Take the world as it is today with all the stress and tension and start to give women superpowers. Start with the teenagers and then roll out the dangerous and hard to control power until almost every woman in the world has it. Men get nothing.
What do you think would happen?
This is the premise of Naomi Alderman’s “The Power”. The book won the 2017 Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, and that’s both fitting and awkwardly amusing as in one of the first scenes, after the apocalypse, we hear from a young member of the ‘Men’s Writers Association’.
One of the problems faced by Neil trying to write a historical novel is that he’s only a man and has to convince his editor (a woman, of course) that he’ll be taken seriously. He’s got some weird ideas about how life used to be. Male soldiers? Can you imagine such a thing?
Then we’re taken back by Naomi Alderman, back before the apocalypse, to the time when The Power first started to appear in young women.
I listened to the audiobook from Audible and really enjoyed it.
Yes, I know that as part of this series of posts from Audible we’ve been investigating the most economical price points for audiobook purchases, but The Power is good enough to throw such cold logic out of the window. Buy this book because it’s different. Buy this book because it holds up a mirror up to situations we all, male, female and non-binary, know all too well. Buy this book as it’s an innovative take on superheroes.
I argue that The Power refuses to be pigeonholed. I’m sure some people will as horrible feminist nonsense, but given the story starts after the apocalypse you can hardly argue that Alderman’s point is women would do a great job at running the planet.
I’ve called it a superheroes book because, yeah, people have superpowers, but there’s not much in it about crime fighting. We’re the monsters and demons here, not things trying to track down Doctor Strange. I’m sure readers and listens who would never otherwise enjoy a superhero story will love The Power.
It’s hard to assign a genre this one. What we get are a series of very personal and very believable stories.
The fact that people react in logical ways, doing the things you expect them to do, events unfolding as you imagine they might, is both reassuring and uncomfortable.
There’s Allie Montgomery-Taylor who is an abused runaway who goes on to become a cult figurehead. It’s not that she wants to run a Church. She just wants to be safe, but security always seems to be one success away.
There’s Roxy Monke, daughter of a London mob boss, who is witness to her mother’s murder. Rather than let life grind her down, she fights back, claiming one success after another.
Then there are the Americans; the Clearys. Margot Clearly has a position of civic power in a big city when The Power first breaks out and her daughter, Jocelyn, is one of the young girls to experience it first. When Jocelyn accidentally injuries a boy with her power, can Margot survive the impending political storm?
Another essential character is Tatiana Moskaleve, the former first lady of Moldova. She ends up in power in the war-torn country and at the centre of some of the boldest and most aggressive female-first fighters.
Lastly, there’s one of the significant male characters we hear the story through in the form of young Tunde Edo. Events conspire to cast him in the role of a roving journalist, and he ends up reporting on the dramas as they unfold around the world.
That’s quite a cast of characters, but The Power is the first audiobook I’ve ever listened to that had more than two narrators. The lead narrator is Adjoa Andoh, who does a fantastic job, Naomi Alderman reads for her own book, and there’s Thomas Judd, Emma Fenney and Phil Nightingale too.
I’ve used the word ‘uncomfortable’ once already in this review, but it needs to be used again. There are scenes of sexual violence and violence. Naomi Alderman doesn’t believe women will behave any more responsibly than men if the balance of physical power was to shift. The electrical charges women can emit into men can be used to control their bodies in all sorts of ways. It’s an adult book. Not one for your kids unless they’re teenagers and you want to give them some severe gender politics to think about.
I’ve not read the book. A woman read it to me.
I can’t imagine hearing the events of The Power in my own internal voice. A woman’s voice complete with skilful inflexions and emotion narrated the spread of The Power and the unfolding events to me. I think that was the hardcore option, not picked on purpose, I knew nothing about the audiobook before I spotted it in one of Audible’s many 2-for-1 sales and snatched up a copy. I’m glad it happened that way.
Yep, I’m absolutely positive The Power won’t suit everybody, but I think if there’s even a third of a chance you might enjoy it, then you should plug in your headphones and give it a listen. The best books are ones that challenge your view of the world. The best books are the ones that tap into emotional truth. It’s rare to find books that can do both those things and, for me, The Power did.
This review of The Power is part of Superhero Week. You can teleport over to a random superhero article or, if you’ve heard or read the book, let us know what you made of Naomi Alderman’s story in the comments below.