I am delighted to host a guest book reviewer today, the wonderful Irish writer, Orla McAlinden.
Orla has been published in the Fish Anthology, The Chattahoochee Review, The Ilanot Review and others. Her first collection of short stories, The Accidental Wife, will be published in Summer 2016 by Sowilo Press, Philadelphia. Her debut novel, The Flight of the Wren, was chosen for presentation at The Greenbean Novel Fair 2016 at the Irish Writers Centre. You can find Orla at www.orlamcalinden.com and read one of her stories (which was nominated for the Pushcart Prize) at the https://ilanot.wordpress.com/the -visit/
About Sisterland by Martina Devlin, Ward River Press, 2016
Urban fantasy (fantasy/sci-fi set in a world that is very definitely and recognisably Earth) is not a genre I read often, for no reason other than there being only so many hours in a year. How glad I am that I picked up Martina Devlin’s urban fantasy ‘About Sisterland’, which I chose based on her previous excellent novels, rather than on genre per se.
Sisterland is a utopian society set in the 22nd Century, occupying the area we know as North and South America. After Man-kind virtually destroyed the Earth during World War III, the women of Sisterland had no choice other than to seize the reins of power. Eschewing the violence, emotion, instability and danger inherent in the failed Patriarchy (which had ten thousand years to prove itself, to be fair) the benign dictatorship of Beloved and “the Nine” set out to create a utopia of calm, rational, non-violent, equitable living. What could possibly go wrong?
It is impossible to read this chilling novel without reference to some of he absolute literary classics which have informed its creation. Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Margaret Atwood and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil were all close to mind as I read Sisterland. The world has developed its own range of Double-speak and the neologisms are interesting and easy to place (although a helpful glossary is included). The “Soma” of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (a gram is better than a damn) would not be tolerated in Sisterland, which has a fairly draconian attitude to haelthy living and mid altering substances, although wine is allowed. But the function of Soma (to placate and ameliorate the masses) is given over in Sisterland to workers called Flickers who dispense careful rations of positive emotions to sisters who need them (and who can afford them). As our protagonist, Constance, is about to discover; all sisters are equal, but some sisters are more equal than others.
Unlike in Huxley, there is no official hiearchy of inhabitants, no woman is Epsilon semi-moron, sweeping he streets, because Sisterland is a meritocracy and all work is for the good of the community and no work is demeaning….well, apart from that carried out by men.
I found it fascinating that after a lifetime of talking and reading about farmhands and hired hands, I never fully appreciated the demeaning and insulting nature of the phrase until a café owner in Sisterland speaks of having “two pairs of hands” working in the kitchen.. The hands are attached to arms and the arms are attached to men, but that’s not really in her thoughts; when these two pairs of hands wear out, they will be ‘discontinued’ and replaced with new young slaves. Problem solved.
Devlin has taken a fascinating sideways glance at extremism and segregation. Whether you choose to see this as a parable of Northern Irelland’s two communities pulling apart instead of working together, the scandal of misogyny and female subjugation, or the widening chasm between Western values and those of the developing world, Devlin gives us a not very exaggerated view of what happens when we decide to waste the talents and abilities of an entire sub-section of our human family.
Fascinating and worthy book. Highly recommended.
Learn more about Martina Devlin and About Sisterland at