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Literature / The Power

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The Power is a speculative sci-fi novel by Naomi Alderman, based around the premise of women having the ability to use electricity from their hands. As a result, the world is quickly upended as our four protagonists watch society change.

Spoilers abound.


Tropes:

  • All of the Other Reindeer: Jos. Her short-lived boyfriend counts as well.
  • Ambiguous Gender Identity: The Power draws a rather stark line between male and female. Jos's boyfriend Ryan is an example of how biology isn't quite so clear. Despite being biologically male, he has a chromosomal abnormality that means he also has a skein. In-universe, this is seen as an abnormality that is also grounds for a particular fetish.
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  • And It Worked: The framing device shows that, at the cost of a five-thousand year Dark Age Mother Eve's plan to remake society succeeded, despite Roxy insisting the cost was too high. However, it just created the same society in the end, with all of the violence and violation and discrimination throughout the ages, but with men as the victims this time around.
  • Apocalypse How: The main focus of the story is the how women becoming the more physically intimidating sex upends the world's social order. The framing device makes it clear that a a Class V is on the way, eventually revealed to have caused humanity to regress to the Stone Age. The actual mechanics of said apocalypse is hinted at early, then described explicitly at the conclusion.
  • Asshole Victim: Saudi Arabia and Moldova are the first countries to fall after the Power is awakened. Saudi Arabia being the world's most repressive regime toward women, and Moldova being the world capital of sex trafficking.
    • Likewise, Darrell Monke has a very ugly death that he very much deserved.
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  • Beware the Superman: Played with. A theme of the novel is that abuses of power are not constrained to any single gender.
  • Break the Haughty - what happens to Roxy.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Darrell is paralyzed by a well-placed zap in a fight with the women who inflicted a Crippling Castration on his older brother. That's how he knows how to do it to Jos once he's stolen Roxy's skein.
  • Crippling Castration: This is done to Roxy's brother, to the extent that he remains permanently in a state of shock and in no position to inherit the crime family.
  • Cursed with Awesome: For the women who prefer not to have the Power.
  • Daddy's Girl: Played straight with Roxy and Bernie until it's subverted be her learning who had her mother killed.
  • Dirty Old Woman - Margot
  • Distant Finale: The framing device shows that Mother Eve's plan worked.
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  • Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male - AVERTED. Hard. Female on male rape is horrifying, graphic and absolutely not sexy. The author mentioned in an interview that she made the scenes as horrific as possible, to hammer in the point that rape is about power and humiliation, not sex.
  • Electric Torture: As a mafia boss' daughter, Roxy uses this method.
  • Eye Scream: Several women are blinded in an attempt to control them.
  • Fantastic Drug: Roxy makes her fortune on "Glitter," a drug that boosts Power reserves of the women who take it.
    • A less flashy example is the medicine Darrell takes to force his body to grow the nerves required to use Roxy's skein after it's been transplanted.
  • Fatal Flaw: Roxy is far too trusting of her male family members, despite more than one betrayal. See Karma Houdini for the most glaring example.
  • Faux Shadow: The many artifacts scattered about the book allude to events thousands of years ago, supporting the theory that women once had skeins but lost them due to evolution. It's the book itself that's thousands of years into the future with the artifacts being closer to present day, after the collapse of civilization back into the Stone Age.
  • Female Gaze: Deliberately compared and contrasted with the Male Gaze. Many of Tunde's scenes involve a woman looking at him in a way that uses an implicit balance of power that would usually signify the Male Gaze. All of this comes around the to book's overall theme of gender stereotypes having a lot more to do with power imbalance than biology or social roles.
  • Fetish: It's acknowledged that certain chromosomal abnormalities can result in a person who is biologically male but possesses a skein. In-universe, Jos dating one such person is perceived as a fetish. Allegorically, it seems similar to real-world fetishes for dominant and physically imposing women.
    • Additionally, it comes up repeatedly that a large number of men enjoy some playful zapping during foreplay and sex.
    • In the distant future, male soldiers are seen as such, to the point where the editor thinks the readers might find the idea of armies of men pornographic rather than threatening.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The framing device is from a far future where women have become the socially dominant sex, with men being repressed. There are interludes with excerpts from an audio guide from a "Museum of Pre-Cataclysmic Artifacts." Each chapter begins with a countdown. You can see where this is going.
  • For Want of a Nail: A chemical weapons defense agent from World War Two was carried around the world by the jetstream and made its way into the water table. Since no chemical weapons were employed during the War, it was forgotten about...until it turned out that 80 odd years later, it had caused a mutation in human females that would ultimately set the destruction of human civilization into motion. Oh, and said mutation had become quietly latent in almost every woman living.
  • Framing Device: The story is bookended by a (male) novelist in the far future explaining the events of the novel as his recontextualization of the known past as a piece of historical fiction. We get to hear his (female) editor's thoughts at the end of the novel.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: All three female protagonists, plus Tatiana Moskolev. Roxy goes from a gangster's bastard daughter to one of the most powerful people in Europe. Margot goes from a big city mayor to one of the most influential members of Congress. Mother Eve goes from an unwanted runaway to the world's most prominent religious figure. Tatiana goes from being a trophy wife to the supreme leader of a nation with a cache of WMDs. And each of them has a role to play in ending the world.
