Review: A Brother’s Price

November 23, 2013 at 12:27 am (fantasy, science fiction)

A Brother's Price
A Brother’s Price by Wen Spencer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A person’s favorite books can be – are – intensely personal. A favorite book may not have the most amazing writing or worldbuilding or plot or characters, and yet be just the right book for certain readers. For such a book and such a reader, a review is rather pointless. Which is why I haven’t gotten around to writing a review of this book until now, even though I usually re-read it a couple of times a year.

Consider, for example, the worldbuilding here: it’s muddy. Is this another planet? A post-apocalyptic former United States? An alternate history of some kind? There’s no way to know. I’m inclined toward the post-apocalyptic US, because of some of the names (“Renssellaer” just shouts familiarity with New York state to me, though it’s spelled a bit wrong) and because the uneven tech and science levels suggest that someone, somewhere, has access to a smattering of “ancient texts.” A date in the 1500s is mentioned at some point, suggesting that it’s been a very long time since a new calendar was started, based (I suspect) on the teachings of seven prophets of a pantheon headed by Hera. But there’s absolutely no way to be sure; it’s completely irrelevant to the narrative, and none of it’s actually explained. This is the kind of thing that’s guaranteed to drive a certain segment of the f&sf reading public absolutely nuts, so if you’re one of them, I wouldn’t suggest trying to read it.

On the social plane is, of course, the conceit emphasized in the book: that for some reason, at some point in the past (and continuing to the present), live births of males cratered. As a result, 95% or more of the population is female, and they have line marriages – one man marries a family of sisters, and also takes on what we would consider a female role. Males are also considered property, and the “brother’s price” of the title refers to the money a batch of sisters can get for their (usually one, if they’re lucky) brother, if they don’t swap for another family’s brother so they can have a husband. This, a topic of great relevance to all the characters, gets quite a bit of attention in the narrative.

The plot is actually a rather simple one of problematic romance between Jerin Whistler, a farmers’ son, and the princesses of the boringly named “Queensland,” with a side order of high-level intrigue, treason, and murder. (Plus steamboats, for those who are interested.)

What I like about the book is, I think, actually two things. First, most of the characters have thoughts and opinions about their own society, not all of them positive or happy; the inherent problems of such a society are out in the open and sometimes discussed, just like the inherent problems in our own society. Second, the themes of love for and responsibility toward one’s family that run through the book. Jerin doesn’t like the risk of being married into a family he won’t like, but he also knows that his sisters really need a husband and the money his marriage can bring.

And there’s a third thing: the way the Whistlers see some of the things that happen as what they call “a shining coin”: a chance for brilliant success or even just survival that they can have if they only reach out and catch it – and are lucky. I see it as the thing that ties the whole book together, and for intensely personal reasons, is probably the real reason why I love this book.

Your mileage will probably vary. But that’s okay. Wen Spencer obviously wrote this book specifically for me.

View all my reviews

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2 Comments

  1. Paul Weimer (@PrinceJvstin) said,

    I liked this one enough to use it as a springboard for an ADRPG scenario!

    • diaryofatextaddict said,

      That must have been interesting! Did it actually get played?

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