Firstborn by Lorie Ann Grover
The first thing that caught my eye was the striking, evocative cover of Firstborn. From the blurb, however, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve read my share of feminist fantasy, and much of it has struck me as fairly extreme, focusing on men’s evil oppression or a utopian future controlled by women.
However, there is far more going on in this book that just strictly issues of gender. Tiadone is a young woman living in an oppressed society controlled by a conquering people, who force their culture, religion, and customs on them. Among those customs is the practice of killing firstborn girls, who are deemed unable to care for their families as a boy could. Some families, like Tiadone’s, get around the restriction by declaring their firstborn females male and supposedly suppressing their feminine traits with a magical amulet. But it is condemning them to a life of solitude, since they are anatomically female while living the life of a man and therefore cannot marry.
Had this been published by a general market imprint rather than under the umbrella of Zondervan, I would have expected the story to move into a discussion of transgender rights, but that’s really not the point here, especially since the situation is forced onto Tiadone from birth and not chosen. What the book does involve is the discovery that all human life has worth, and the point that gender alone does not determine of what a person is capable. There’s also a interesting subplot of the people’s symbiotic relationship with rapion birds who “twine” (establish a mind link) with humans that reminds me of Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books.
Plotwise, it’s a pretty straightforward dystopian with a nice discovery of personal faith, inner strength, and hope for a better future. Grover handles the coming-of-age aspect of adolescence and the main character’s sexual awakening with both frankness and delicacy. The writing is clean and smooth, and the pacing is excellent, guaranteeing a quick and enjoyable read. I’m hoping there is a second book, because there is plenty of story left to write about this world—and the fact that I wish there were speaks volumes about how much I enjoyed this novel. Overall, this is a book that older teens as well as adults are sure to appreciate.
About the Book
Where does a firstborn girl fit in a world dominated by men?
When Tiadone was born, her parents had two choices: raise their daughter as male and force her to suppress all feminine traits, or leave her outside the community to die in the wilds. Now, as the first female living as male in her village, Tiadone must prove her father didn’t make a mistake by letting her live. As her time of male initiation approaches, Tiadone desperately wishes to belong, and be accepted in her world—though at every step it appears the Creator allows traditional feminine gifts and traits to emerge, as well as cursing her with a singing bird the ruling culture sees as a sign of the devil.
Worse, as Tiadone completes her initiation rites, she finds she is drawn to her male best friend and patrol mate in ways that are very much in line with the female gender.
Confused and desperate, Tiadone tries to become what she must be while dealing with what she indeed has become: a young woman who may be able to free her people from despotic rule and allow the Creator’s name to be sung once more.