Leigh RIchards (Laurie R. King) Califia's Daughter's Reviewed by Serena Trowbridge

Agony Column Home
Agony Column Review Archive

Califia's Daughters

Leigh Richards (Laurie R. King)

Bantam Spectra

US Mass Market Paperback

ISBN: 0-553-58667-X

Publication Date: 08-03-2004

Pages: 320; Price: $6.99

Date Reviewed: 18th August 2004

Reviewed by: Serena Trowbridge © 2004



Science Fiction, General Fiction


Imagine a world you might have read about, historical, perhaps in a far away land, where women are weak and constantly under threat, sheltered and unable to fight or even travel. Imagine a world entirely run by men, where women have little or no say in what goes on, while the men fight wars, build cities and develop their own version of civilization. Not so difficult, is it, because in many instances this is how the world has been. But now, invert that world, and think of the men being the cloistered species, having little influence on world events, and being under threat from disease or attack and thus constantly protected by the women. This world is the world of Califia's Daughters, where war and disease in the twenty-first century have left men an endangered species, and the few remaining are valued for procreation rather than for their strength. Indeed, in the city the men have become painted, gaudily dressed objects not unlike eighteenth century courtesans.

There are still women who remember what the world was like before, and a few remnants of civilization as we know it remain - one or two computers, for example, and a few cars, but on the whole the world is primitive, and run by strong women, who live in settlements with a few prized men who have survived. The lands around them are full of unknown dangers and the tribes of women live in fear of what might attack them, and of rumors of warring factions in other tribes. One such group of women, in a valley tucked away from the excesses of a world gone mad, are visited by strangers, who explain that they are hoping to settle near the valley, and give them a man and a boy as a gift. This puzzles the central character, Dian, who sets off on a lengthy quest to discover the truth behind these strangers.

This novel has the characteristics of so many futuristic novels: a world where there are elements that we recognize as our own, but, post-apocalyptic, transmuted into something quite different. A threat, and strangers, lead to a dangerous journey - the elements of this are not unusual. What is unusual, however, is that this is feminist fiction, written to highlight the strengths of women and also to appeal to a woman reader. There's even a small element of a love story in there, although of course there is no norm for relationships in this upside down reality. This world of women is portrayed very convincingly, with a balance between a home life, with children and relationships, and the strong warrior women who literally seem to have the weight of the world on their shoulders. Gender is both vital and also unimportant - if women do everything then their gender becomes irrelevant, which is an ideal for a post-modern world. In this respect it is quite unlike anything I have read before, and it's well worth a read for that alone. The front cover states "In the dark aftermath of the 21st century, a flicker of humanity remains", which seems to me to be misleading, since there is a lot of humanity left in the inhabitants of this novel, albeit slightly wary and besieged humanity.

Califia was an Amazon queen, "beauteous of face, powerful of arm, noble of heart", who was the leader of a race of women who lived without men, apart from for breeding purposes, and each chapter is headed with (somewhat cryptic) quotations from the Sergas de Esplandian, or The Labors of the Very Brave Knights Esplandian, which tells of the sixteenth century discovery of the Amazon race and Califia herself. The difference, though, is that the Amazons were actually hostile towards men and chose to live without them, whereas in Califia's Daughters these women had no choice. Nevertheless, they are worthy inheritors of her name. However, perhaps I became too caught up in the gender politics, I found the plot a little weak and lacking in direction, though the fast-paced ending of Dian's journey in some ways makes up for this. Either way, it's well worth a read for the interesting examination of the world as it might be.