NSFW Warning: Today’s Book Club Selection should be considered Not Safe For Work. Please enjoy the review!
I seem to have been given a short reprieve from the Vault in order to give it a thorough cleaning after many weeks of residing inside it. Not to let me get lulled into complacency and slothfulness, I have also been presented my next assignment! It’s the first full-length book I’ll be reviewing and it’s titled: Gash of the Titans by CJ Douglass. Okay, well it gets a 5/5 based on that title alone but I guess I’ll have to read it anyway or I shan’t get any gruel for supper.
This charming story is set in a dystopic, post-apocalyptic future of America. Climate change led to nuclear war, and the land has been reduced to miles of desolate, unending desert. In the 500 or so years since that calamity, human civilization and technology has only recovered to the level comparable to that of the Roman Empire. People wield swords, spears, bows and arrows, and remaining vestiges of electricity are extremely rare, and referred to as “Old Magic”.
What makes this particular timeline unique among the multitude of similar books is: women have been relegated to slave status, separated from the “civilized” men in the town, forced to toil in the fields, and to be used as broodmares for the townsmen whenever they wish. Actually, giving them the title of “slaves” is generous, as slaves are considered valuable. These women are beaten, violated, and occasionally murdered based on the whims of the men; they are wholly expendable.
Enter our story’s protagonist: Donthiki. She is rechristened as simply “Dawn” after it is discovered she has a nearly unheard of genetic mutation caused by leftover nuclear radiation: a full set of fangs protruding from the walls of her vagina, tongue included! Imagine the maw of Venom from the recent Tom Hardy movie, just hanging out between her legs. Known as the Black Cleft, Eater of Men, it comes complete with a second nearly bottomless stomach where her uterus should be, and even a mind of its own which Dawn learns to control. “Nelson,” you ask, “what do you mean ‘nearly bottomless stomach’?” I mean when she consumes flesh down there it breaks all laws physics and no longer has physical volume. To think, the secret to women being able to eat all they want and never getting fat lies in a genetic mutation in a dystopian future. Her unique gift unites and rallies the women of her hometown, while simultaneously causing the men she crosses to cower in fear. Eventually, she capitalizes on those two facts and leads an uprising to overthrow the patriarchy itself.
Now, when I sat down to write this review I struggled to decide what direction to go in after I gave you the setting and backstory of the tale. I have more thoughts about this book than could be written in a short-ish book review. Some of those include: exploring why all of the named men in the story have biblical names (Jeremiah, Boaz, Ezekiel), wondering how a kingdom basically the size of at least half of America is properly administered without an abundance of trade or roads, to the fact that there seems to be no catalog of the women in the community kept by the men likely leading to incest or as some might say “wincest”. What I have decided to dive into instead is simply “Why?”. Why in the world would men choose to organize their society this way? Certainly, in a future such as this slavery would make a comeback, and conflict could easily allow the moral arc of the universe to bend away from social justice and equality. I’m not arguing against that, I’m just left to wonder why women were singled out to have the role they do. Men are built more for labor, and are less valuable in reproduction and population growth. You know what you get when you overwork a malnourished pregnant woman in fields under the summer sun? You get weaker, shittier babies that are less likely to survive given the lack of resources and contemporary medicine. This whole thing would completely fall apart in two or three generations. There is a reason humanity has never organized itself this way despite time periods where we’ve been similarly awful to each other. “But Nelson, you’re just reading too much into this story!” Maybe I am. The men in this book are universally, cartoonishly evil throughout, maybe they didn’t think about the ramifications of that type of social order. All I’m saying is men treated and kept women as second class citizens just fine throughout history without resorting to putting them inside cages. Regardless, Donthiki: Eater of Men is coming to settle the score.
The story itself was “okay”. At times things got pretty heavy-handed with the metaphors, and character progression felt uneven and a little forced. If you gave a 1-2 minute summary of the plot, it would flow better and seeing the “big picture” allows you to appreciate the story better. And no, I’m not writing these things because I did not like how she wrote the men in her story. I am fully aware that the collective track record of men across time is pretty fucking terrible. In fact, despite the story’s shortcomings, I enjoyed the book. It inspired several hour long conversations with friends over the consequences and circumstances found in it. Inspiring thought and self-reflection is valuable, and Gash of the Titans dishes it out in spades. I’d absolutely recommend reading it as a possible book club selection and discussing it. Oh and for those wondering: there is a decent amount of consensual and enthusiastic sex between the women characters to add just enough spice to the narrative.
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