A Brother’s Price: An amusing “what-if” story

A Brother’s Price by Wen Spencer science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsA Brother’s Price by Wen Spencer

A Brother’s Price by Wen Spencer science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsIn a frontier land on some other world, a close-knit family of outlaws lives in the same sort of manner that you’d expect such a family to live in the American Wild West. They’re tough, they wear cowboy hats and ride horses, they speak coarsely, they curse and brawl, they shoot and hunt, they drink whiskey and smoke cigars, they protect their spouses… Oh, and I’m talking about how the women behave.

In A Brother’s Price (2005), Wen Spencer twists this classic Wild West tale by switching the genders. Because, in this world, male babies are rarely born alive, there is a gender role reversal. Women have the power, they rule, they do the dangerous jobs, and they compete for men (a limited resource). They choose, own, shelter and protect their men. Men are kept in the house where they do the cleaning, cooking, and caring for children. They must dress modestly so they won’t be molested by horny women, and sometimes they wear veils and bonnets. They collect lace and china for their wedding chests.

We follow one such man, a pretty teenager named Jerin who is about to be married off to a neighbor who he despises. His life is changed one day when he helps to rescue a princess from drowning. (Don’t forget: the princess is not the kind of princess you’re thinking of. She was hunting bandits when she was injured and dumped in a river.) Jerin takes her home and begins caring for her. When her sisters find out where she’s been taken, they descend on Jerin’s home. With all those horny princesses around, Jerin’s sisters are worried about protecting his virtue and his reputation.

A Brother’s Price by Wen Spencer science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsA Brother’s Price would be a sweet and fun (but vapid) romantic story without the gender reversal, but Spencer gives it an amusing speculative twist. As a feminist, I was surprised at how many times I had to reorient myself in the story as I continued to falsely make assumptions about the characters based on their sex. (For example, in one scene there are stevedores unloading a ship and I was momentarily jolted when I realized they were women.) Shame on me! I am frequently reminding my family members not to do this, and yet I couldn’t stop myself.

I suspect that many readers (especially men) will find Spencer’s premise hard to credit and her execution heavy-handed. There is no doubt that many sex differences are biological (e.g., aggression, libido) so it’s extremely unlikely that a world where women ruled would be like the Wild West with cowgirls instead of cowboys. Women would run things differently. But still, it’s fun to imagine, and Spencer’s point is really to examine and poke fun at our own society’s assumptions and practices regarding gender roles. I enjoyed thinking about this. It seems ridiculous for men to dress themselves up in frilly clothes and veils to appear attractive, modest, and biddable, yet isn’t this what women have been doing throughout all of human history? Why is that not ridiculous?

My favorite line: “Noone is going to marry you for your dic-tion. They’re going to marry you for your dic-.” (She gets cut off by her sister.)

Tantor Audio’s new audiobook edition of A Brother’s Price (January 2019, 9 hours long) is narrated by Travis Baldree who gives a nice and convincing performance.

Published in 2015. Audio version published in January 2019. In a world where male children are rare, a man is a valuable commodity – to be sold to the highest bidder…. It isn’t easy being the oldest boy in a house run by women – especially for Jerin Whistler. The grand-matriarchs of his clan are descended from soldiers, spies, and thieves. That’s partly what’s kept their family alive in the wilderness. But it also means Jerin’s doomed to marry the girls next door – a fate he’s convinced is worse than death. But Jerin gets in even worse trouble when, in the process of a daring rescue, he falls in love with a royal princess who’s as high above his station as it’s possible to be. Ren knows that Jerin is too far below her class to be an appropriate match for her and her royal sisters. But then she hears rumors of a long-held Whistler family secret – one that might provide a way for them to finally be together. Unfortunately, she still has four sisters to convince. And that’s before Jerin even comes to the capital – where simmering political tensions will threaten not just their love, but all their lives….

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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2 comments

  1. This sounds fun! I’ve enjoyed other Spencer books. She was at the HawaiiCon I attended; what a neat person!

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