“Singer From the Sea” by Sheri S. Tepper

“Singer From the Sea” by Sheri S. TepperSinger From the Sea by Sheri S. Tepper
Published: 2000 by HarperCollins
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 544
Source: Purchased
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I can say without hesitation that Sherri S. Tepper’s “Singer from the Sea” is one of the strangest books I’ve ever read.  It’s what would happen if one were to mash Frank Herbert’s “Dune,” Margaret Atwood’s “A Handmaid’s Tale,” and the movie ‘Fern Gully” into one story.  It’s an environmentalist feminist epic complete with murder and mermaids.

The book tells the story of a young woman named Genevieve who lives on the planet Haven.  Women on Haven are trained from an early age to be submissive to men and to obey the Covenants which were signed by their ancestors.  Strict conformity to Haven’s social structure has created a peaceful society.  However, when Genevieve and her father are invited to the Lord Paramount’s court, she begins to realize that there was something sinister going on behind Haven’s utopian front.  Certain men in the Lord Paramount’s favor tend to live unnaturally long, but their wives all seem to die immediately after childbirth.  Genevieve finds herself betrothed to the Lord Paramount’s son and must figure out what’s going on before it’s too late.

In “Singer from the Sea,” worlds have souls rather than individuals.  If a planet’s soul becomes saddened to the point of departing from that world, then all life there begins to die off.  Earth had already died off in the past, and humans have split up between other planets.  Haven was founded by a bunch of rich people so they could relax and enjoy their lives.

One of the neat details that Tepper included was that Genevieve is black.  You don’t see that very often in sci-fi, and it made me happy.

This was one of those books that I couldn’t put down.  Tepper’s writing style is engaging, and I liked the way that she used the form of a mystery to describe the strange occurrences on Haven.  The story began with a prophetic dream that Genevieve had, and then the story returned to the past until we eventually hit that point in Genevieve’s life, which made for some interesting foreshadowing.

While I enjoyed the book, I did feel like I was being drummed over the head by the whole “Women are oppressed” and “We need to save the planet” message, which was not at all subtle.  It felt a bit preachy, but I didn’t think it detracted too much from the story.

I’d recommend “Singer from the Sea” if you’re looking for some unusual feminist sci-fi.

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I read this book as part of the Speculative Fiction Challenge.

Comments make me happy! Please feel free to leave a reply.

18 comments

  1. I am a huge Sheri S Tepper fan and so glad you enjoyed this cos I did too. Once you get used to being beaten with the message stick (usually to do with women and the environment) her worlds are imaginative but coherent, her characters are real and multi-faceted (and not always white – yay), and her plots intricate and absorbing. I recommended this title to a friend who wasn’t a fantasy reader and was sad that she had to admit giving up on it. Reading your opening paragraph, I understand why, now! I guess reading speculative fiction is something like learning any “group language” or jargon and this book is not an introductory text.

    1. Exactly! The world that Tepper came up with in this novel was fascinating and complex, and I loved the way she was able to pace the novel. Genevieve’s character changed and developed over time, which was awesome. She had matured a lot by the end of the book. I stayed up late finishing the book because I couldn’t wait until morning to find out what was going to happen next. This book was a neat blend between fantasy and sci-fi, and I thought she did a good job of pulling it off. I was also glad in this book that she didn’t make all the men in the story evil; there were several good ones who were essential to the story. She went far enough to make her point, but not too far.

      I’m thinking I’m definitely going to have to pick up more of her books. The used book store near where I live has a very large selection of them. 🙂

  2. I have been planning to read Tepper for ages, but it still hasn’t happened. One day! I haven’t even heard of this one before, but I have two books by her on my TBR.

    1. She’s such an interesting writer, and definitely has a vivid imagination! I generally don’t like being pounded on the head with a moral, but this was creative enough that it didn’t bother me. 🙂

  3. I’ve only read the Gate to Women’s Country and it was one of my favourite reads that year. She is unusual. I’m not surprised she would include a black character.
    She certainly wants to bring he message across but becuase I like what she wants to say, I don’t mind.

    1. Sci-fi and fantasy novels tend to lack diversity. It was neat to see an author try something different, or even to bring any attention to race without using orcs or aliens to make the point.

    1. You’re welcome! The book definitely has a clear agenda, but at the same time Tepper creates such a unique and imaginative world. I like her writing style and had a hard time putting the book down.

  4. Around 8 years ago I read eveyrthing by Sheri S Tepper I could get my hands on. I enjoyed most of it. Singer from the Sea came at the end of that phase and it was very strange for me too. I remember it having buckets of potential, but at the end feeling that like you, I’d been bashed over the head. it was many years until I read another Tepper, and to this day, her Sideshow remains one of my all time favorite books.

      1. I’d go for Grass or Sideshow. Grass is kind of more character centric, with a little bit of horror, where Sideshow is more space-opera-y.