I don't know why I went into this book believing it to have a feminist vibe— albeit some 70s first wave feminism, complete with slut shamey, creepy fetichistic and essentialist vibes, as well as the good ol' rape, which the author uses and... Well, you know the rest.
Warning : spoilers ahead.
And boy is this book rapey. Both of the characters are raped in their childhood, which sets both of them onto their path of warriorhood, and on the path of this book's disgusting relationship with womanhood and/or feminity.
There are three types of women in this book : Tarma, the "sexless" warrior, gross and ignorant depiction of asexuality as she pledges herself to her warrior goddess, thus rendering her infertile (because apparently you can't be a warrior and a fertile woman who wants to have children at some point— fucking is sooooo distracting innit). That alone should raise a couple of red flags, but this is only the beginning of this book's bizarre relationship to gender and womanhood(s)
Then there are the other women. I'm going to be very crude here, but that is only because of the caricature this book makes of them : they're all "sluts". Or "whores". They're all rape fodder for the evil characters. They're not fighters, therefore they're all fucktoys.
Then there's Kethry, our sorceress, who's in the middle : she's sexy, yes, but she's also a warrior! Therefore, she doesn't care about sex. Still. She'll not escape being reduced to her genitals, as she'll pledge to bear children to... Well, fill her blood sister's clan. Okay.
The fact is, women in this book are at a constant risk to being reduced to their body, even worse, to the second side of a disgusting dichotomy between strong woman and raped woman, in a crappy slut-shaming/victim blaming vibe. The protagonists are raped, many times, and the book doesn't stop at turning their enemies into women (or casting illusions on them so they look like one) so they'll be raped. I swear they actually do that! And the way they defeat the big evil demon rapist (he's literally ALL about gaining power and raping women) is by turning him into a sexy woman, which will rob him of his power. They main characters will themselves not fret at hiding themselves under sexy bimbo illusions to lure enemies into raping them— and one will even be turned into a sexier version of herself so she can be raped.
Tired of reading about rape? God, me too. There's literally NOT a single consensual sex act in this book, and not even mention of one. Our heroes are supposed to be bound by geas to help women, but they never truly help them— save but one time, a woman who's —shocker— not raped, not sexual, BUT wounded by childbirth. Instead, they trod through demons and bandits, never really seeming to care for the raped women around them (never even caring for their own rapes beside the "ugh my ass hurts"), never showing a single shred of sympathy to one— they're unammed, silent, tropes. Even "strong" side characters, a witch and a thief, showing curiosity towards the demon rapist cult, are shown raped and turned into sexual women. That's what you get for being curious about heterosexuality, girls! Hell the characters even dish out some sexual violence themselves as they strip two women naked to steal their clothes, before leaving them unconscious in some empty street. Help women, but, yknow, not the sluts. I guess that's how swerfs rationalize their hatred of sex workers these days.
Now I've finished this book I can understand the kind of twisted ideas it's standing on. I feel like this author misread Andrea Dworkin somewhere and went for the "all "penis in vagina sex" is rape" trope, because certainly it seems that all mention of heterosexuality in this book is rapey. Jesus, even games of thrones had some consensual sex in it. Sadly, since lesbian stuff (or political lesbian stuff) doesn't sell really well, the author went for platonic relationship. I hope the second book doesn't feature transgender women... I can see that trainwreck coming a galaxy away.
And the worst thing is, I'm not even into dudes. I'm bored by heterosexuality. I prefer my books without men. I even enjoy consensual bdsm and power fantasies on occasion. But this. This ain't it. This is almost worst than men authors who write a man, slap boobs on him, (yes I'm being cissexist but i'm caricaturing their ideas here), and have her say things like "you're being beaten by a girl! Shameful!)
Hugh. I'm not reading that second book.
If I wanted rapes, essentialism, and women being reduced to their genitals and empowered through agender asexuality, I'd read... Idk. Rape or mind control erotica.