Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

Recently, I joined a book club run by one of my best friends which focuses on promoting critical thinking, especially in terms of the political and social issues of today. The book club is called Books for the Resistance.

We kicked-off the book club with a classic: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Published in 1985, this book continues to resonate with every new wave of readers. It’s a striking look at social issues including sexism, reproductive rights, classism, environmental issues, and the sometimes at-odds struggle to feel safe while also feeling free.

The book follows Offred, a so-called Handmaid, who is one of the few women in Gilead (formerly the United States) who is physically capable of bearing children. As a Handmaid, she is assigned to a family-of-sorts, where her sole role is to conceive a child from the Commander. There are few freedoms in Gilead, especially for a Handmaid. Communication with the outside world is controlled by the militant government, and may be entirely propaganda and lies. Societal roles are strict, inspired by Puritan values.

The details of the establishment of Gilead are scarce, told second-hand through Offred. Some details the reader is given include the fact that there was some sort of coup that overthrew the previous government; at one point, all bank accounts belonging to women were frozen, forcing them to depend on the men in their lives; and issues infiltrated society ranging from environmental disasters to a strong cultural shift against sexual and reproductive freedoms.

Is it any wonder this book continues to resonate with people? It takes these issues to the extreme, and forces the reader to take a good hard look at them. It’s not a pretty sight, but Atwood weaves hope throughout the story. There are whispers of dissent, rumors of an Underground Railroad-type system helping people escape to Canada. The tale ultimately seems to view society in an optimistic light: things can take a turn for the worse, but they will never stay that way. Society will find a way through, to move forward. The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

Have you read The Handmaid’s Tale? What did you think? Are you excited for the Hulu series?

Book Review: Poison or Protect by Gail Carriger

Last week, I participated in the #SteampunkReadathon hosted by Whole Latte Books. For this readathon, I chose Gail Carriger’s novella, Poison or Protect.

This novella is a snarky romance following a character from Carriger’s Finishing School series, Preshea Villentia neé Buss. It takes place several years after that series, when Preshea is an adult. She is hired by the Duke of Snodgrove, via their mutual acquaintance Lord Akeldama, to stop his daughter from marrying her current suitor, Mr. Jackson. Preshea, an assassin-for-hire, is cynical about this task, as it doesn’t fit her usual business. When the Duke leaves, Lord Akeldama explains that the Duke’s life is being threatened, and Preshea’s other task is to protect him.

The Duke throws a house party (which apparently, in Victorian times, is something that went on for over a week). En route to his house, Preshea meets Mr. Jackson (aka Jack) along with his friend, Captain Gavin Ruthven. Preshea and Gavin are instantly interested in each other, though they worry they’re on different sides where the Duke’s life is concerned (it turns out, however, they were both hired to protect the Duke).

Lots of witty banter and shenanigans ensue as the romance between Preshea and Gavin unfolds. This is a good time to mention that there are explicit (100% consensual) sex scenes in this novella.

I really enjoyed this novella. I’m not usually one for romance, but this story was filled with enough other plot (an attempt on the Duke’s life, shenanigans involving other guests of the house party) that it kept me interested and gave the romance plot more depth. As always, Carriger’s characters are charming and funny, as well as sincere and relatable. The romance is a very positive one, with an emphasis on mutual respect and consent.

As I mentioned, the story takes place in the same universe as the Finishing School Series (which is the same universe as the Parasol Protectorate, The Custard Protocol, and a few others of Carriger’s stories). I would recommend having read at least one of those before diving into this novella, if only to have prior knowledge to how this supernatural steampunk world works. While they aren’t very prominent in this novella, this world is one in which vampires, werewolves, and ghosts exist in (relative) harmony with humans. The hows and whys of this are better explained in Carriger’s other stories.

Overall, I gave this novella a 4 out of 5.