The species called the Jokka have three genders: anadi (female, who get more and more stupid with each pregnancy until they become mindless baby machines), emodo (male), and eperu (neuter).

They have scales, manes, tails, and fangs; they weep venomous tears from their fangs and their blood is white; they have live births but if they have non-procreative sex (or possibly always; this was unclear) the female immediately lays an egg. The biology of the Jokka did not hang together for me, and what with the drooling and fangs and venom and egg-laying, the sex scenes grossed me out. Before one of the characters fists another, she lifts its tail out the way, giving me a flashback to every time I've ever seen a veterinarian do that to a cow. (Before you ask: yes, for medical purposes, you perverts; yes, quite a few times actually, I grew up in a rural area.)

There on a nest of pillows lifted from the floor, Magun reclined in all her atavistic succulence. [...] Her eyes were heavily shadowed by the fringe of thick red lashes and her crimson hair had grown since I'd last seen it: it fell over the pillows in lush, gleaming waves from her head and buttocks, decorated with tiny brass and clear glass beads.

I eventually figured out that the buttock hair was probably her tail, not beautifully groomed ass hair, but since the characters also have tufts on their forearms, I am not 100 percent sure.

Thenet is a neuter who is kicked out of her household after she fails to save a birthing female from the mind-death (which can also happen instantly upon giving birth, not to mention from overheating or other forms of stress) and runs off with Dlane, a female who, in a never-before performed act of shocking defiance, refuses to get pregnant. (Normally, by the way, sex is done with the female strapped into a special rape chair in case she loses her mind partway through.)

They head off in the hope that if they find the ancestral birthplace of their species something good will happen. It's really not much more detailed than that. They get chased but escape. There's a lot of wandering through the forest, and hints that their species is in serious danger of dying out. Then they find a nice community and set up a radical household of childfree crafter Jokka, where they do very well selling their crafts on Etsy to the community, and Thenet invents eyeliner. I am totally serious.

Then the evil male (who is extremely virile -- the male and female genders are basically biological expressions of human stereotypes about men and women) finds them. They flee to the ancestral birthplace where, to my dismay as this was the only storyline I was really interested in, they fail to learn anything about their possible upcoming extinction. The conclusion is quite melodramatic and not what I was expecting, other than the rapes which I was expecting. The door is left open for a sequel, which I will not be reading.

I wish I'd liked this book more than I did. I am a huge fan of explorations of gender, of alien points of view, and of stories of sociobiological quandaries. But this novel didn't work for me on any level.

Since the author can invent a species however she likes, it's off-puttingly misogynistic that the females are biologically subject to many human stereotypes about women: they're fragile, weak, delicate, faint often, and get stupider and stupider with each pregnancy. The last is presented as tragic, but it's still creepy in ways that go beyond what I think the author intended.

The first page alone presented three different unfamiliar terms which were not clear from context and were not defined for several pages. The next pages presented even more unfamiliar terms, some defined and some not, plus more use of the first set of unfamiliar terms. While the beginning was the worst offender in this regard, there were several points where I had no idea what was going on because I didn't know what the key words meant and the context wasn't helpful.

The writing was tin-eared in other ways as well. As the words "male," "female," and "neuter" were used interchangeably with the invented terms, I'm not sure why new terms were also needed. Thenet's household is called House Mated. Since so much of the book involves mating, I kept reading that as a past-tense verb. Later another household is introduced: House Neked. I could not help reading that as House Naked. One of the major religions, which is not Christian, often refers to the Trinity.

And then there's this line of dialogue, which reminded me of Le Guin's classic essay "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie," on diction in fantasy: "Our products are high-quality luxury items..."

The Worth of a Shell, which is self-published, could have used an editor as well as a copy-editor. But it's possible that furry fans would appreciate it more than I did.

View on Amazon: The Worth of a Shell

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