Insulting On Every Level: Lilith by Nikki Marmery

Posted 13th July 2023 by Sia in Fantasy Reviews, Reviews / 12 Comments

Lilith: the heroine women have waited six thousand years for by Nikki Marmery
Genres: Fantasy
Published on: 9th October 2023


In the Garden of Eden, at the beginning of time, an outrageous lie is born: that women are inferior.

Lilith and Adam are equal and happy in the Garden of Eden. But when Adam decides Lilith should submit to his will and lie beneath him, she refuses – and is banished forever from Paradise. Demonised and sidelined, Lilith watches in fury as God creates Eve, the woman who accepts her submission. But Lilith has a secret: she has already tasted the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Endowed with Wisdom, she knows why Asherah – God’s wife and equal, the Queen of Heaven – is missing. Lilith has a plan: she will rescue Eve, find Asherah, restore balance to the world and regain her rightful place in Paradise.

I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.


~scary angels are dickhead jocks
~God is a brat
~the heroine women have waited 6000 years for is an idiot

Where the fuck do I start.

I can see what Marmery tried to do here, and why some other readers are going to feel so EmpoweredTM by this book, but honestly? It’s a trainwreck. The internal logic is whatever Marmery wants it to be at any given moment, rather than something that actually, you know, makes sense and holds the story together. Lilith breaks its own rules constantly, culminating in the absolutely ridiculous ending, which only works if you let none of your braincells anywhere near it. And the entire book is one loud, preachy lecture on the kind of bioessentialist Woman PowerTM nonsense I thought we were done with in the 80s.

Lilith is the First Woman, created at the same time as Adam in the garden of Eden. All is well until Adam starts becoming obsessed with power and control, inventing money and weaponry and The Patriarchy, basically. Just in case we didn’t get the message that he’s a terrible person, he also rapes her – but it’s fine, because Lilith shrugs it off like it was nothing, insulted but otherwise unaffected. The reader belatedly discovers that Yahweh is not the One God at all, because He has a wife and partner, Asherah; it is Asherah who created Adam and Lilith (and presumably everything else in Eden), because, and I quote,

Naming is to man what birthing is to woman.

Yahweh only named things, you see, which is meaningless, because

naming holds no power.

Asherah has bestowed upon Lilith the Secret, which makes Lilith capital-w Wise. This Wisdom is more or less summed up as ‘man and woman are equal, and have no dominion over the earth, because they are a part of it.’ But Asherah is missing, and the book really gets moving when Lilith abandons Eden to go look for Her. Although she doesn’t find Asherah, she does discover that she and Adam are far from the only humans in the world; later, she discovers that Yahweh and Asherah are far from the only gods to exist, too.

(This is important.)

Yahweh, here, is characterised as the ultimate Old White Cis Dude, insisting that He is the only one with power, the only god, that everything male is good and everything female is, at best, disgusting. He is petulant, spoiled, and bullying, a figure who would be pathetic if He didn’t have the power to enforce His horrible views on the world. He is a petty child next to the infinite wisdom and grace of Asherah.

I find this incredibly lazy writing. There is absolutely no nuance here, and what’s weirder and worse is that this is very clearly an ex-Christian take on God. I sympathise, because yeah, this is pretty much the impression of God I was left with too after I got far the fuck away from my Catholic upbringing – but Lilith isn’t a Christian figure. Lilith comes from Jewish folklore, and I’m not at all saying there is no dodgy patriarchal bs in Judaism – but there is an enormous difference between the Christian and Jewish views and approaches to God. I feel like the least you could do, in telling Lilith’s story, is respect the culture and faith she comes from.

If that doesn’t bother you, nevermind, there are plenty more things this book does badly. The writing itself, for example, can’t decide what it wants to be; it swings wildly from fancily archaic to dissonantly modern (Adam describes the Wisdom as ‘mumbo-jumbo’), with quick dips into the bizarrely juvenile (Lilith calls the angel Semangelof ‘the scariest of the three [angels]’ – ‘scariest’, as if she’s a child rather than a grown adult). Later, disappointed that she can’t find Asherah, Lilith literally zones out for a thousand years sitting in one spot, until another character comes along to info-dump everything that’s happened while she wasn’t paying attention. She immediately takes an enemy’s word for it that her long-lost companion could have returned to her any time he wanted, and gets mad about it, despite having every reason not to trust the person who told her this. While on the hunt for a woman with a specific birthmark, centuries later, it takes her sixteen years – of sleeping beside her, bathing her, dressing her, etc – to notice that the woman she’s hung her hopes on does not have this birthmark. And when she does find her prophet, she accepts that this woman ‘has to die’ despite no one providing any reason why this death has to happen. It’s ‘just because’.

‘The heroine women have waited 6000 years for’? Hi, you made her an idiot.

(She’s also shallow. Her first thought upon meeting Eve? Is that Eve is ugly – so not-pretty that she doesn’t even have a reflection.

So unremarkable was she, even the waters failed to mark her presence.

Wow. Great sisterhood messaging there. Really.)

Or how about the worldbuilding? Marmery is, at first, superficially clever with this; I liked that there were other humans outside of Eden, worshipping other gods who were just as real as Yahweh and Asherah. I approved of the reveal that Asherah is and was known by other names in other places, before and after Eden. Marmery finds ways to give a nod to Asmodeus and Naamah – demonic figures often connected to Lilith in the folklore – and to explain what exactly Lilith is doing visiting babies in the middle of the night (also from the folklore).


