I might detest the current president, but I will be forever grateful for the fact that he angered so many authors, who then took that anger out in their writing because the end result is a plethora of excellent books that make me want to stand up and fight alongside my fellow women. These are just a few of the ones I read in recent months written by angry women that I found inspiring, compelling, and timely in their messaging.
First off, have you ever seen a more gorgeous cover? That phoenix is everything and a perfect indicator of what you will find between its pages. Fiery women unwilling to accept the status quo any longer, a secret society, magic, slaves, a class war, a former matriarchal society, politics, and phoenixes – Nick Pau Preto’s novel enflames a primal instinct to fight against injustice and arbitrary class and gender distinctions. Veronyka’s determination to become a phoenix rider makes you want to take up jousting, while her experiences have you crying out in anger and justice. Crown of Feathers is everything you want it to be after staring at its mesmerizing cover, and it is glorious. Long live women who never take no for an answer!
A society in which women have no power and no rights is not so far in our past that the idea of such an environment still strikes fear into our hearts. After all, we are still fighting for birth control and abortion rights, and the #metoo movement shined a spotlight on the frequency of sexual assault and a society that blames victims more than it helps them. Now imagine what would happen if women had the ability to change such a society through one magic spell. How would men react? Jenna Glass explores this idea in The Women’s War.
While Crown of Feathers is much like the mythical beast on its cover – fiery and mesmerizing – The Women’s War is a much subtler story of female empowerment. In this world, women never had power, so they have no history to compel them to act. In truth, most women, and almost all men do not understand the ramifications of the spell until much later in the story, and it is the dawning awakening of the women and increasing indignation of the men which propels the story. The women in this story may not be fighters, but they manage to grasp the politics of the situation and maneuver themselves into positions of power – all while fighting male disdain, anger, and violence. Jenna Glass does not draw upon a primal instinct but rather uses everyday experiences to capture the impotence women feel when men argue away their rights, treat them as objects, and ignore their ideas. The end provides a completely different sense of satisfaction – quiet, less obvious, but there nonetheless.
Meagan Spooner’s Robin Hood reimagining had me dropping everything to finish it. Sherwood has everything I love in a story – a kick-ass heroine who literally kicks ass, intrigue, fighting injustice, social commentary. It also has something I did not expect, something which kept me glued to the pages and wiping away tears on more than one occasion; it has heart.
The opening line tells you that it is not going to be a happy novel. After all, Robin of Locksley is dead, and Marion must find a way to live without his friendship, support, and love. I didn’t expect the clarity with which Ms. Spooner expressed Marion’s emotions. I gasped in pain at Marion’s anguish. I gnashed my teeth at her anger and frustration at the social mores which prevented her from acting in the manner she wanted. I held my breath at her fear. The story itself is fantastic in its reimagining, but it is the emotional aspect where the story shines. Sherwood left me an emotional wreck, and I loved every minute of it.
Suzanne Young always has compelling, twisty stories that are a marvel of creativity and social commentary, with heroines that question authority and the status quo, but her previous novels are not what I would call angry novels. Girls With Sharp Sticks most definitely is an angry novel, and it makes me love Ms. Young even more than I already did.
Girls With Sharp Sticks is an awakening of the best kind. It is an awareness of the characters, and of the reader, of the pervasiveness of rape culture and patriarchy bent on subjugating women. It starts and ends with Mena, a student at the prestigious Innovations Academy, who parrots the school philosophy like the mindless student she is until she realizes that something is not quite right with the philosophy she so admired. Meanwhile, you as the reader already know something is not right as your blood boils at everything Mena learns and accepts. Everything about Innovations Academy is slimy and wrong, and you want nothing more than to tear the wool off Mena’s eyes so that she can see the truth.
However, as Ms. Young is so wont to do, you care about Mena too much to be that cruel to her; having her face the truth all at once would be akin to telling a five-year-old that there is no Santa Claus with no warning and no suspicion on the child’s part. So you root for Mena’s every act of defiance, no matter how small, and cheer every discovery she makes. Except something happens as Mena makes each discovery. Mena gets angry. When Mena gets angry, the story changes completely. No longer is it a boarding school mystery. Instead, it becomes a bit of a revenge story wherein the rules you thought you knew do not apply, and all you can do is hold on for the ride as Mena and her friends go on a rampage for answers and justice.
Through Mena and Girls With Sharp Sticks, Ms. Young channels all the rage and terror you have ever felt at being told to be a good girl, that boys will be boys, at being ignored in the classroom or the conference room, for being interrupted, for being called a bitch, for being told to smile, for being told to cover up, for being told you don’t cover up enough. She channels it for you and allows you some relief at watching Mena fight for all the times you couldn’t. It is every bit as empowering as the other angry novels, but it is also cathartic to watch the girls become aware and then take action. It might not be as easy in the real world to do something like what Mena and her friends do, but it certainly feels good to watch someone do something.
Ally Condie does not strike me as an angry person. In fact, based on her social media postings, she seems perfectly lovely. With a gorgeous family and close-knit set of friends, her posts exude happiness. Something must have been bothering her while she was writing her latest novel, however, because it is the epitome of an angry novel.
The titular character of The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe is an unhappy woman. She loses her one love during a raid and funnels all her pain and rage about that loss into seeking revenge of the bloodiest, most brutal kind. Poe is extremely capable, intelligent, and crafty, and she doesn’t give a damn about anything. It is sort of awesome.
Wherein all the other novels on this list start with women who are not angry and become so as they understand hard truths, Poe’s story is one of reversal. Poe already understands the hard truths. Hers is a journey to remember her humanity. Poe reminds us there is a balance to working through your anger, that to let it consume you means the bad guys win. It is every bit as timely a message as is the messages to fight against the injustices of the world and is perhaps the most important message of all.
Unfortunately, The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe is the weakest of these angry novels. The fault lies not in the writing but in the lack of world-building. We have no frame of reference for the setting, no history to let us know if this is an alternate universe, the future, or a re-imagined past. There are clues, but the gaps are wide, requiring a bit too much imagination which then does not allow you to sink into the story as you should. The secondary characters are weak, providing inadequate support for Poe’s formidable character. The plot is simple, a bit too much soo, and while the action is hot and heavy, the lack of plot becomes obvious the further into the novel you go. It isn’t a bad novel, but when compared to the other angry author novels out there, it falls short.
Angry women rule. More importantly, angry women will make the world a better place. It is possible to take your anger too far, to let it consume you to the point of irrationality, as we see with Poe, but for the most part, angry women find ways to achieve their goals no matter what it takes. They are fierce, clever, and ruthless when necessary. They are awake and aware. Best of all, angry women write some seriously amazing novels.