Daughters of Anarchy, Season 1
5280 Press, 2016
In the not too distant future, government surveillance is everywhere, from offices to streets to homes. Citizens hardly notice the intrusion anymore, yet crime remains rampant and often unpunished, especially among the irreproachable elite. Men are now the significant minority but no less the powerbrokers of the population, basking in an abundance of women desperate enough to rewrite their DNA for a chance at scoring a provider husband — a small chance, but not as small as breaking the glass ceiling. Armed with antique weaponry, professional access to the surveillance and its blind spots, and a mistress of disguise’s homegrown gene lab, Stevie sets out to right wrongs in the few untapped shadows that remain.
As the title suggests, the format is fairly episodic. Enjoyable as it is to watch self-satisfied bullies and predators get what’s coming to them, Stevie doesn’t vary her methods much, so there's a bit of a lull in the early middle, as her work becomes monotonous before the overarching plot catches up.
The biggest drawback for me came down to not liking the love interest all that much. Both Stevie and Seth are deeply damaged people, so there is a sort of “matched set” feeling to them. Still, after spending one of her side-adventures coaching another woman on how it’s better to be alone with her self-respect than to settle for catching a man who doesn’t respect her, it feels oddly as if Stevie wants to settle herself. She doesn’t see it that way, because she loves Seth for being the most decent man in the book, but that just means he regularly dismisses and underestimates her instead of trying to rape her. The bar isn’t high in her world.
While I didn’t ultimately find them shippable, the scenes between Stevie and Seth are gloriously, truthfully uncomfortable. Hartman infuses a potent blend of awkwardness, uncertainty, and hurt into Stevie's fondness for someone who doesn’t even realize he’s insulting her, when experience has taught her not to expect better. Their friendship walks the trembling tightrope of “should I just let this slide?” that lies between “should I walk away?” and “should I stick my neck out and try to explain things he couldn’t possibly know from his own experiences?”
I would have liked to see them fall off that tightrope one way or the other by the end, but then, there are more seasons to come.
The relationships between many of the women are excellent too, affectionate but imperfect and filled with chafing disagreements. Stevie's pity for her female neighbors, her long-term friendship with another woman from her former neighborhood, and her curiosity about the mysterious Daughters of Anarchy all highlight the differences that can exist between people who might be lumped together by an outside observer. Even the women who've had near-identical experiences in Stevie's city often come up with entirely different coping strategies, to the point where it becomes a challenge for them to trust or understand each other.
Probably the most compelling dynamic of all involves a character we never meet in person, Stevie’s mother, who remains the loving, well-intentioned voice of all of Stevie’s doubts long after her own death. Her echo in Stevie's head is a character unto itself, as well as a humanizing window into Stevie’s own nature.
Unlike many fictional dystopias, this futuristic city remains but a setting for the story, rather than its primary subject, which serves it well. It’s a lived-in backdrop with no chapter-long history course necessary to understand it, well-painted by the same polished prose that knits the whole book together.
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