I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this one too much, honestly. I hadn’t heard 100% good things about Tepper’s work before, and some of the great feminist works of SF have been lost on me. (The Female Man, for example — The Gate to Women’s Country is from the same decade, so I wasn’t very hopeful.) And there were some cringe-worthy moments, to be honest; the whole bit about “gay syndrome” being cured now, for example.
Still, for the most part I really enjoyed this. It reminded me a little bit of Jo Walton’s The Just City, because it’s another attempt at building a perfect city and there’s a similar focus on the importance of art and learning. There’s a certain amount of Greco-Roman influence based on the play included in the text, Iphigenia at Ilium, too, and a rather Spartan set-up for the boys.
The relationships between the characters are interestingly done; the awkwardness of the relationship between Stavia and Chernon, particularly — his desire for real connection alongside his manipulative behaviour — but also family relationships, like those between Morgot and Myra, Myra and Stavia. There’s a lot of interesting stuff here: the ethical dilemmas about what the women do in the cause of ending violence, the unique empathy-related abilities which come out of it. In fact, the whole way the city is organised and ruled, the way violence is channelled and rebellion bled off. There’s some really brutal, horrible stuff here in the name of creating a better world. Tepper doesn’t shy away from showing us that, although sometimes I think she’s lacking in sympathy for the characters, judging them rather harshly and ascribing to a darker view of human nature than I’d like to accept.