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Book Review by Robin Widmar

The Gender Game

ìThe Gender Gameî by Bella Forest has been promoted as a spine-tingling must read for fans of ìThe Hunger Gamesî and ìDivergentî series. I report with some disappointment that it fell short of its mark. While the main theme of the book is an interesting one, it was somewhat lost in an obvious plot and simplistic writing style.In a post-apocalyptic setting, Violet Bates is a young woman trying to control her underlying rage in a world divided by gender. She lives in the realm of Matrus, which is ruled by women. Patrus is the kingdom across the river, which, as predicted, is a patriarchy. (You can now relate to my description of simplistic and obvious.) The river, to add to the divide between the two, is toxic. Matrus and Patrus precariously co-exist in a somewhat symbiotic relationship, where Matrus offers superior technology and science; while Patrus provides much needed food and other supplies.In the first scene, Violet is making a valiant yet failed attempt to smuggle her younger brother, Tim, across the river to the safety of Patrus. In Matrus, young boys are tested for the undesirable trait of aggression; and, if found to be ìaggressive in natureî they are exiled from Matrus and sent to work in the mines to the north.Violet is placed in the futuristic equivalent of juvenile detention, where she struggles to control her rage and violent urges. Through no fault of her own, she kills two women in self-defense, and is certain that she will be sentenced to death. In a somewhat predictable fashion, she is taken to meet with the queen of Matrus, Queen Rina, and is spared execution on the condition that she completes a secret mission to Patrus. She is also promised that if the mission is successful, she will be allowed one visit with her brother. Violet loves her brother and vows to free him from a life of forced labor in the mines.Violet accepts the mission, and is promptly transported to Patrus where she will await further instruction. In Patrus, she will pose as the wife of another Matrian spy, Lee Bertrand, as they plot to recover a stolen piece of technology; a silver egg. (The egg becomes the focal point of the remaining six books in the Gender series.)Once again, Violet finds herself in a society where she doesnít fit in. In Patrus, women are treated as being vastly inferior. They are not permitted to work or even walk the streets without their husband or an assigned monitor. As Lee reveals the plan to retrieve the egg, Violet inadvertently forms a relationship with Viggo Croft, a man as Patrian as they come. Or so it seems. Viggo is a warden for the Patrian government and also a well-known and undefeated fighter in legal cage fights. The catch is that Viggo is working for the Patrian government without pay, as part of his penance for trying to save his wifeís life after she was arrested for murder.Lee devises a plan to steal the egg ó the purpose of the egg remains unknown ó and he and Violet will create a diversion by detonating a bomb during a gala that the king will attend. He also plans to frame Viggo for the bombing. The mission is complicated, as Violet falls in love with Viggo. Their connection is based on their unspoken yet shared dissatisfaction with the rules of their respective societies.As Violet struggles with her conflicting desire to complete the mission to see her brother and her reluctance to frame Viggo, Viggo tells Violet the rumor that the Matrian boys like her brother who fail the aggressiveness test are sentenced to death and killed, not subjected to a life of labor. Violet then tells Lee that she cannot frame Viggo, telling him that Viggo is ìa good man, the only good man Iíve ever known.î Lee insists the only way to get the egg and be able to see her brother is to frame Viggo. He offers Violet a drug created by the Patrians, which regulates emotion and allows Violet to suppress her guilt about Viggo.They carry off the heist as planned, framing Viggo as a traitor to Patrus.With the egg in their possession, Violet and Lee make a dramatic escape to Matrus, only for Lee to betray Violet by killing Queen Rina and leaving Violet to take the blame. Violet prevents Lee from escaping, and is able to escape herself. She finds a letter revealing that Lee was neither a Matrian nor a Patrian spy, but part of a rebel group trying to overthrow both governments. Violet is able to take the egg, and she uncovers its purpose and why it is so important to both governments. The first book in the Gender series ends with Violet torn between going to find her brother or returning to Patrus to save Viggo from execution as a terrorist.The plot of ìThe Gender Gameî had some predictable turns and twists, almost as a clichÈ to post-nuclear devastation love stories. The character development had potential, but was neglected in favor of lengthy descriptions of fight scenes and the devastation of the bombing. I predict it will do well as an action movie; but, as a book, it was a quick weekend read, at best. I found myself reading ahead only to find out what happened next rather than enjoying the writing itself. With that said, it has an addictive quality that led me to begin the next book in the series.

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