Alderman has written our era’s Handmaid’s Tale, and, like Margaret Atwood’s classic, The Power is one of those essential feminist works that terrifies and illuminates, enrages and encourages ... Alderman’s greatest feat is keeping this premise from settling toward anything obvious as she considers how the world would adjust if women held the balance of energy and could discharge it at will ... That globe-spanning ambition could easily have dissipated the novel’s focus, but Alderman keeps her story grounded in the lives of four characters who are usually sympathetic, sometimes reprehensible ... In her acknowledgments, Alderman thanks Margaret Atwood, Karen Joy Fowler and Ursula Le Guin — possibly the most brilliant triumvirate of grandmothers any novel has ever had. That lineage shows in this endlessly surprising and provocative story that deconstructs not just the obvious expressions of sexism but the internal ribs of power that we have tolerated, honored and romanticized for centuries.
Through exaggeration and reversal, many books have set out to illuminate inequality or open up new vistas of possibility. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen the status quo inverted to such devastating effect as in Naomi Alderman’s fourth novel ... The novel is constructed as a big, brash, page-turning, drug-running, globetrotting thriller....But it’s also endlessly nuanced and thought-provoking, combining elegantly efficient prose with beautiful meditations on the metaphysics of power, possibility and change ... One of the most impressive aspects of the book is how it uses a new schematics of sex and power to illuminate our reality ... Why do people abuse power? The novel can’t offer any answer beyond the one already found in our world: because they can. 'That is the only answer there ever is.' This is a bleak truth, but not a bleak book – it’s far too smart, readable and joyously achieved for that. The Power is an instant classic of speculative fiction.
The central premise...is so simple as to be electrifying. What if every woman were to suddenly develop the ability to emit electric shocks out of her hands, like an electric eel? ... while Alderman explores some of the complications of this development with a minor character who is intersex, at no point does she look at what it would mean for the trans community. It’s as though Alderman cannot imagine critiquing our current patriarchal system of gender without erasing trans people from the world, which is one of the fundamental failures of this novel. But in other aspects, Alderman’s worldbuilding is admirably comprehensive. She builds her narrative around four main characters, all of whom show us what the power looks like in action in different corners of the world ... much of the book’s force comes from the potency of its empowerment fantasy ... But The Power takes place in a world in which an imbalance of power means that power will be abused. And women are not immune to its seductions.
In the first 100 pages of The Power, women with the Power tear down repressive governments, force sex traffickers in Moldova to plead for their lives, and make men everywhere physically afraid of women, upending one of the givens around which society has evolved. This revolution in gender norms unfolds in the background as Alderman shuttles rapidly through the lives of the main characters ... The Power is at once as streamlined as a 90-minute action film and as weirdly resonate as one of Atwood’s own early fictions ... Jumping from one character to the next, writing in a propulsive unfussy style, Alderman has conducted a brilliant thought experiment in the nature of power itself.
...Naomi Alderman’s The Power takes a simple-seeming science fiction premise — what if women were suddenly more physically powerful than men? — and spins a dystopian tale that is elegant, elaborate, insightful and frightening in its implications ...follows four primary characters as they navigate a world in which women can suddenly emit lethal jolts of electricity, able to disable or kill with a touch ...possesses the urgency of a well-tuned thriller, but it is a serious-minded examination of religion, sex, identity and politics ...shifts viewpoints and settings with ease and builds scenes that crackle with narrative energy ...stands out in a crowded field of latter-day disaster novels, an ingenious and accomplished tale that delivers unforeseen surprises and unexpected insights to the very end.
The Power is a dizzy, unsettling book that doesn't let readers turn away from the horrors at its core ... Novels based on premises like the one at the core of The Power can quickly become little more than thought experiments, but Alderman dodges this trap deftly — her writing is beautiful, and her intelligence seems almost limitless. She also has a pitch-dark sense of humor that she wields perfectly — one section recreates an Internet forum with eerie accuracy, down to random anti-vaccine activists popping in. It ends with a devastating last paragraph that's hilarious, biting and perfect. But although the last words are a quasi-joke, it doesn't at all lessen the impact of what came before. The Power is a captivating novel that asks us to consider a dystopia that already exists, and has for centuries.
