Monday, August 24, 2020

Mini-Review: Upright Women Wanted

Upright Women Wanted Book Cover
Riding toward the horizon, she knew that was the truth: it was only the beginning. And whatever came next, whatever fight was getting ready for her on the other side of that horizon, she was going to be ready for it. They all would—everyone in every cell across the sector, in every city and every town, in every lonesome shotgun shack, in every jailhouse and every church. They’d all be ready to fight. The Librarians would make sure of it.

I can't remember now how I heard about Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey - I know it was Day Job related in some way - but heard about it somewhere I must because it's not the sort of book I would have discovered on my own.  It's not a Wendy sort of read - a dystopian novel lumped in with science fiction / fantasy because marketing is weird - but it's now officially the most unique and memorable book I've read so far in this here hellscape of 2020. 

Esther is a stowaway. She's running away from an abusive father and the marriage he's arranged for her.  A marriage to a man who was previously engaged to her best friend.  Her best friend who she was in love with and just watched hang for being in possession of resistance propaganda.  She holes up in the Librarian's book wagon and they're well out of town when they discover Esther.  After some poorly done tap dancing on her part (plus these Librarians ain't no fools), they agree to take her as far as Utah.  They have "passengers" to pick up heading in that direction anyway, and Utah is apparently the place to go if you're like Esther....and as it turns out The Librarians.

Set in the Southwest, this is a dystopian western that reads somewhat historical - but it's really people going backwards after society and government have gone fascist.  The Librarians are distributing government approved reading materials by horse and wagon - but Esther talks about remembering cars.  Between the government and people taking the law into their own hands, it's the sort of lawless setting you'd expect in a historical western novel.  There's more to The Librarians than Esther realizes (honey, there always is....) and as the story unfolds there's bandits, fascists and danger aplenty.

This is a brief book, shorter than a Harlequin Presents for heaven's sake (!), so it's not without some foibles.  Basically you start the first chapter and you're dropped right in the middle of the story.  How did the US turn fascist?  How is the country run?  Who are the main players, the leaders?  There's talk of war, what were the defining moments?  If you're looking for a lot of world-building it ain't here.  That said, this might have bothered me prior to 2020 - the not knowing "why" - but as I said, here we are in 2020.  Suddenly I find I'm OK with the author not spoon-feeding me the "why" on the country going fascist.

It's unapologetically feminist, deliciously queer, with subversive AF Librarians who are up to all sorts of shenanigans.  Esther is a bit of a scared girl in the beginning, but she grows into herself and readers are left with the grounded moral center of this story: these are bitches who get shit done.  

I think this could be a series, but surprisingly I think I'd be OK if it stays as a stand-alone.  I feel like all these characters have unfinished business that could spin out into more books, but it ends in a satisfactory manner that if more books aren't forthcoming it doesn't detract from this stand-alone.  It's dystopian with some historical-like notes and light romantic elements.  It's also a supremely interesting book to read that I think every woman everywhere should pick-up.  Gailey has plenty to say, and she does so in a very interesting way.

Final Grade = B+


Jazzlet said...

Thank you, I've been on the fence about reading this as I really can't take sad or ambiguous endings - which I will read as sad - at the moment

Wendy said...

Jazzlet: It's not a sad ending, nor ambiguous - although the "world" hasn't changed at the end. They're still living in a dystopian environment.

One thing that didn't really bother me but I've seen crop up in other reviews - some readers were bothered that the heroine experiences a new attraction so soon after the violent death of her BFF / girlfriend / lover. I'm not sure why it didn't bother me? I suspect because it's a dystopian world. The pick-up, keep moving mentality just didn't jar me like other readers....