  • Gendercide: Mens' Rights Activists start predicting this almost immediately after the Power emerges. About a decade later, Bessapara puts it into practice.
  • Groin Attack: After humanity was bombed back to the Stone Age, a form of genital mutilation was invented that made it impossible to get an erection without skein stimulation. There are cave paintings of this practice and it's still practiced in several cultures in the modern day of the novel.
  • Hand Wave: The World War II era anti-chemical-weapon agent Guardian Angel is blamed for the development of the Power. Exactly how the chemical could so drastically alter the biology of human females—and only human females—is neither explained nor particularly relevant to the plot.
  • Handicapped Badass: Roxy while she and Tunde are on the run in Bessapara, after her brother stole her skein.
  • Hearing Voices: Allie.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: At the last minute when she realizes that her foster mother was just as responsible for her abuse as her foster father, Allie considers not listening to the voice and not upending civilization. Ultimately, though, she goes through with it.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: Desconstructed rather aggressively. The book portrays ideas about male and female strength, fragility, and suitability flip-flopping within just a few years. The Distant Finale shows that many of this trope's trappings have become flipped entirely in the intervening Dark Age.
  • Human Sacrifice: Tunde witnesses a group of women ritualistically kill a man in the forest in a cult-like manner.
  • Just Before the End: The framing device and chapter openers make it clear the modern world and the Power are not destined to coexist.
  • Karma Houdini: Bernie fucking Monke.
  • Lady Land: Tatiana intends to turn Bessapara into one.
  • Literary Agent Hypothesis: In-universe, Naomi Alderman is the editor for the book, who uses her name to disguise its male author.
  • Mafia Princess: Roxy.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Roxy and Darrell lampshade this before they kill Newland. They make it look accidental as a "favor" so his family could get life insurance.
  • Matriarchy: The inevitable result of the power balance shifting. Bessapara is a straight up No Man's Land, and other governments are starting to shift towards women in military and power positions. Five thousand years in the future, it seems to be close to modern-day patriarchy with a few exceptions, like the fact that male soldiers are almost unheard of.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane - No explanation is given for Allie’s voices, and it's up to interpretation whether it's a manifestation of some mental illness or a really supernatural occurrence.
  • My Eyes Are Up Here / Mr. Fanservice - Tunde. To the point that his obituary mentions it.
  • Near-Rape Experience: Tunde is nearly raped by a woman in Delhi, but luckily three other women arrive and stop her.
  • Power Corrupts: The theme of the novel, as women slowly institute the same systemic oppression on men that they've suffered as women when they find themselves the more physically dangerous sex.
  • Power Incontinence: Experienced by some women who first discover their powers or those under stressful conditions.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Roxy goes off against the people involved in her mother's death and the girls who injured her brother.
  • Shock and Awe: What women can do.
  • Strong, but Unskilled: Darrell when he uses the skein he stole from Roxy.
  • Society Marches On: The segment of the story set in Saudi Arabia mentions that women there aren't even allowed to drive. This law was repealed in 2017.
  • Spiritual Successor: To The Handmaid's Tale, with Margaret Atwood's full blessing. Both deal with the subjugation of a gender and with power imbalance. But while Handmaid's Tale subjugated women, didn't last long, and needed a full dystopia to work, The Power subjugated men, lasted for thousands of years, and in the end was no more dystopian than our current state of affairs with the genders switched...but which still comes off as pretty dystopian, hammering in the point even further about the nature of power and of our current society.
  • The Caligula - what Tatiana Moskalev becomes.
  • Weak, but Skilled: Mother Eve's Power reserve seems to be pretty average, but she has a fine control the likes of which is unrivaled. The framing device implies that women like her are more common in the distant future.
  • Wham Line: When Newland reveals, under torture, that it was Roxy's father who had her mother killed.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The last we see of Tunde is him being stuffed into the trunk of a car, hoping that the driver is who she says she is. Roxy later mentions she sent someone to smuggle him out of a Besapara, but his actual fate is never confirmed. This is most likely an allusion to The Handmaid's Tale, which ends in much the same way.
    • Likewise, we never learn if Jos survived her injuries or not.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Tatiana becomes mentally unstable when she starts losing.
  • Womb De Plume: The Framing Device establishes that the book was written by a male author who used his female editor's name to break out of the "men's literature" genre. And probably stole the credit.
  • Women Are Wiser: No, they aren't, in fact the entirety of the trope is deconstructed by the author and editor in the closing comments (albeit with a gender flip). The editor argues that the partial patriarchies (obviously a stand in for historical matriarchies) were more peaceful and kinder regimes in the past as proof that men are the more moral, kinder gender. The author fires back that this was only because, as the weaker sex, any system that favored men had to be a system not built on violence. Therefore, women are wiser because they lack the ability to seize power through violence and must find it through other means. And as the book demonstrates, once that caveat is gone, they're just as evil as men were.
  • Your Cheating Heart: The reason Bernie had Roxy's mother killed.

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