Califia’s Daughters by Leigh Richards
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Califia’s Daughters is one of the most unique, inventive, thought provoking, dark, disturbing, pseudo-violent, feminist-based, post-apocalyptic/dystopian novels I have read in a long time, if ever. I thoroughly enjoyed it and came away impressed with the book and author. What a work of art!
The book takes place in the not too distant future after some type of apocalyptic nightmare has taken place, presumably throughout North America, probably the world, and most certainly California. Most people have forgotten how to use things such as automobiles and planes, or that there even were such things years ago, and for most, life consists of an agrarian society. At some point, someone – we’re not told who – released biological/chemical/ radioactive agents/toxins that have caused various plagues around much of the world, resulting in a monster virus affecting the world’s men, so that nine of every ten male babies and men in general who are born or live die shortly after birth or contracting this virus. Thus, two things. One, it’s a matriarchal society, with women having to assume ALL roles in society – hunter/gatherer, homemaker, warrior, scientist, farmer, etc., and two, all surviving males are treated like precious gemstones, to be protected at all costs, given regular security, aren’t allowed to do anything dangerous, must hide if anyone new comes to their villages, must be protected from infections, etc. And every village has Amazonian-like warrior women. In this novel, in the Valley in which we read about, the chief protector is Dian and her guard dogs, who she has trained to be perfect guards and killing machines. Additionally, she has additional warriors she has trained to protect the Valley.
So it passes that one day, a group approaches, something to fear, and they are met by Dian and her dogs. It is a group from another town up in northern California and they come bearing a gift and a proposition. It’s quite odd. They would like to bring and leave a male as their gift, quite a valuable gift, if Dian’s town will allow them to relocate to the Valley and join forces for protection from the evil armies forming up north and moving southward. The town council contemplates it and tentatively decides to accept their offer, but Dian’s sister, the leader, and Dian agree that she will secretly go up to their town on a reconnaissance mission to see if everything is as they say it is, if they’re on the up and up, before ultimately allowing them to move south to join them. It will be a long, arduous trip, but a necessary one.
And so, after wading through all of that preliminary stuff, the real part of the book that contains the action, character development, strong plotting, strong dialogue, extreme tension and intrigue, seemingly impossible scenarios, and horrible sacrifices takes place. And it’s all worth it. Dian travels north with a couple of her dogs, first through the major city of Meijing (the major West Coast city/power), then on up through the wastelands. What she experiences is nothing short of horrifying. What she encounters is humanity like little she’s encountered before, loyalty unlike what she was expecting, sacrifice more than any person should ever have to make, ungodly pain, Ashtown, the Angels, Breaker, an insane Captain who’s a psychotic bitch if there ever was one, serious violence, depression, an unexpected pregnancy, relationships that matter, betrayals, an uprising, escape attempts, the hopes and dreams of one day making it back to the Valley alive, etc.
It’s a tense, fascinating journey and I found myself on edge half the time, hoping like hell she could get out of the mess she was in. I was emotionally invested in this book. I also found it interesting, to be honest, to see how in a matriarchal society, so many stereotypical traits, often associated with men in a less than stellar way, shine through even though men not only aren’t the prevalent gender, but aren’t even exposed to society and culture. It’s as though there’s little to no difference between the two genders when the two are in power at separate times in history. To the best of my knowledge, the author is somewhat of a feminist, and many of her fans are definitely feminists, so I found this intriguing.
Whatever the case, I thought the ending was pretty good, but a little too abrupt. A whole lot was left out. A lot. We got to see the very final ending, but not how we got to transition from point A to point Z. I would have liked to see the points in between. Also, the epilogue seems to disappoint a number of people and I, too, wish it hadn’t been included. Nonetheless, this was such a unique, unusual, intriguing, well written, well thought out, well plotted book, that even with was minor flaws, I’m not going to quibble. This is definitely worth five stars. And definitely recommended!