Singer from the Sea by Sheri S. Tepper
Genevieve is on the run. She left her newborn son with a native woman and slipped away into the desert. Her husband is missing, her father has given her away, and she is in peril of dying for a reason that is unknown to her. She follows the native woman’s instructions to flee and find the hidden place in the desert where she will be safe.
Genevieve is the noble daughter of the Marshall on the planet Haven. When Haven had been colonized many centuries before, the governing body decided on a technological free, patriarchal society. They keep little equipment except for medicines, weapons to protect themselves, and transportation. The noble women are students until they are 30, then wives and mothers. They have no say in the governing of the world. The commoners, both men and women, are too busy surviving to worry about the governing of the world. So the noble men are in charge. The laws over the noble cast are inflexible, nor are they questioned by the women.
Genevieve remembers her mother despite her father’s objections. She remembers her mother and she hiding away in the cellars and singing. Her mother taught her many secrets that she barely remembers and never reveals, not even to her father. She yearns to be allowed to sing aloud, but that is forbidden on Haven.
When Genevieve is still in her early 20’s her father calls her back to his home. She does not realize that Prince Delganor, second in the ruling class only to the Lord Paramount, wishes to marry her. He has had three previous wives who died either in childbirth or from batfly fever. But Genevieve falls in love with one of her father’s couriers, a commoner.
She meets only one noble woman in society, Duchess Alicia, an old schoolmate of Genevieve’s mother. One night Alicia slips out to the unmonitored gardens with Genevieve and pleads for help. She is afraid for her daughter, who is about to give birth. She has lost one daughter to childbirth already. But she believes that there is something sinister on Haven. She is afraid that if her living daughter stays with her noble husband after the child is born her daughter will also die. Then she has Genevieve looking closely at the society around her. Soon Genevieve has to agree with Alicia that something is wrong on Haven.
Sheri S. Tepper writes fascinating science fiction addressing social issues, often women’s issues. Genevieve is a strong protagonist. The hidden storyline she uses for Haven – they mystery of the book – is one I have seen once before. On Haven, that plot is more deadly than my other exposure to the insidious peril. The perceptive reader begins to see what is happening only shortly before Genevieve does. Even then, the full thrust of the plot is not revealed until it is time for the solution and conclusion. The horror is hinted at, but not fully explained.
As captivating as I found this plot, the book tends to drag for the first third of the story. Even when it picked up I felt as if I were wading at times to get through it. But by the last third I wasn’t putting it down. This is a horror story without the slashing, psychopaths, or gore. It gave me chills.