Title: Upright Women Wanted
Author: Sarah Gailey
Genre: Sci-fi Novella
Number of Pages: 176
Esther is on the run. Her lover has been hanged for acts of resistance against the government and she’s being forced into an arranged marriage with the lover’s ex-fiancé. While wandering the desert she comes across the ‘librarians,’ a group of women whose job it is to distribute approved materials across the old Western dystopian hellscape that is their world. She stows away in their carriage and after being caught, she becomes an apprentice to these powerful women and finds out how they also find ways to rebel against the system.
The characters in this book were okay, but I didn’t find myself growing attached to any of them. Esther was a strong female protagonist and her character arc was strong but I didn’t get much of a sense of what her backstory was like besides her forbidden love affair with another woman. I got sick of all the contrived old Western-y similes- stuff like ‘she was jumpy as a lil’ jackrabbit’ were okay when used in dialogue, but when they were sprinkled throughout the prose constantly it got old fast.
Esther’s budding romance with a the tough-talking non-binary Cye had potential, but ultimately I didn’t think there was enough there. She also seemed to be getting over her girlfriend Beatriz awfully fast, and there wasn’t enough detail put into the relationship between Esther and Beatriz wasn’t developed enough to really get a sense of how much Esther loved her or how much pain she experienced over her death.
Beatriz just felt like a pitstop in Esther’s character arc, hardly a person she risked persecution and even death to be with. The world building was interesting but it left me with a ton of questions. This book checks a lot of publishing industry ‘boxes’ (gender identity, gay issues, feminism and smashing the patriarchy) and felt more like something inoffensive to fill the industry’s current niche than a strong story in it’s own right or one with truly memorable characters. I would try out reading something else by Sarah Gailey but this book just didn’t do it for me, which is a shame because I usually really like the novellas that Tor puts out.