One of the biggest driving forces of the book is the existence (and attempted destruction) of the Underworld – later known as Sheol – which is a dark, terrible place. When we first encounter it, it’s ruled by Ereshkigal, the Sumerian queen of the dead. Cool. But as faith in Asherah wanes, the dead stop coming to this particular underworld. (Where else they might be going, if anywhere, is never explained.) They only start coming again when Lilith spreads the word of her. Sheol is clearly tied to faith in Asherah (or some form of her); only souls who know of Asherah end up there.

Except, no: later, we learn everyone ends up in Sheol. Where Ereshkigal is eventually replaced by Satan.

What??? How are all the souls of all the others who worship other gods ending up in Sheol? Speaking of, since Yahweh isn’t the only god, where are the rest of them? What are they doing? Do they have Wisdom of their own? Could Lilith appeal to them for help?

Marmery tried to be inclusive by saying other gods exist – but then forgets about them completely, breaking her own worldbuilding in the process. After we learn of their existence, they’re never brought up again; aside from a brief glimpse of Ereshkigal, we never see them, which makes absolutely no sense in context.

Then there’s the ending.

View Spoiler »

And I haven’t even touched on the creepy gross bioessentialism yet.

Women Create, you see. Because pregnancy and childbirth! Women are connected to the Earth, are the keepers of the Wisdom, it’s wrong for women to be subjugated not because, you know, subjugation is inherently evil, but because women are Special.

A woman’s body tethers her to this earth. We are wedded to this life, to its pleasures and its sorrows. Our bodies cycle like the seasons, we bleed with the moon. We yield children, as the earth yields its fruits.

I am not going to write an essay on how womanhood is not tied to your ability to be pregnant or give birth, how you don’t have to ‘bleed with the moon’ to be a girl and how not everyone who does is a woman anyway. I don’t have the fucking spoons to have this argument again, especially when I know how much this new agey Women PowerTM stuff appeals to so many cis women. I’ve already read the early reviews calling Lilith empowering and validating, with no thought to how this kind of philosophy is actively transphobic, ignores the existence of nonbinary people like myself, forces women who don’t feel this way about their femininity outside of the group, and shoves men into a tiny little cage. Yes, the patriarchy is fucked-up and always has been. Telling men they can’t create won’t fix it, and the definitely-not-intersectional ‘feminist’ utopia you’re dreaming of has electric fences around it to keep me out.

So fuck you, basically.

with all female power banished, it was a place of subjection and tyranny. Of perpetual stasis, not regeneration. Of Shalts and Shalt Nots issued by male authority. A place of masculine hierarchy, domination, and progress, unbalanced by the female urge to nurture, sustain, and renew.

(Also? One throwaway line about how men aren’t born bad doesn’t negate you writing every male character – except the one related to you and the one who is a literal angel – as a misogynistic bigot or a spineless weakling. Finishing up with a neat little adage about how only when the two halves come together will everything be perfect rings pretty damn hollow when the entire book preceding it makes out that male ‘half’ to be awful without exception. Talking about halves at all is bioessentialist and transphobic! THERE’S MORE TO HUMANITY THAN MEN AND WOMEN. It’s 2023, why are we still having to have this fucking conversation?)

Ultimately, this book is the story of Lilith languishing through history, looking to restore women’s rights. Which could have been, should have been, a really excellent story. But instead of letting Lilith do it herself, Marmery arbitrarily decides that Lilith needs a human prophet to do it, and sends her on a quest through time to find that prophet, instead. Why? The whole point of the modern, feminist take on Lilith is that she is independent and powerful in her own right; why can’t she spread the word of Asherah herself? ‘Because.’ That’s all the reason we get.

The whole premise of the book makes no sense; Lilith should have been the star, and she isn’t. She spends what should have been her story looking for others to raise them up. But even if she were the star, she’s a fairly one-dimensional character here, especially with the bouts of outrageous stupidity that hit her whenever Marmery requires it For Plot. The overlying (I’m not calling it underlying when there’s nothing the least bit subtle about it) message of this book is the kind of bioessentialist ‘feminism’ I thought we were done with in the 80s, where women are magical because childbirth and the only good kind of men are the ones who worship them. It’s simplistic and it’s incorrect and it’s boring.

This is not my Lilith, and this book isn’t worthy of her.

Or of you, either. Skip this one and read something better instead – it’s not as if that bar is set especially high.

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12 responses to “Insulting On Every Level: Lilith by Nikki Marmery

  1. Yikes, the premise sounded intriguing at first (I like the idea of retelling a mythology of humanity’s origins) but it got worse and worse as you described what actually happens in the book… I will easily skip by this one!

  2. mementominnie

    Loved,loved,loved this!I was looking forward to reading a book about yours..and my..Lilith and enjoy retellings generally but won’t waste my money or time on this one.Although not Jewish I really appreciated your comments about Lilith’s place in Judaism.Thank you and if you have a mailing list join me up,please.

    • Sia

      Thank you! But yes, alas, this is not a book worthy of Lilith at all. Hopefully someone will write something much better about her in the not-too-distant future!

      I don’t think I can manually add you, but you can subscribe to my blog from the main page! The ‘subscribe’ box is on the right side of the screen on desktop, and I think down at the bottom if you’re on mobile 🙂

  3. Ace

    I began listening to the audiobook a few weeks ago and dropped it basically when Lilith met that guy on the cliff. It seemed interesting at first but it slowly descended into something incomprehensible. Also, why was it necessary to include Lilith having intercourse with a guy as a snake LMAO

  4. thexphial

    Oh hey, I am so glad I found this review. I started this book with such hopes. I am Jewish, I love retellings of old mythology with new perspectives, and this seemed really promising. I was turned off within a few chapters because it was super clear the story wasn’t from a Jewish perspective. So disappointing. I’m going to return it to the library unfinished

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