Tuesday, January 15, 2019

AudioBook Review: THE PRISONER by Sara Allyn

Title: The Prisoner

Author: Sara Allyn

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: August 19, 2018

Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

I don't typically review many audiobooks, but there are times when I'm so swamped with review titles on my TBR that it becomes necessary.  I've been wanting to check out THE PRISONER by Sara Allyn ever since I saw the beautiful cover art on Twitter and Goodreads.  I read the summary and decided that it definitely seemed like a book that I would enjoy, so Sara was gracious enough to provide an audiobook version for me for purposes of this review.  And so away I went intently listening during my many drives to and from work and dropping the kids off at gymnastics practice.

Maria is a pretty normal graduate student, other than the fact that she hears a tree whispering to her in her dreams that keeps trying to lure her into the forest for some mysterious reason.  Maria has what she believes is a dream of her walking into a transport ship of some kind captained by an unknown alien species.  She awakens in a hospital-like room to find that what she originally thought to be a dream was actually quite real.  She has been transported to the planet Olrona, and more specifically to the mountain city of Pegasea.  The city of Pegasea suffered an event in its past history that has severely affected its population.  For some reason females are being born less and less as each year goes by.  Because of this the Pegasean government has enacted a harvesting program to travel to Earth and basically abduct human females and take them back to their planet in the hopes that cross-breeding them with Pegasean males would stimulate the population again and stave off their possible extinction.  The plan fails however since it seems that the biologies of human women and Pegasean men do not provide the desired solution. This leaves scores of human women on the planet as "companions".  Since Pegasean law has very strict laws in place that severely limit the rights of human women, they are reduced to less than benign lives in peace and comfort, but with no real rights or ability to contribute to Pegasean society in any meaningful way.  Maria is distraught when she is paired up with a very influential and high-ranking Pegasean male named Orook who is assigned as her "Keeper".  Now if all of this sounds oppressive, well yes it absolutely is and Maria doesn't accept her new role very well.  Maria's inherent rebellious nature and free spirit soon find her in trouble with both her new Keeper and the dogmatic hierarchy of the Pegasean government.  Yet, throughout the story Maria tries to convince Orook on numerous occasions that the Pegasean laws are backward and utterly wrong.  Orook engages her in verbal debates in an effort to show her that the laws are necessary and "for the good" of the human women who are not familiar with the customs and culture of their new alien benefactors.  Gradually, Maria and Orook begin to form a strange bond in which they find themselves slowly understanding each other and also discovering just a bit of common ground even.  When an unexpected attack occurs against the Pegaseans by an advanced canine predator species that also resides on Olrona, Maria is summoned by the leader of Pegasea to help.  The question arises whether Maria's transport to Olrona was foretold for the very purpose of ultimately helping to save the oppressive alien culture who she so deeply despises.  And what can this human woman with no knowledge of the history and biology of this mysterious world hope to accomplish when everything seems lost and virtually everyone views her as a lesser being?  THE PRISONER is truly a multilayered story that raises important questions about inequality and social engineering that are very relevant to our real world of today.

THE PRISONER is a story that immediately grabs you from the very beginning.  It doesn't take long for Maria to be thrust into this alien world that views her as subservient and not equal to the other inhabitants of Pegasea.  I knew right away that there would be some very sensitive issues tackled as I listened to the story begin to play out.  There are moments where Maria brings up oppressive policies in our own past history when trying to convince Orook that the laws of Pegasea are both wrong and intolerant.  I found myself getting immersed in their conversations as each brought about their own individual arguments on why their beliefs were the correct ones.  I kept waiting for Orook to finally "get it" with regard to how he and the others of Pegasea have been conditioned to treat human women.  The thing that was so fascinating was how Orook didn't even know many of the reasons for the repressive laws against women, but assumed that the predecessors had valid motivations for instituting them and thus just blindly went along with them without question.  It is only when he is challenged by Maria that he stumbles in his arguments and even begins to reflect on his own tacit acceptance of the barbaric laws.  This is a solid Science-Fiction story that also has a crucial social commentary as its driving force.  Sara Allyn has given us an entertaining story that also makes us think about how we treat women, not only on a far away alien planet, but on our own as well.  The restrictive laws of the Pegaseans are not entirely disparate to similar laws that we lived by in our very recent past.  Sara deftly weaves her main message into the dialogue between Maria and Orook and I found it extremely effective in communicating the true moral of the story.  My only small qualms were that at times I felt like the story had too much going on at once to follow easily and I also would have liked the world of Olrona described in more vivid detail.  This story is definitely more character-driven than reliant on world-building but that's not necessarily a bad thing and other readers might prefer that.  I would definitely recommend picking up THE PRISONER if you want a fantastic SF story that also makes you think a great deal.  As a quick aside, the narrator of this audiobook Andrew Tell was excellent and handled the numerous characters' voices with amazing skill and clarity.  I really enjoyed THE PRISONER and I am looking forward to seeing if Sara Allyn takes us back to this world again in the near future.

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