Kingdom of Women by Rosalie Morales Kearns

Content Warning: one character uses expletives to label women and describes sexual situations during which he becomes forceful (rape).

Rosalie Morales Kearns delivers a timely novel for the #MeToo movement. Kingdom of Women, published by Jaded Ibis Press in December 2017, is summarized as a near-future in which women take revenge on men for their sexual wrongdoings. Women seek refuge and peace in a place called “Erda, that feminist utopian experiment in what was formerly North Dakota.” At the center of the novel is the first female priest. While her ordination suggests change, she’s distracted by a sexual relationship with a college student who a rapist. The novel covers several decades as the United States government and “patriotic” groups decide to attack Erda, a plague ravages the country, and the female priest suffers from visions and PTSD.

kingdom of women

Disclaimer: I have stories published in two Jaded Ibis Press anthologies, The Best Innovative College Fiction and Dirty : Dirty.

Kingdom of Women starts with an interesting main character: Averil, the first female priest. She was supposed to be ordained in a group of 23 women, but 22 were massacred the day of the ordination — Averil was spared because she showed up late. Something of a mystic, Averil sees her “sister-seminarians” and other Religious who are dead. But I wanted to know: did she always see spirits? How does she utilize their presence, or listen to it? I wasn’t always sure how Averil felt about the death of those 22 women, how it affected her, and in what way is the reader meant to connect some dots from Averil’s trauma to her present behaviors. For instance, why she chooses to have an affair with a college student named John who is brilliant, but a rapist and predator. Is Averil trying to punish herself for living?

To me, the more interesting character is Catherine Beck, a military woman whose behaviors, thoughts, and actions are so calculated and precise that her presence on the page excited me. Catherine learns of John, so she earnestly threatens to kill him, causing him to leave town. Often, the omniscient narrator gives clues about what will happen in the future. In an earlier scene, Catherine recognizes John, and the narrator forewarns that if Catherine had killed him right then, so much turmoil in the future could have been avoided.

This warning set me up to think that John would destroy Catherine or Averil, or be the leader of the group attacking Erda. But that story never plays out, and I felt uncertain as to where the narrative arced. Much of the book describes small events in the 38 years during the war between Erda women and men’s groups, including rumors and confirmation of a plague, rounding up men without trial, and Averil’s movements from one military camp to another to serve odd jobs.

I feel there is a possibility that Kingdom of Women was perfect for a trilogy instead of one book. The relationship between John and Averil felt unexplored. The war years are summarized, so we don’t see women debating how to move forward with a women-dominated society or on the battlefield. The third act would include how Averil’s reputation proceeds her, and communities view her as a prophet, but in this abbreviated version I wondered why. She often stuck to washing dishes or walking for miles. Her sermons are rarely on the page, which could have been evidence for why listeners are so moved.

Kingdom of Women is like a packet of seeds waiting to be planted in a garden: the potential is exhilarating.

I want to thank Rosalie Morales Kearns for sending me a copy of Kingdom of Women in exchange for an honest review.


Here are some reviews of Kingdom of Women from other great venues:

VIDA calls the novel “glorious” but “difficult to summarize.”

Kirkus says “Kearns writes in a precise prose” and that she “she does not rely on premise alone to sustain the book.”

Foreward Reviews notes, “The novel itself, however, is a wild portrait in extremes, allowing off-center characters to fuel a parable for modern times.”

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31 comments

  1. This sounds like interesting speculative fiction. And I know what you mean about certain characters being more interesting than the main characters. That’s happened to me, too. I wonder if there’ll be another novel to follow along with these characters.

  2. This sounds interesting, and a little like it covers some of the same themes as The Power by Naomi Alderman. I like books that come in little vignettes rather than one overarching story, but find them a little bit hard to get engrossed in. Did you find it engaging or was it a bit difficult to get into?

    • I remember your review of The Power, and if I remember correctly, you were a bit on the fence about whether or not you liked the ideas within. I felt like it was hard to stay engaged with Kingdom of Women because there weren’t a lot of glimpses into people’s minds that allowed me to put together their motives and motivations. For instance, the female priest stops holding mass or functioning as a priest in the middle of the war, but I didn’t know why.

  3. Loving your simile at the end. Very creative 🙂 it does sound like the author threw a lot of different elements into the mix and it would have benefited from something special miler?

  4. I can’t deny that this sounds interesting, but it also sounds like there was a lot left off the pages. Does the premise include all women taking revenge or is it limited to this group in North Dakota? The development of this women-only community would be interesting to explore, though from your review I don’t get the feeling that the author dives into this.

  5. I’ve read a bit of women’s SF where these ideas are explored. One is Liz Williams’ Bloodmind which I think provides a more coherent view than this one seems to.

  6. I’m not sure I like this trend of books that suggest men and women are in some kind of war. I feel “the younger generation” have taken feminism and warped it, in truth. It used to be about equaility – now it seems to be some kind of fight to the death… in books at least. I’d rather fight aliens…

    • The book explores how some women cross the line. At first, it was about holding men accountable when they committed a crime and were helped along the way by male police and judges. But, as the war years go on, women start to argue about killing all the men they captured, releasing them, retraining them, etc. It gets philosophical.

  7. Great review. I tend to stay away from novels that address these themes because they are too close to what I do at work (including Title VII/Title IX/gender violence), but I might add this to my TBR list. It sounds interesting.

  8. Did you feel like the fact that characters’ thoughts/feelings/motivations were left out or glossed over because you were intended to insert yourself into the storytelling more actively, or did you feel like it was more a case of the worldbuilding not being fleshed out quite enough to make it a truly and naturally engaging story for you to enter into? There are aspects of the story which interest me, but I can only manage so many worldbuilding novels in one year and I’ve got quite a few on the list already!

    • I thought the story would largely focus on a women-led revolution with a female priest at the top who was secretly having an affair with a man. Instead, the novel appeared to spend little time on the affair and more on the developments of the world each year as the war progressed, so maybe it is more history building/world building? I would still give it a chance!

  9. Very interesting! I love your review. Although the book sounds like something I would enjoy, I for some reason cannot stand when the narrator gives away future events (it makes me anxious and unwilling to continue).

    • I’ve never heard anyone say that before. What’s interesting is Malcolm X does the same thing in his autobiography. I think of it as something to look forward to instead of spoilers waiting to happen.

  10. Ok never been to North Dakota, but if it does end up being someone’s utopia, then it must be worth visiting! Interesting premise of this novel, very timely, although utopian/dystopian novels aren’t typically for me, I find it too difficult to wrap my head around these new worlds!

  11. This makes me think that what I would like to see is a story about a world in which the women are the political and business leaders instead of the men. Otherwise, the world is pretty much the same as it is now. What would that look like? How would the world be different?

    P.S. Did I know you had some published stories out there?! That’s awesome!

    • I have a link on my blog called “Melanie’s Lit Work” 😀

      There was a short story I read by Yuriy Tarnawsky about women as world and business leaders that I really enjoyed. I think it’s called “New Order/Priority Female” in the collection Short Tails.

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