Daughters of the North, by Sarah Hall
I won’t be the first to tell you this, nor the last, but this book trails in the wake of Margaret Atwood’s seminal novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. Daughters of the North similarly presents us with a dystopian near-future, in which some catastrophe leads to swift totalitarianism. Citizens lose basic liberties, and reproduction become completely government-controlled. Society is a dreary, overcrowded nightmare.
Unlike Handmaid, Daughters deals with life outside the regime. Our central character, called “Sister,” flees the city to an isolated radical women’s commune, where weathered female rebel fighters work the tough northern farmlands and train for battle. Sister’s first experience at the farm is a gruesomely-narrated starvation stint in a shuttered “dogbox,” and she endures much mental and physical brutality while becoming a soldier. Meanwhile, commune politics are broiling under the leadership of ruthless, charismatic Jackie, and her plan to take on the ruling Authority.
The book has its flaws; I found Sister difficult to identify with, and the ending is disappointingly rushed. Frankly, it can’t touch Handmaid. But, Hall offers a thought-provoking take on power, survival, violence, and womanhood, which pushes us to wonder whether authority must always involve violation. The writing is spare and impactful, and I felt grimly fascinated by watching the women strip away everything but cold, hard survival.
The 214 in 2014 series chronicles every book I read in 2014. Each review contains exactly 214 words, because 2014 words is too long and 2014 characters is too dang short. And yes, this review is backlogged from 2014.
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