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Christina Dalcher once again turns her keen, incisive eye on the patriarchy in FEMLANDIA, an alternate-future story about a world where women rule.

Just as they did in 1929, the United States has once again fallen into a Great Depression, though if you ask 41-year-old Miranda Reynolds, there’s nothing so “great” about it. For years, Miranda and her husband, Nick, lived as members of the elite, with Nick chasing startup ventures and monitoring investments, securing their family a gorgeous home, luxury cars and a lifestyle full of privilege. But that all changed when economic turmoil began in Asia, the European Union fell apart, and three of America’s largest states declared Chapter 9 bankruptcy. The president refused to intervene, citing “the spirit of the American people” as a failsafe against total destruction.

Now the country has collapsed, with streets full of looting, robbing and killing, and groceries and utilities at an all-time high. Miranda and her 16-year-old daughter, Emma, are left to fend for themselves after Nick conveniently throws himself off a mountain rather than face the repercussions of his bad money management. With the bank coming for their home, food and water becoming scarce, and a fetus fluttering in her stomach, Miranda and Emma leave home in search of refuge: Femlandia.

"Miranda and Win are some of Dalcher’s best characters since Dr. Jean McClellan, and I love her take on the power plays of mother-daughter relationships and competitions."

Established decades earlier by Miranda’s mother, feminist Win Somers, Femlandia is a collective of off-grid colonies run and populated by women, entirely self-sufficient from the rest of the United States, particularly its male citizens. There was no love lost between Miranda and her mother, a difficult, opinionated woman who reacted to the news of her pregnancy by saying, “Tell me you’re getting rid of it. Please tell me that much.” Not exactly mother-of-the-year material, yet Win was able to cultivate an eager and thriving following, one that has kept the women of Femlandia safe and secure during the country’s economic collapse. But Win is no longer in charge; her protégé and replacement daughter, Jen Jones, is now calling the shots, and she and Miranda have their own rivalry to contend with.

Following a brutal journey full of starvation, blisters and a thwarted sexual assault, Miranda and Emma arrive at Femlandia to find a true utopia. Tan-line-free women (or “womyn” as Win would prefer) wear gauzy kaftans and walk around free from the male gaze, and from violence and assault. Once a collection of shoddy cabins, Femlandia has become a garden-covered village of rustic but charming homes and a one-for-all-and-all-for-one mentality when it comes to work, food and community. (If you’re getting cult vibes, you’re on the right track.)

If Femlandia is to be believed, a world without men is a world without worry. Even though Nick was one of the good ones until he wasn’t, even Miranda cannot deny that a good chunk of the world’s problems were caused, exacerbated and prolonged by, well, men. But there are also notable red flags: Femlandia’s “women” label applies only to natural-born women, not transgender women, and “men,” even if they are babies or sick or injured children, have no place at the commune.

Having been raised by its founder, Miranda is already on the lookout for the dark side of Femlandia and her mother’s vision: one that stripped her of her beloved father, neglected and abused her as a teen, and would encourage her to abort her unborn child for bearing the wrong chromosome. But in a world on the brink of total collapse, is it worth giving up a bit of freedom for the chance at safety and survival? As her daughter becomes more and more taken by Jen Jones and Femlandia’s mission, Miranda starts to wonder if their utopian refuge is in fact the most dangerous place for them to be.

Dalcher once again pushes the envelope by exploring a common, progressive ideal --- in this case, feminism --- and turning it on its head and into a dystopia. What makes her books so riveting and thought-provoking is her ability to question every step forward and ask “but what if?” It is clear that Dalcher is a feminist herself, but I love her willingness to explore the dark side of every good thing and to shine the light on the darkest corners of every step forward. Her brain is full of keen insights and downright chilling twists.

I never open one of Dalcher’s books unless I know I have all night to read it, and FEMLANDIA was no different. It builds upon the ideas already explored in her debut novel, VOX, so if you’ve read it, the final twist may not come as a total surprise, but it sure will haunt you. Miranda and Win are some of Dalcher’s best characters since Dr. Jean McClellan, and I love her take on the power plays of mother-daughter relationships and competitions.

Perfect for readers of Chandler Baker's THE HUSBANDS, Lisa Lutz's THE SWALLOWS, and Dalcher’s VOX and MASTER CLASS, FEMLANDIA is a chilling, evocative read perfect for this time of year.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on October 29, 2021

by Christina Dalcher