Completed 12/21/2019, Reviewed 12/21/2019
I was first introduced to Starhawk in Matthew Fox’s “Original Blessing”, a book about Creation Spirituality. She had written several books on the topic as well on Goddess worship. This is her first work of fiction. It encapsulates a lot of the spirituality she espouses in the context of a future utopian society fighting against a dystopian power trying to overtake it. It took a long while for me to get into the book, but I found myself drawn in by the world building and eventually became very engaged with it. It won the Lambda Literary Award in 1994.
The utopia of the book is in what was formerly known as San Francisco. Everyone is free, everyone has a voice in what is going on, everyone works at what they want to do, and everyone pitches in to help each other. Racial and religious diversity are supported. Most people are polyamorous. This is counter to the oppressive regime in the dystopia to the south, where women and minorities are repressed, sexual diversity is punished, and everyone must conform to the purity laws. Those who transgress against the norm are told they have lost their immortal soul and are conscripted into the army or sexual slavery.
The plot of the book isn’t that ground breaking and at times, I found it a little boring. But Starhawk makes it all very real with warm, simple prose. I found myself enjoying every return to the pages of the book, even when I felt like I didn’t know where the plot was going.
The characters were all very well drawn. And the two main characters are black, which I found very refreshing. Madrone, one of the main characters, is a healer witch. She works with the local doctor to heal through spiritual energy and herbal concoctions. One of her lovers, Sandy, just died from an epidemic that ran through the community, which may or may not have been biological warfare from the south. One of her other lovers is Bird. He’s been imprisoned in the south for ten years and it is not known if he’s alive or dead. The story follows the two of them in alternating chapters for most of the book.
The one fault I have with the book is that it didn’t seem to really move. Reading it was a slow process with little direction towards where it was intending to go. Now that’s not to say that there was not action, because there was. It just didn’t have any urgency. That was why I needed the first hundred pages or so to get into the book. I had to be immersed in the world and the characters before I started to care for them. Eventually, I was, and I couldn’t stop reading it, even at that slow pace.
The book has a lot to say about what we could be doing to make this world a better place. Peace, love, acceptance, patience. And the passive resistance tactic when the army from the south comes to invade the utopia is really quite impressive. I found it quite profound, especially because the choice between passive and active resistance is debated quite a lot throughout the invasion.
I was going to give this book three stars at first, but I found myself really enjoying the heck out of it. I had come to be totally immersed in its world, appreciating the characters and the philosophy it expounded. I finally had to admit that it was really a four star out of five book. Some may find it a little dated with concepts that came to the forefront during the New Age movement, but it describes many truths about human nature and what we can achieve if we can just get along.