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A Gentle Tyranny – Book One in the Nedé Rising Series

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Book Review

What if male physical abuse and social domination could be eliminated? If a few surreptitious medicinal tweaks could turn men from “Brutes” to “Gentles,” would it be worth it? In the year 2267, 17-year-old Reina Pierce doesn’t really have to ask those questions. It’s already happened. But as she learns more about how the world used to be, she starts to wonder if the ends really justify the means?

Plot Summary

Ever since she was just a little girl, 17-year-old Reina Pierce’s world has made sense. Because of strong women, the matriarchy she lives in is sound and safe. It works well; and its financial and social gears are well defined. In the nation of Nedé woman run everything. And men—after the Great Sickness tore the world apart and restructured the order of things—have thankfully been reborn as “Gentles,” people who serve and care.

Now in the year 2267, the historical male tendency to hurt others, especially women, is long gone. Reina’s agrarian world is ruled by the female virtues of diversity, harmony, ingenuity, simplicity and self-restraint. It is a good world. 

In fact, Reina, like every other young woman her age, has only one thing to worry about these days. When she turns 18, she must figure out which Destiny to choose. Her mother wants her to be a Materno, like she was. Giving birth for the nation is an honorable and safe destiny that’s well-compensated. But Reina can’t even imagine herself settling for that.

If anything, Reina’s sorta leaning toward being an Alexia: a group of powerful, leather-clad women who ride sleek black horses and keep the peace with swords and arrows. She’s even created her own secret arena to ride around in and practice in with a makeshift bow. An adventuring life, with strong comradery and virtuous pursuits, seems to be calling her.

Before Reina can make her decision, however, she gets a completely unexpected order to present herself before her grandmother, Teera Pierce, the nation’s current Matriarch. Reina rarely sees her, and the teen wouldn’t be surprised if her grandmother couldn’t even remember what Reina looked like. But it turns out that Matriarch Teera has decided, after 46 years as the leader of this great nation, to begin the Succession—a competition limited to the best of the best and aimed at finding Nedé’s next Matriarch.

Reina has been chosen as a candidate. And that choice wasn’t hers to make—or decline.

The truth is, Reina can’t even imagine standing next to the four other polished women in the competition. They’ve spent their whole lives being groomed for this role. She’s nothing but a farm girl. Reina does, however, carry the name of Pierce and a lineage of strength and leadership.

She just hopes she can live up to that name.

Christian Beliefs

Nedé is home to a fairly secular society that sometimes refers to “ancient stories” about the “gods” of yore. Reina makes note of some of those. But she also talks about the “book of scriptures” from the old days that her mother keeps by her bedside. And though Reina notes that she never had much thought about that God, she repeatedly wonders how her mother’s faith might approach some of the right and wrong issues that she wrestles with.

Reina’s mother tells her, “God go with you,” as the young woman heads off on an important journey. 

Other Belief Systems

Though not approached as a spiritual belief, Reina talks about a legend focused on the very first Alexia, Siyah. It tells of her being pulled up into the heavens and becoming a part of the stars. People sometimes say, “I hope to Siyah …” when discussing important events. [Spoiler Warning] Later on, however, we learn that Siyah was a real person who wasn’t very heavenly at all.

Authority Roles

Reina’s mom is a kind and gentle person who not only loves her daughters, but names her Gentle children (something rarely done in this strictly female-driven world) and puts extra effort into caring for their needs and making them feel as much a part of her family as possible. It’s that attitude that motivates Reina to develop a very close friendship with a Gentle on their farm (even though that kind of socialization is forbidden). Publically, he is seen publicly as a non-entity, but Reina looks up to him and other Gentles for help and guidance.

Reina’s grandmother, however, is her mother’s polar opposite. Matriarch Teera is manipulative and cruel at times. She does everything to further her own agenda, consolidate her power and rules the matriarchy with an iron fist. Even though she has initiated the Succession, it’s very clear that she intends to control everything even after stepping down.

