Stings With Disappointment: Scorpica by G. R. Macallister

Posted 16th October 2021 by Siavahda in Fantasy Reviews, Reviews / 0 Comments

Scorpica (The Five Queendoms, #1) by G.R. Macallister
Representation: Minor F/F, reference to nonbinary people existing
Published on: 22nd February 2022
Genres: Fantasy, High Fantasy
ISBN: 1982167890
Goodreads
two-half-stars

A centuries-long peace is shattered in a matriarchal society when a decade passes without a single girl being born in this sweeping epic fantasy that’s perfect for fans of Robin Hobb and Circe.

Five hundred years of peace between queendoms shatters when girls inexplicably stop being born. As the Drought of Girls stretches across a generation, it sets off a cascade of political and personal consequences across all five queendoms of the known world, throwing long-standing alliances into disarray as each queendom begins to turn on each other—and new threats to each nation rise from within.

Uniting the stories of women from across the queendoms, this propulsive, gripping epic fantasy follows a warrior queen who must rise from childbirth bed to fight for her life and her throne, a healer in hiding desperate to protect the secret of her daughter’s explosive power, a queen whose desperation to retain control leads her to risk using the darkest magic, a near-immortal sorcerer demigod powerful enough to remake the world for her own ends—and the generation of lastborn girls, the ones born just before the Drought, who must bear the hopes and traditions of their nations if the queendoms are to survive.

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.

Highlights

~a magic-system that draws from sand
~Amazons are hard-core
~mind-control never ends well
~the wind can keep you hidden

I’m not sure how you could have gotten me more hyped for this book – matriarchies!!! Matriarchies get me so excited – any set-up where gender roles are explored or flipped around or completely rewritten has be bouncing in my seat, okay? I was even hopeful, because this is a book releasing in 2022, that this would be a matriarchy that acknowledged more than two genders.

The problem is, Scorpica just puts me to sleep.

I tried. I tried so much harder than I usually do with a book I’m struggling with – my normal cut-off point is 20%; with Scorpica, I made it all the way to 48% before I just had to give up.

Red flags went off for me in the prologue, when we learn that each of the five kingdoms has a Role – and by that I mean it sounds like a Divergent set-up, except that you’re born into your designation, with no opportunity to change it. This kingdom is made up of nothing but warriors, this one is a land of bureaucrats, this one is the land of magic-users – I mean. That’s awfully simplistic and reductive right away – not that different from dividing society up into dominant/valued personality traits like Courage or Intelligence ala Divergent, is it?

After the prologue, things are just…boring? All these Big Things happen, but the emotional impact isn’t there. Although I could intellectually sympathise with some of the characters, I didn’t find myself caring about a single one of them – if anything, they all frustrated me in their different ways. Despite what’s going on – despite the fact that several of the characters do take action! – all the characters felt very passive to me. It reads like Macallister came up with this amazing premise – what if matriarchal cultures stopped giving birth to girls??? – but could no more figure out how her fictional queendoms would react to that than the characters themselves can figure out what to do about it. Scorpica, the queendom of the title, is the only one that takes steps to try and stave off their destruction; as far as I could tell, no one else was doing anything at all.

I can’t emphasise enough that the worldbuilding here is pretty lackluster. There’s no meat on that bone. The Divergent-esque set-up was immensely disappointing, and then the gender politics were…well. There’s hints of trouble brewing, that as only boys are born some men start to question why they have no political or social power, but we’re just told this. (Gods, there’s so much telling-not-showing; I’m not someone who thinks you’re never allowed to tell, but Scorpica feels like one long lecture after another, and the prose isn’t rich or lush enough to make me enjoy that.) And although we get one brief aside in the first half of the book acknowledging that nonbinary people exist, there’s just that one mention (although of course, I don’t know if it comes up again later, or if we might even meet nonbinary characters in the second half of the book – I don’t think so, but it’s possible), with no – no follow-through.

If you design a matriarchal culture – or five! – then it should look different depending on how many genders it recognises. And Macallister’s worldbuilding only recognises two, even if there’s a careless hand-wave acknowledging nonbinary identities. If we weren’t told nonbinary people exist, we’d never know, because Macallister certainly doesn’t show us them, or even a culture that has room for them. We do get a few minor glimpses at sapphic relationships (which, given that Scorpica is a country of nothing but women, definitely need to be a thing) but the ones we get are either so background we don’t even meet the characters involved…or the fabulous one where one partner is forced to kill the other and is then, herself, destroyed, so – I’m not really willing to give Macallister points for great queer rep, here.

Again: I didn’t finish the whole book, and what I read mostly focussed on Scorpica and Arcan – two of the queendoms. Maybe the other three are better designed, with more complex values and gender systems. I can’t say.

I can’t say, and I’m not interested in finding out. The writing isn’t bad so much as bland; there’s no beautiful description, no manipulating sentence length to convey urgency, nothing lovely or enjoyable about the writing itself. And the story is just…meh. It feels so basic. The characters are all so very two-dimensional, defined by one or two traits with nothing to make them feel real. Scenes that should be tense, or intense, or horrifying, or tragic, ring incredibly hollow – I shrugged when we got to meet the demigod mentioned in the blurb, and my heart didn’t ache at all when one character dies in a way that’s clearly meant to be heartbreaking. One queen decides, apparently at random, to do something drastic and taboo that has Never Been Done Before, and… To make me grasp the full import of something like that, you have to do more than just tell me that it’s never been done before. Show me enough of the culture and the situation that you don’t need to tell me it’s not been done before; immerse me in this culture enough that I don’t need your cues to tell me when to gasp and clap my hands over my mouth because OMG.

This isn’t a script, and I’m not an actor: I don’t want cues on how to behave or react, I want to react on my own, spontaneously and with genuine emotion, because you’ve made me care enough that I have feelings of my own about it all. And with Scorpica, I just didn’t. Don’t. I have no strong feelings about this book whatsoever, except exhaustion. Scorpica just made me Tired, and pretty disappointed, because I was so excited about this story…until I read it.

two-half-stars

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