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A Brother's Price by Wen Spencer
Review by Madeleine Yeh
Roc Mass Market  ISBN/ITEM#: 0451460383
Date: July, 2005 List Price $6.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

This book combines an alternate history, a mystery, a romance and a coming of age story and combines them very well indeed. The story is set in an alternate earth where there are ten or more women for every man. Men are carefully guarded and sheltered and the property of their wives or their sisters.

As the story opens, Jerin Whistler is about to become an adult, when he would be sold into a marriage of his sisters? choice. He will marry all the sisters in another family and his sisters will either get their brother, or a large payment as a brother?s price. His family are now respected landed gentry, but his grandmothers had been soldiers turned thieves turned spies, who had been knighted for valor and awarded land; and his grandfather a kidnapped prince. Jerin and his younger sisters rescue a soldier who has been attacked by thieves on the Whistler land.

This soldier is soon followed by her sister Princess Rennsellaer and a troop of the royal guard. Princesses Ren and Odelia had been following a group that had attacked a royal armory and stolen the cannons and small arms. Ren meets Jerin, and falls madly in love, but he is a commoner and unsuitable as the husband of the princesses.

In the rest of the story, Ren tries to discover the thieves and recover the cannon, get her sisters to agree to marry Jerin. Jerin and his sisters find themselves caught up in high politics and plotting, and the old tragedy that had killed Ren?s older sisters and now threatens the rest of the royal family.

There have been a number of books that touched on gender imbalances. Most of them, like Califia?s Daughters by Leigh Richards have had the imbalance be of relatively recent occurrence. Sometimes the imbalance is artificial, Women?s Country by Sherri Tepper, and sometimes it is caused by bioplagues, and sometimes there is no discernible reason. This is one of the best if not the best. The society is shown as something that is still growing and changing. Husband raiding has been abolished by law, but brothers are still sometimes stolen. Marriageable age for boys has changed from thirteen to sixteen. The rather lurid back blurb implies that men are sold like sacks of wheat to the highest bidder. There are more considerations than that; sisters-in-laws are the closest of allies and many families look for alliance and happiness as well as money. The story is much like a Regency romance with the roles reversed. Jerin will get married, and his future happiness lies in marrying well. A good marriage for Jerin will also affect his family. The ultimate decision about Jerin's marrage lies with his sisters. Few people in this society have any choice in their spouses, an adult sister might get a vote, but younger ones will have to marry the man choosen by their older sisters. Men are oppressed in this world, but not much more than women were oppressed in Regency England, or are oppressed in Pakistan or India in this world. Some Science Fiction and Fantasy societies are overwhelmingly and pervasively vicious, others are bland and homogeneous. Cruelty and nastiness occur in this society, but so does generosity and kindness.

The book has charm and nice characters. It?s a good read as a romance and mystery and adventure. This is one of the best societies I've seen with all the implications of the gender imbalance following logically. As a romance the lead characters are wonderful. Jerin balances passion against duty and prudence. Princess Ren, madly in love, uses logic to persuade her sisters to appreciate Jerin. As a mystery the clues are scattered nicely throughout the book, until the villians and their motivations are clearly revealed. Its a really great book, and I would very much like to see many more books in this universe.

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