Nedé promotes the axiom, “Power without virtue is tyranny.” It’s a lofty ideal, but that value seems to articulate everything that Teera abhors. Her leadership, we come to see bit by bit, is very much tyrannical. Teera is also completely deceptive, and she goes to great lengths to hide important and bitter truths from Reina.

Reina also meets some unaltered men (a category further described below) who live secretly outside of the matriarchal society. Their leader, Torvus, is a stern man. But he’s also a good leader who guides those under him with reason and sacrificial strength.

Profanity & Violence

No foul language, but Reina does favor the phrase “What the bats?” as her interjection of choice.

Matriarch Teera shoots a misbehaving Gentle in the head, killing him. And she makes it clear that any form of violence is permissible if it supports and furthers the cause of the matriarchy. Reina is forced by her grandmother to shoot and kill a Gentle friend with an arrow. (The act plays out as a self-chosen, self-sacrificial choice on his part, and is completely out of Reina’s control.) There are also some unaltered, brute-like men who loot and burn peaceful farms as part of their terrorizing quest to stir up change. One of these men grabs Reina by the throat at one point, beating and pinning her down and threatening to assault her sexually before being stopped. There are also stories told of male rape and abuse from the old days.

The muscular and aggressive Alexia are Nedé’s female enforcers. And we see them use their powerful skills to pummel others. In fact, the candidates are ordered to be trained by the Alexia elite, and they get slammed around repeatedly. One large candidate is ordered to fight another, and the large woman nearly kills the smaller woman before Reina slams into her and intervenes. Then Reina gets punched in the face until she passes out. People are bloodied in several instances. Reina falls off her horse and is knocked unconscious, as well.

Now, about those categories of altered and unaltered men, the explanation for which involves a bit of a spoiler. We eventually learn that Reina’s society was once our society. And that a group of well-placed female government officials and scientists used the events of a worldwide pandemic to their gain. They laced a vaccine with drugs designed to genetically change the male population at large. By altering their DNA, men were made weaker and more manageable, so they could be forced into a slave-like life of servitude. And though the vaccine was supposed to be administered to the world population, some men were able to avoid it.

A tranquilizer-tipped dart is used to knock people unconscious. A fermented concoction called Chica is imbibed at parties, dinner and social gatherings.

Sexual Content

The female society of Nedé is non-sexual. Pregnancy and birth are purely the result of clinical, in vitro fertilization. Sexual attraction of any stripe is considered outside the norm.

We repeatedly hear about the Brute tendency toward “aggression and lust.” But when Reina eventually meets some unaltered men, she sees another side of these people called Brutes. Reina finds these large muscular men to be kind and brave. And she finds one of their number to be surprisingly attractive. Reina has a difficult time fully understanding her unexpected and newfound feelings.

We see a relationship between two women that’s implied to be a sexual one. Reina, however, looks at the relationship in a negative light—declaring that it is in direct opposition to the virtue of healthy self-restraint.

Discussion Topics

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What do you think this story says about our current world? Are there parallels to how government sometimes deals with problems in our society?

What about that question of physical abuse: How do you think our society ought to deal with this issue? How do you think God wants us to deal with abuse and negative emotions and tendencies?

Nedé family structure is very different from our own. What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of Nedéian society? What do you think is Reina’s greatest strength? Can you see some of your own traits in her? What would you have done differently in her situation? How does friendship change the choices she makes here?

There are some small mentions of faith in Reina’s story. What do you think the author was trying to prompt you to ponder? Can you think of ways faith might aid her in her quest going forward?

What did you like most about this book?

Additional Comments

This is a well-written coming-of-age story that asks whether or not a well-meant end can justify any means, no matter how barbaric it might be. It suggests that even some imagined “perfect” civilization and/or government will always have potentially dangerous flaws because of the flawed humans in it. And its states clearly that goodness and corruption are not limited to any single gender or race.

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Review by Bob Hoose