation isn’t a bad one. I do feel sorry for her. BUT throughout the book she has two settings. She’s either complaining or acting superior. At one point in the novel she makes an escape attempt only to be exposed by one of the other girls in the Garden. She then proceeds to wonder why the girl did that. Maybe because she’s cruel to them? Would that be the reason? No. That would never cross her mind. She’s better than them. They just don’t understand.
I’m not sure if this book is trying to offer some form of feminist message or if it’s just an outlet for the main character to whine. I just have a really hard time dealing with books that claim they are “feminist narratives” when they spend the majority of their time pitting their main character against other types of women. In this case Aya who is the loner character is the special snowflake and is pitted against more traditionally feminine characters. The traditionally feminine characters are painted in a damned light, being feminine is just another example of being oppressed. It’s just a giant soup of what ifs. All I know is that it made me mad.
Simmons is clearly trying to recreate Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. So if you’re looking for something along these lines, I suggest you pick that one up instead. Atwood is able to create a dismal world that is chillingly realistic even if their clothes are kind of funny.
The woman as repressed baby makers has been a trend in teen fiction that I’ve noticed over the last few years from dark dystopias like Wither to weirdly comedic books like Bumped. I wonder if this is a coincidence or if it is saying something. It’s worth a thought.
In the end, I found this book slow and the characters unlikeable. I would NOT recommend The Glass Arrow. Go check out A Handmaid’s Tale. You won’t be disappointed.