I put off reading Wen Spencer’s A Brother’s Price for as long as possible. Finally, after seeing it again in Locus and reading some good reader reviews, I decided to give in.

The book’s about a boy about to be married in a world where women rule because live male births are incredibly rare (about one in thirty). I like keeping up with what people are writing about female-dominated societies; I like to know how they work out the world-building around it, how everything works, what things are different, what are the same.

The idea around the story, I read, was that it would be a reversal romance: the passive “heroine” looking for a good marriage would be male, and the sisters he falls for would be the active “heroes.”

All this being so, I had a lot of worries about this book, starting with the cover:

Yea. Looks like some serious role reversal there.

My second worry came in paragraph one:

There were a few advantages to being a boy in a society dominated by women. One, Jerin Whistler thought, was that you could throttle your older sister, and everyone would say, “She was one of twenty-eight girls – a middle sister – and a troublemakers, too, and he – he’s a boy,” and that would be the end of it.

So, even in a female dominated society, men are allowed to beat up on women without penalty because there are so many women?

Yet, I perserved. Why? Because, after the first twenty pages of as-you-know-bob dialogue set up, I really started to like the characters. I really hoped Jerin would get laid with some hot, strong, smart chick, and his sisters were all these really awesome theif/soldier trained women who ran a farm. Despite my reservations about the world they lived in, I liked them. So I was happy to hear that they planned to swap their brother for a husband for themselves. Meaning, they hadn’t been laid either.

Getting laid in this society is a little trickier than you might suspect. Spencer works in the importance of a man’s virgitiy before marriage by explaining that if a boy gets and STD before his wedding day, the family of sisters buying him off will choke the deal because if he’s got something, then the whole family will get it. Same with the women: they pick something up, husband gets it, all the sisters get it. Oddly, this society can measure the sperm count of a man but can’t cure syphilis. Go figure. Anyhow, so boys get lots of attention from their sisters. Boys, being so rare, are considered property and kept close by. Women raiding holds for boys isn’t an uncommon practice.

In fact, women are so prolific in this society that it’s common for women to just toss out their girl children when they have them and “try again” for a boy.

Great! A female-dominated society, and girl babies are still greeted as gutter trash. One royal husband also abuses his wives and brutally rapes one of them. And guess what? Because he’s a guy, he goes unpunished.

How does this fulfill the “things can be really different?” school of spec. fic.?

Anyway, with all this worry about disease and all this aching celibacy until marriage, where, you may ask are all the lesbians?

Oh, well there’s just the one. The evil river trash villain, of course. Well, one of them. And one of the sisters Jerin ends up with may be bisexual. Whatever her past, she’s in love with him, of course.

And therein lies some of the most troubling bits of this book. Jerin is beautiful. All the princesses love him. Whatever you predict will happen after you read the first fifty pages of the book, does. There’s not a lot of plot twists. Not much suspense. The scene changes are choppy, like the book was getting too long so transition scenes were cut. I was never worried about Jerin, his sisters, or the princesses dying or having really horrible things happen to them. I was unsurprised when Spencer ended the book with “happily ever after.” It’s that sort of book.

Nobody you care about is killed, maimed, dismembered, or scarred in any way. And you never believe anything like that will happen to them anyway. The plotting is really cut and dry, easy to follow. The main plot of some missing cannons and another family trying to take over the throne is actually the *sub*plot. The majority of the book is taken up with Jerin accidently getting all the princesses to fall in love with him. This ain’t no Game of Thrones.

And yet you really want to watch Jerin get laid and all these women get laid and everybody get in a big bed together.

I could have done with some more explicit sex scenes, I think.

That might have made up for the fact that there weren’t any good lesbians in it.

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