Sarah Gailey has long been on my Want-To-Read list, so when I saw their latest novella nominated for a Hugo, I was super excited to finally have the opportunity. Plus, a story about female librarians braving the Wild West to bring books from settlement to settlement? Sign me up!
Upright Women Wanted certainly delivers on the setting and premise. Esther runs away from a constrained life where she’s expected to marry a man who views her more as a possession than a person, after her best friend Beatriz is hanged for subversion. She stows away in the back of a library wagon, to the consternation of the librarians who discover her several days later. While Esther thought she was joining an ascetic group of patriots, therefore fulfilling her societal duties even while running away from her immediate familial ones, the librarians are actually far more subversive than she ever dreamed… or hoped.
At first, it’s just a matter of learning how to get along and do the job, as the librarians — Bet, Leda and Cye — reluctantly agree to let Esther ride with them to the nearest free city as long as she pulls her weight on their wagon train. But when a scheduled pick-up and delivery turns into something far more dangerous for all of them, with entire towns setting up against the librarians, Esther finds herself reevaluating what she truly wants and how far she’s willing to go to get it.
I think I would have liked this novella a lot more if Esther weren’t such a ditz. Like, I get that her ex wasn’t possessive, but it still felt way too soon for Esther to start lusting after someone else so quickly after her ex so violently died. I also wasn’t a fan of her falling in “love” with someone who was just mean to her at every turn. But, you know, I get that different people have different love personalities, and that’s fine. I could definitely appreciate how Esther struggled with the instincts of her upbringing, and how she appreciated the lessons Amity had to offer. But what I couldn’t forgive was the absolute idiocy of Amity risking the entire subversive system, and for what? The ability to brazenly ride past a checkpoint? Gtfoh.
Anyway, great worldbuilding and premise, but absolutely appalling characterizations. Could forgive Esther — she’s just different/annoying, but the sheer breathtaking ridiculousness of Amity felt like a weird disservice both to the otherwise badass character and to the story. This is, alas, at the bottom of my pile for the Hugo for Best Novella atm.
Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey was published February 4 2020 by tordotcom and is available from all good booksellers, including