Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Gender Game by Bella Forrest

I was pretty wary when I decided to give this book a shot. The idea of two countries that were literally men vs. women, a lone wolf female protagonist, and a title that sounds ever so slightly like another, much more popular series caused me to hesitate. Ultimately, I picked it up and decided to give it a shot in case it exceeded my expectations or gave me something to rant about. Which did it end up being? Well, I'll tell you.

This is the story of Violet Bates, who lives in a world made up mostly of two countries, Matrus and Patrus. She lives in Matrus, the country controlled by women where they are given every opportunity they could want and are ruled by their Queen Rina. Violet, however, is an outcast because she'd been caught trying to smuggle her little brother Tim out of the country. After years trying to survive in the labor force and two counts of womanslaughter, Violet is given a choice. She can take on a top secret mission for the Queen or face death for her crimes. Violet is shipped of to Patrus, the male dominated country where women's rights don't exist, and is married to another Matrus spy named Lee. Together they work to steal back a treasure stolen from their country and make it out with there lives. Throw in a handsome fighter whom Violet befriends (a little too closely) and things only get more complicated.

Now, this story pleasantly surprised me. It could have very easily gone the easy route and made Matrus this wonderful, happy land where obviously they are right and Patrus is wrong because girls rule and boys drool and yadda yadda. Yet it smartly doesn't do this. Matrus is just as crazy-over-the-top sexist as Patrus is. Any boy born in Matrus who is deemed "uncontrollable" is sent away to preform heavy labor for the rest of their lives (though in the book there are other suspicions as to what happens to the boys of Matrus). Women in Patrus are treated practically as property, unable to do anything outside of their father/husband's permission and suffer serious punishment if caught wandering around unsupervised. Both sides are the most extreme form of sexism and neither are right. That's the real struggle of the story. The knowledge that both sides are wrong and wondering what must be done to bridge this gap.

Violet, the main character, is slightly less successful. Her thoughts and actions don't always match up. Her Matrus brain goes on and on telling the reader that she's independent and strong-willed and a true Matrus woman. When she goes to Patrus, however, she fits in pretty darn quickly and easily for someone with such a female empowered upbringing. Mind you this is a woman who was had little to no training on undercover procedures. The only training she gets before being shoved into Patrus is learning how to use a gun...that's it. Also keep in mind that she never actually ends up using a gun in this book. Ever. Not once. Also she falls almost at once for the handsome Viggo, a man she's meant to betray, and it just shows how obviously she's underprepared for this kind of task. She gets emotionally invested right away and even makes critical errors that jeopardizes her mission. However, she's not annoying or holier-than-thou and does have the ability to learn from her mistakes. She's just okay for me.

The plot kind of drags at times as, far too often, things tend to go exactly according to plan. There's this thing I notice in books and movies that when a plan is explained in detail, it never goes right. It's only when the plan is a mystery do things work out. It's a cliche that actually works to a story's advantage. Here, however, the plans that are explained go exactly like they should. Only once or twice do things happen to mess up the plan, but they are almost immediately fixed and the plan still goes smoothly. It's not until the last 5% of the book (I read this as an ebook) do things get interesting and you see the bigger picture taking place. I admit, I was shocked at how things worked out near the end of the book. I didn't see the plot twist coming, so well done on that. I just wish there were more things like that in the book. It's like it saved all the unpredictability for the end. It really built up the sequel, which I might get around to, so much so that this one felt a little neglected. Hopefully things will pick up.

Final Verdict
This book just fell right in the middle for me. Not fantastic yet not horrible. Things that I liked and things that I kinda didn't. It asks the right questions but never gives the answers. There are some tense scenes, some action, the chemistry between Violet and Viggo is handled much better than most books handle this kind of thing. So, ultimately, I'd say that if this book sounds interesting to you, go buy it but wait for it on paperback!

Next time: Yes, this is the guy they're talking about in Harry Potter. No, it's not written by that guy from The Office.

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