Book Review: The Summer Queen

16_br_summerqueenRead for: It’s the 3rd Novel in the Snow Queen Series started for FemSciFiFans
Rating: 4/5
Boy, did I ever get hung up on this one. It’s a doorstop! 948 pages! Though I started to get really antsy towards the end, I did enjoy it. And probably more so than the first of this series, The Snow Queen, and for a few reasons. 1. While the female characters in both Snow Queen and Summer Queen were well developed, likeable and intelligent, I felt Vinge did a better job of communicating feminist issues in this installment. I initially started in on this series for my Feminist Science Fiction group, but during the discussion found few passages that really illustrated an obvious message of feminism (beyond it simply being a science fiction novel written by a woman that heavily featured female characters and a matriarchal society). The Summer Queen included a better awareness and explanation of issues involving gender equality, though it was still fairly subtle to anyone who may not be actively looking for these themes.

“He nodded in belated acknowledgement to the others in the welcoming committee – three older Tiamatan women, two of them wearing sibyl signs, one of them quite obviously blind, probably the woman Vhanu had spoken to. The third woman stared back at him as though she seemed to recognize him, although her face did not look at all familiar to him. The dichotomy between the group in front of him and his own group struck him suddenly – one all female, the other all male. He wondered whether Moon had done it intentionally, wondered what reactions the others around him were having to the situation.” (pg 516 mass market paperback edition)

There are several passages of this type peppered throughout the novel making reference to the equality of women on various planets in the Hegemony, and a fairly large gender related incident towards the end of the book which I can’t discuss because it will spoil some major shizz for anyone who hasn’t read this yet. Snow Queen included some very vague statements about a female police officer experiencing troubles on the squad as a likely result of her being female, but didn’t develop this in any way, and there was little else that stood out to me as being obviously feminist – not that this ruined my experience of the book, it just happened to be the reason I was reading it in the first place so I was looking for it.

Reason number 2: This installment’s plot revolved around things that were far more engaging than a young girl searching for the lover who abandoned her (who also happened to be an annoying dickhead), which was the major story arc of the first novel. This novel revolves largely around the struggle to prove sentience of the mers and cease the hunts that are driving them to extinction, and the whole scenario was seriously convincing (it actually made me super super mad that these imaginary creatures were being killed in this fictional world); the Hegemony, after leaving Tiamat at the end of Snow Queen, returns to the planet to resume hunting mers (a sea creature kind of like a sea lion/dolphin/furry whale?) to obtain their blood, which is then manufactured into the Water of Life which allows humans to extend their lives. Basically, the “Offworlders” don’t give a hey-ho about the wishes of the natives of Tiamat – they want the Water of Life and nothing’s going to stand in the way of them slaughtering all the sea creatures for their own selfish gain. What they don’t know is that the mers are more than what they seem… if I could sum it all up in 2 words, I would have to declare that the Summer Queen is a SPACE OPERA. There was drama going on at a 90210 level in this book; Treason! Genocide! Patriarchal societies attempting to overthrow the Matriarchy on Tiamat! Surprise paternity! Homosexual love affairs! A number of major character deaths so high only George R. R. Martin could top it! VENEREAL DISEASES! IT HAD IT ALL! And though I felt it could have been edited down into a more compact novel, or even split into several smaller volumes, I was interested through to the end. I really enjoy the world-building developed in this series, there is so much going on it would be easier for you to read it than for me to explain it all.

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