(Before I start gushing about it, I should say: this book has a lot of potentially disturbing content, and basically a constant underlying threat of gendered violence/rape/etc towards male characters. It didn’t bother me, but I could easily see it bothering others.)
I remembered being hella sad when I was done reading this book (especially after discovering there were no sequels), and, yeah, very much the case again now. I could keep following these characters and this world basically forever. I love them so much! Beautiful, clever Jerin. Eldest Whistler, Ren, and Halley giving us so many different flavors of badass! Cullen being this world’s equivalent of a tomboy, but cleaning up so nicely.
The narrative voice is pretty straightforward but there’s something I really like about it? It’s so effortless to get sucked into. I love how protective everyone is of Jerin. I love the setting. I love that this is just a dumb, wonderful romance with a side of palace intrigue and military swashbuckling. I love how the gender flip plays into all this.
Most of all, I just love being able to, even briefly, live in a world where the expectation of AMAB people is that they’re pretty and soft and need to be protected and cherished. That you’re expected to be more nurturing, more gentle, more submissive. This book meant a lot to me when I read it early on in college. I was in the middle of questioning my gender identity and sexual orientation, so having something that played with gender the way this did as just a baked-in part of the setting was just so exactly what I needed. As I reread it now I do find myself at timmes wishing that it had been done differently. Specifically I don’t like the idea that men had to be more scarce to sort of justify why society developed the way it did? And the society presented here does not seem to have any room in it for transgender and nonbinary individuals, or even AMAB gay people. (Nor is there much room for lesbians, though lesbian sex does at least come up a few times.)
Oh, and there’s the fact that everything is based on procreation. Procreation is… not something I’ve ever been interested in. I’m ace, actually, so the whole scarcity of males and desperate need for the ones that exist to procreate would… really not work for me? So all the aforementioned is obviously not great for me in terms of wish fulfilment. But idk? Even taking it all into account, at times this book is just… perfect. I just want to slip right into Jerin’s shoes.
Yeah, it isn’t a perfect fit for me, because in this fictional society boys are still expected to eventually be comfortable being called “men,” and… yeah. That one will never really work for me? I’ve tried being a cis boy, a trans girl, an enby, an enby boy… that last one has stuck alright, even if it at times has seemed ironic that I found my way back to some kind of boyhood, but one thing I have never at any point been comfortable with is the word “man”?
And before you start worrying, I get that in actuality, it will be better for everyone (including me) to fight for a more egalitarian society, and I’m certainly never going to advocate for a society like this one, but… still… having had such a hard time carving out a gendered space for myself that makes any kind of sense, and having to explain and justify it all the time… it’s hard to read something like this and not wish that I could just wake up in a world where my kind of boyhood is the default assumption.
(… on the other hand, I kind of love being neutered, and that is very much something that world wouldn’t let boys do. Shrug.)
It’s a pity there wasn’t a sequel, and doesn’t seem to be any sign the author is considering one. Aside from my aforementioned misgivings about it, I really want more books in this setting. Or at least a similar setting. I’ve kind of scoured the internet for recommendations for similar books, and I’m gonna try reading a few that popped up in that search, but I’m not sure I’m gonna find anything that will quite hit this exact same spot.
There’s a flippant part of me that wants to say “maybe I’ll just write one!” but I’m not going to pretend for even a second that I could do so nearly as skillfully as Wen Spencer did. On top of all the wish fulfillment, this is just such a terrific read! I just really, really didn’t want it to end.