by Sheri S. Tepper
Summary by Barbara K. Kessel and David H. Kessel
Within Women's Country, all the cities are walled and each city has, outside its walls, a garrison of male warriors to protect them from other male warriors protecting other cities. In exchange for this protection, the women must return a male child to his warriorfather at the age of five. m e warriors are not allowed into Women's Country except under two different circumstances. First, they can enter Women's Country biannually for "carnival". "Carnival" is a social event that enables the women and the warriors to interact on a more personal, intimate basis...to apparently procreate. Second, the warriors may enter Women's Country after making a conscious and public decision to return as permanent citizens...at the age of 15. (They have another 10 years to change their mind...till age 25). If they decide to return, their role is designated as Servitor, an individual who seems committed to merely serving the women and abiding by their ordinances. Yet, Servitors are other than what they seem to be.
The ordinances developed by the women are a means to guide the citizens in their daily lives. They are intended to help the citizens lead healthy, productive lives and hopefully to eradicate the power differential's that exist between the men and women. Stavia, one of the main characters and daughter of one of Marthatown's leaders...Margot, completely embraces the ordinances until she begins a relationship with a warrior named Chernon. However, as the relationship continues, Stavia begins to question some of these rules. From a lack of mature knowledge of the ordinances and with an independent will, she disobeys the rules of Women's Country, especially when she and Chernon embark on a dangerous journey. They encounter a group of people who believe that men and women have certain limited roles in life and who will go to any extreme to ensure that~=these roles are properly followed. Stavia and Chernon must eventually be rescued from these people.
Stavia endures many hardships, some of her own creation, others created by Chernon, and yet others stemming from the political and social arrangement of their society. Yet, Stavia finally learns why Women's Country is governed in a certain manner, why the men and women live, in some ways, very separate lives, and why she must continue to uphold the ordinances of Women's Country. If she does not want the "desolations" to occur again, she must. In short, she learns the fuller purpose of the Servitors.
This novel has many dimensions and intrigues and its story is embedded in a Greek play...Iphigenia at Ilium...which begins in Chapter 5 and continues spaced throughout the whole book. Attention to this play is important to a clear understanding of the story and to the message of the author.