Wen Spencer’s A Brother’s Price is the story of a boy named Jerin who falls in love with a girl named Ren. It’s set in a vaguely Victorian/Wild-West/Steampunk alternate history where the ratio of boys to girls is 10:1 (because of some hand-wavey genetic quirk, more girls are born than boys). It’s an interesting world to mentally visit because you get to see, as a reader, how society works when women vastly outnumber men. In this society, women are expected to do the dangerous jobs (like fighting in the army) and men are expected to stay at home and care for the children. Because of the gender imbalance, young, virile men are extremely valuable and are closely protected by their sisters until they are sold into marriage.
Sold into marriage? you ask. Yes, sold into marriage like women used to be in Biblical times. More caring sisters and mothers would take their brother’s and son’s wishes into consideration, but a lot of women in this universe just sell to the highest bidder (or the family with the most power). A lot of other societal expectations of men and women are also switched up in this universe:
- Men have to worry about being slut-shamed.
- Men are expected to be more dainty, polite, and flamboyantly dressed in high society.
- Men aren’t expected to be able to fight, think strategically, or be knowledgeable about things outside the home.
- Men’s virginity is highly prized and heavily guarded, because their “brother’s price” becomes much cheaper if they sleep with a woman before marriage.
The book doesn’t really make a strong statement about gender, though, it’s more of an adventure/fantasy/romance romp than a philosophical text. Personally, that doesn’t bug me because the characters, setting, and story are so much fun. I’m a pretty slow reader and this book took me four days to read, which is pretty short. It has a lot of adventure story elements that make it feel a little like a Western or a movie about pirates. The romance elements work overall in that Ren and Jerin are a good match for each other, but their dialogue when they’re together is so clichéd it’s a little hard not to laugh. The plot is a little loose in some parts: there’s a marriage that happens just because it would be convenient. I think it succeeds as a fantasy novel because it creates a world filled with fun, danger, and warmth. This would make an excellent beach read!
Reviewer’s Note: The cover image is a pretty bizarre choice of scene. It seems to go against the feminist premise of the book to have the hero carrying a woman (who isn’t even the heroine — that’s Ren’s sister). Also, Jerin is described as having long black hair and being slim… what the heck, Roc Books? Something got lost along the way…