A Gentle Tyranny
Tyndale House Publishers (2021)
Reviewed by Megan Weiss for Reader Views (05/2021)
Jess Corban has created a firecracker of a new world with “A Gentle Tyranny,” the first in a new series called “Nedé Rising.” The book stars Reina Pierce, young woman who on her eighteenth birthday must choose a Destiny. There are many Destinies to choose from in Nedé, from politics, the arts, a fierce army-like force called the Alexia, and even one dedicated simply to raising children. There’s one thing in particular that makes Nedé special, however: it is entirely dominated by women. Two hundred years earlier, Nedé came to be after a special coalition of women decided that they had experienced enough tyranny, violence, and discrimination under the patriarchy of a capitalist world. Emerging in the mid-21st century, Nedé was the result of a special vaccine and ‘life serum’ which was created to help rid the world of Brutes: men. Instead, a new race of “Gentles” would be born. They would live out their lives serving the country, in essence becoming the world’s servants. When Reina is chosen as a Candidate to be the next leader of Nedé once her grandmother, the current Matriarch, steps down, she learns quickly that the perfect, virtuous world she grew up in actually holds some dark secrets. Are “Gentles” actually born gentle? And is Nedé truly any better than the tyrannical world it supposedly helped overthrow?
“A Gentle Tyranny” is a breathtaking examination of what might happen if, in the near future, a group of people were to decide to try and alter human nature. Although the foremothers of Nedé seem to have been acting on good intensions, nevertheless the world that was created resulted in a society where men are demonized as being all violent, ruthless “brutes.” The “Gentles” are genetically modified males who have had their biological makeup altered at birth to rid them of these dangerous qualities. This unfortunately leaves them weak, sickly, and often with short life spans, but also ensures that they will never hurt women ever again.
“A Gentle Tyranny” shows how we cannot simply turn the tables on those who we perceive have wronged us. Transforming the world so that men are essentially enslaved by women to live cold, unfulfilled, loveless lives does not truly serve to better the world. It simply reverses the players so that those who were once oppressed are now doing the oppressing.
I love the character of Reina Pierce, because in her we get to see how easy it is to be blinded by knee-jerk loyalty to a cause, nation or people. At the beginning, I thought Reina a little flighty, slightly rude and ungrateful, and unsure of what she wants. As I got farther and farther into “A Gentle Tyranny,” however, the growth of Reina’s character astounded me. By the end of the book, she had become a young woman who was careful, but thorough; thoughtful, but suspicious; and who never again will simply accept the truths she is being told when, deep down, they seem wrong to her. She learns to ask hard questions, and realizes that those who are supposed to love and support you can often act the most cruel and heartless. She experiences hardships and sacrifices, and starts to understand that in order to right the wrongs she is now learning exist in her once-perceived perfect world of Nedé she must think beyond herself and her own desires.
“A Gentle Tyranny” is a fierce novel that forces readers to consider what the right thing really is. Should we try and force people to fit a certain mold if that mold will help the common good and create a world that is seemingly safe, efficient and bright? Or is it wrong to force an individual to be anything other than themselves? Of all lessons conveyed in the book, I think one of the most prominent is the notion that we cannot demonize an entire race, gender or group of people because a select few made the egregious decision to cause harm. This is evident in the way that Reina learns that all Brutes are not actually that brutish. In fact, most of them seem to be good people, with good hearts.
“A Gentle Tyranny” will be a hit for fans of The Hunger Games and Divergent. Readers with a love for dystopia, science fiction and strong female heroines will also be quite taken with the book. I recommend it especially to older teen girls and young women.
There was nothing gentle about “A Gentle Tyranny,” and I will definitely be on my toes until the next book comes out.