There’s nothing better than reading the next book in a series. Seeing those familiar faces of beloved characters…and living in fear that more bad things will happen to them.
So it goes in The Thief and the Waste, the sequel to The Wolf and the Rain, and middle book in Tanya Lee’s dystopian trilogy. If you don’t want (light) spoilers for Book One, you can stop reading here and pick up a copy of The Wolf and the Rain here.
Now, on to the review.
Features a woman as the main protagonist and/or supporting character = 2/2 pts
Passes the Bechdel-Wallace test = 3/3 pts
As with The Wolf and the Rain, The Thief and the Waste follows Samarra, in present-day and through flashbacks. The flashbacks give us more detail into life in the utopian Seira…and more detail into the ways in which Seira is hardly a utopia. Yes, the tragic backstory hinted at in book one is laid out in full here.
The book easily passes these sections, as Sam is surrounded by women characters. Readers will have to pay attention here–there are a lot of people to remember, and a great many with names beginning with S. Luckily, all these women have distinct personalities, and roles within the story. I had forgotten the details of life in Seira but felt quickly pulled up to date without an info dump.
Artistic and/or Entertaining = 4/4 pts
In the present day, Samarra and her friends are leaving the dangers and freedoms of the North to return to Seira, the southern country of Samarra’s birth. To do so, they must pass through the Waste, a barren desert-like deadland. Here the dystopian flavor becomes more like Mad Max, as secretive tribes and dangerous skags eke out a living in this infertile environment. If you were dying for the romance to blossom, it becomes more overt here, despite the challenges.
In stark contrast is Samarra’s old life in Seira, where even her mood was regulated by constant intake of drugs. The advanced society has its perks, with a job for everyone and excellent healthcare. As Samarra shifts from the young girl in the first book to a woman beginning her adult life, we see more positives to Seira, including regular meditation, liberal sex and relationship policies, and career advancement opportunities.
While her thoughts weren’t policed, Samarra was so long indoctrinated that it takes a disastrous event to make her realize what Seira is. One example of this is when one character says to another, “Hate is unproductive.” I think we pretty much all know how pointless it is to try to rationalize away hate. Here’s where we see the cracks in the foundation of Seira, which is trying to sweep such human inclinations under the rug.
As before, I loved the portrayal of Sam. Tanya moves seamlessly between the voice of younger, indoctrinated Samarra, to the older, more hardened young woman in the present day. I also like that she isn’t treated as a “Chosen One” character, that is to say, her competence comes from hard work, not destiny.
There are no nagging questions here like in other more fantastical dystopian settings and the world-building remains really solid. The reveal at the very end changes the stakes for the final book in the trilogy and I’m very curious to see where we’ll go from here!
Above and Beyond General Media = 5/5 pts
There are quite a few feminist themes explored in The Thief and the Waste. I’ve decided to categorize them under the blanket label of Body Autonomy. Body autonomy is a broad category in feminist theory, and we see the many ways it plays out in The Thief and the Waste.
I won’t get into spoilers, but this idea can be best described through the cultural similarities and differences between Seira (the South) and the Barrow (the North). Both cultures have done away with restrictive morays that exist in our world. In both places, hetero- and homosexual relationships are accepted, as are casual relationships. Nudity is not shameful, or inherently sexual. In the South, life is peaceful, orderly, and safe. When Sam arrives in the North, she’s shocked by the casual acceptance of violence and sickness. But northerners have something she didn’t in the South: freedom.
But despite the good in both places, neither one is perfect because both deny body autonomy. In the North, women live with the constant threat of rape, kidnapping, and forced servitude. In the South, the price for disobedience is death, and monitoring is constant. I liked how Tanya showed the breadth of ways in which body autonomy could be violated, even when it was nominally allowed. When intersected with gender (The North is more explicitly patriarchal than the South, at least at first), we see how misogyny and casual, assumed access to women’s bodies pervades this world just as much as it does our own.
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