I am editing this review due to a major turnaround in my opinion of this book. My original review contains a tirade about the way rape was depicted. Now, having read the author's blog, had a couple exchanges with him, and seen how some of the chapters have been updated, I don't believe the scenes I took so much offense at were at all intended the way I read them. In the new edition of the book this is even clearer. So here is my new, improved review:
This book presents a captivating picture of societies that have evolved around the relationship between humans (much diminished in size) and insects, with the different societies being influenced by which insects they have domesticated. There are a lot of fascinating details of the politics and social structures, as well as details of how war is waged between the different groups and their respective insects.
The author uses his setting to explore ideas of caste, religion and oppression, with the details being for the most part seamlessly woven into an adventure story involving a low-caste member of an ant-herding colony. While the politics are occasionally on the nose, the story and descriptions are more than enough to keep the book engaging throughout.
I am leaving my original review below, as it seems wrong to just expunge it, but it refers to a now defunct edition of the book and expresses opinions I no longer hold.
I am looking at all the positive reviews of this book and wondering how I could be the only one who was completely put off by its depiction of rape.
If my book had been missing three pages, I would have had a lot of mostly good things to say about it. Things about the really interesting societies that different human groups have formed around different domesticated insects; about how the book opens up discussions about religion and tyranny (albeit a bit on the nose); about how it’s an exciting tale with fascinating details of how war is waged between the different groups and their insects. Then I got to the end where the main character rapes a women, and it ruined the entire book for me, as well as making me resent that I ever took any interest or enjoyment in what this writer had to say.
I’m not opposed to rape in books per se, as long as it isn’t done for funsies. The ‘bad guys’ in ‘Prophets’ rape lots of women, and it’s presented as wrong. But when the rapist is the book’s protagonist, Anand, it’s apparently not a bad thing to be raped because he is Handsome and Charismatic and Brilliant, so naturally women WANT him to rape them. I should mention the rape at the end is the second (or third, depending on how you keep score) committed by Anand. At least he felt bad about the first two.
The last rape is presented as the woman getting her just deserts. For added fun, Anand humiliates her as well, and has lots of witnesses to her debasement, and he laughs uproariously. This is the guy who has liberated thousands of people and is supposedly a champion of the downtrodden. We have been encouraged to root for him for the entire book, and there’s no hint that maybe what he was doing was horrific. We are given to understand that Anand is consumed by anger due to his previous suffering and that is apparently sufficient excuse for his actions. I should mention Anand’s wife encourages him in this rape. She’s supposed to be sympathetic as well.
I do have to give Carlton credit for working two of rapists’ favorite excuses into one incident, not only did “the b want it”, but “the b had it coming” as well.