A Gentle Tyranny (Book Review)

  • Author: Jess Corban
  • Publisher: Wander (Tyndale House)
  • Published: 2019
  • Synopsis: This YA dystopia explores gender roles through the speculative society of Nedé, where women rule and men have been “gentled,” removing their “brutish” instincts. Seventeen year-old Reina Pierce trains in Phoenix City, hub of the country’s political activity and home to the country’s queen.

Why I’m Reviewing This

I don’t usually review audiobooks. In fact, I usually just review books that are given to me as review copies, without pressuring myself to review each book I read (or listen to). However, I decided to borrow this book from the library, with the purpose of reviewing it, after reading some GoodReads reviews.

I discovered that people were tearing down the author because she opted to use a pseudonym when publishing a mainstream (ish) book. This author was also donating the proceeds of the book to some worthy causes.

Readers were deeply offended to discover the author’s “secret” identity. Some indignant reviewers were so scandalized that they went back and changed their reviews, even discounting all of their former positive opinions. Because of this author’s transgressions, there was now NOTHING redemptive in the book.

Her shocking crime? Christianity. Author Jess Corban is guilty of running a big-sister site that ministers to young women, and she supports organizations that uphold the traditional definition of marriage. Scandalizing, isn’t it?

Seeing this sister in the Lord coming under such intense attacks for her faith, I wanted to read the book for myself, with the express intention of leaving a positive review.

A Note about Audiobooks

I listen to a ton of audiobooks while working. Because this was the format in which I enjoyed the title, my review will look a little different and quite possibly less detailed. Reason A) It’s a lot easier for me to “miss” things in an audiobook (if, for instance, someone came in while I was listening. Reason B) my timeline for audiobooks is different, depending on how often/long I listen. I started this one probably over a month ago. As a result, the content notes will also be less comprehensive than usual.

On the other hand, I’m really glad I listened to the audiobook, because there’s a pronunciation guide in the ebook and I’m quite sure I would have been mispronouncing many names/titles, in my head.

Scripture Connection

Vindicate the weak and fatherless;
Do justice to the afflicted and destitute.

Psalm 82:3

Spiritual Themes

A Gentle Tyranny was published by Wander, an imprint or Tyndale House (Some readers did not realize the book was from a Christian publisher, hence their indignation at a Christian author). In all fairness, though, I can see how the book itself passes as mainstream. Spiritual content is quite light. The most overt Christian content is some references to Reina’s mom’s religion.

However, there are some strong Christian themes, even if they’re not identified as such. For example, one of the key themes is about the importance of virtue combined with power, “because power without virtue is tyranny.” Another repeated theme is to “remember who you are,” which initially evoked Rachelle Dekker’s The Choosing for me— but there’s no direct commentary on what exactly that means, spiritually.

But, given that this is a mainstream book, I’m very happy with it. The power/virtue theme is so strongly biblical (it’s found throughout the Bible) and this is a book that I’d feel happy to recommend to my (public school) students, because it’s clean AND truthful.

Other Themes

The novel also raises questions about free choice, and whether or not it is okay to forcibly strip someone of choice. (From a Christian perspective, we recognize that God gave us free will). This is a significant question for many people at the center of various political debates, and which people use on both sides of issues.

What I Liked

Overall, the writing works and the narrative is crisp. While it took me a little while to get “into” the story, I did get hooked (and I was pretty excited to immediately borrow book two once I finished book one).

I especially enjoyed the scenes in the city, where Reina is competing as a candidate for the Matriarchy. I enjoyed not only the competition, but also the interactions between the candidates and trainers, not to mention getting to eavesdrop on some insider political conversations.

There were also a few “dress up” scenes, where Reina has her own personal designer come in and prep her for events. These scenes are all the more fun because Reina doesn’t usually care about her appearance, and I really enjoy this setup, whether in books or movies. (Princess Diaries, anyone?)

I really liked how the author handled sexuality in the book. I was a bit concerned about this in the premise (a society with just women…?). As we learn, one of the “core virtues” is self-restraint, so sexual acts are just frowned on, in general. I thought this was a brilliant choice, on the author’s part.

I also felt that the author did a good job with pacing and world-building. I know that it is very tricky, when introducing a speculative world, to achieve the “need-to-know” balance for readers— giving as much information as is necessary to understanding (and maintaining interest), without revealing too much too soon. I feel that Corban does a great job of slowly teasing out the way the society works.

Respectful Critique

I think this was partially due to how long it took me to get through the book. However, I did have some trouble keeping the many female characters apart in my head. By the end of the book, I pretty much remembered who was “good” and “bad,” but I couldn’t really remember who had said and done what. I also suspect this had a little bit to do with the cast consisting mainly of females.

My other point is just that there were certain parts where I felt my interest lagging. Interestingly enough, it was the parts with the “gentles” that felt a little less interesting to me. This is almost a compliment, coming from me, since I have been known to read books for the romance. In this case, I was much more invested in the question of succession.

Content

There are some subtle allusions to homosexual relationships but, as mentioned above, these are not presented favorably, as social constructs forbid romance, in general.

Reina, understandably, has very little knowledge about male and female relationships and physicality. She has the vague knowledge, for instance, that “brutes” had to be “gentled” because of the horrible things that they used to do to women. But she doesn’t know what sorts of things were done. When she encounters the word “rape,” in the context of history, she knows it’s something bad but doesn’t know exactly what it means.

Resultantly, Reina has no frame of reference for physical attraction. She is startled by the way her heart rate increases around a male character, and even more confused by her desire to be around him more. But she doesn’t understand what is going on, nor why.

Other thematic content includes violence (including the threat of sexual assault, which doesn’t go far and which Reina doesn’t understand). Violence isn’t especially graphic, but characters are forced to make challenging decisions, raising significant questions, such as Does the end justify the means?

Recommendation Status

What I like about this book is that it works as a mainstream recommendation. Not an overt Christian title but one I’d recommend to Christians and non-Christians, alike (even more so with it being “cancelled”).

Published by Stephanie Agnes-Crockett

Hi, there! My name is Stephanie and I’m a Fresno, CA native. After studying at Biola University, I received my MLIS (Masters in Library Science) from San Jose State University. I live with my mom, poet Kimberly Vargas Agnese, and serve as her unofficial agent. We reside at MeadowArc, a food forest in its infancy. I am called to, and passionate about, purity. In fact, the name Agnes means “pure.” Before I was born, my mom felt led to include the name Agnes in her name, and in the names of her children. My full, hyphenated name includes 26 letters (but not the whole alphabet).

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