I was riveted by every page. Alderman’s prose is immersive and, well, electric, and I felt a closed circuit humming between the book and me as I read ... I felt so hungry, reading this book, for a ball of lightning in my hand instead of keys between my knuckles on a long walk home at night. I felt hungry for the victory of these women — two of whom are raped in their first scene — over those who would hurt them ... World-building quibbles aside, it’s difficult to bear the conclusion that the horrors of our times are inevitable and inescapable: that there will always be abuses of power, that the arc of the universe doesn’t bend toward justice so much as inscribe a circle away from it, that if our world were destroyed and rebuilt with women in charge it would look exactly as it does with men in charge. The tension between thought experiment and gripping realism is tricky to navigate, and it left me wanting to argue, without quite knowing what the book’s position ultimately was. To show up the double standards between men and women?
What is it like to witness the oppression you have endured applied to someone else? That’s the conceit of The Power, or it will be, at least, for the women reading it ...novel depicts a world in which women, empowered by a genetic mutation that enables them to harness and wield electrical currents, ultimately find themselves capable of the same greed and cruelty as their male counterparts ...spends the first hundred pages or so of Neil Armon’s novel masterfully indulging her reader ...for some, like feminist fan fiction. But the most radical elements of Alderman’s dystopian creation are actually its subtleties ... The Power doesn’t necessarily hold the answers to what organizing principle we should rally around instead, except in the most simplified, biblical terms: safety, peace, love.
The Power is framed by correspondence between a supplicating male author, Neil, and a female author, Naomi, to whom he’s writing for thoughts on his historical novel manuscript, which constitutes the rest of the book. The letters in themselves are fascinating, revealing, as they quickly do, that the sexual power dynamics have been neatly flipped in this imagined future: Neil is ingratiating, flattering, apologetic over taking up Naomi’s time … One of Alderman’s dominant themes: A world run by women would be no kinder, more caring, or sexier than our current model … What’s particularly fascinating in Alderman’s novel is her assessment of how desperately the powerful cling to their privilege, and how much force is needed to unseat a hegemony as deeply rooted as the patriarchy.
Alderman’s core observation is that people do bad things 'because they can.' There’s no innate nobility in the female sex: atrocities begin, at first in justified retaliation, then just for the hell of it. Women haven’t just gone rogue, they’ve gone full Bacchic. Alderman evokes Euripides in a genuinely chilling episode when Tunde, checking out a remote cult, realises too late that his media credentials mean very little in the storm of unreason that has broken out in the mountains ... By gleefully replacing the protocols of one gender with another, Alderman has created a thrilling narrative stuffed with provocative scenarios and thought experiments. The Power is a blast. But still, it’s a mystery why the men don’t simply wear rubber boots.
If the best speculative fiction offers up new ways to see our culture, then Naomi Alderman’s The Power is destined to be a classic ... Speculative fiction has long been a genre where gender roles can be explored—think of The Handmaid’s Tale or even back to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland. But Alderman goes beyond her predecessors with a narrative that wonders how long before absolute power corrupts absolutely. Alderman is both a novelist and a co-creator of a smartphone audio adventure app called Zombies, Run!, and it may be this expertise in the world of gaming that brings such a fearlessly creative approach to her storytelling. Both a page-turning thriller and timely exploration of gender roles, censorship and repressive political regimes, The Power is a must-read for today’s times.
The brilliance of The Power, an award-winning speculative-fiction work by Naomi Alderman only now being released in the U.S., is that it conceives of a way to flip this power dynamic entirely upside down ...the story feels allegorical, like a signal of how the confidence and curiosity of a generation of Teen Vogue readers can change the world ...she [Alderman] dedicates considerable effort over its 378 pages to imagining how the sudden ability in women to inflict excruciating pain on men might upend the order of communities all over the world ...primary characters seems to represent a particular pillar of society — politics, religion, media, crime — which allows Alderman to examine the manifold implications of the power’s arrival ... The world of her book — richly imagined, ambitious, and propulsively written — isn’t any better than ours. It’s just different.
Alderman wrestles with some heady questions: What happens when the balance of power shifts? Would women be kinder, gentler rulers, or would they be just as ruthless as their male counterparts? That Alderman is able to explore these provocative themes in a novel that is both wildly entertaining and utterly absorbing makes for an instant classic, bound to elicit discussion and admiration in equal measure.
The first half is eventful enough, no question—it’s positively action-packed, in fact—and it allows Alderman ample opportunity to shrewdly introduce the people and the plot points that come into play later. The story as a whole takes rather a long time to come together, however. It’s only when The Power’s characters begin to commingle that Alderman explains the game she’s playing. And it’s a truly great game—more, if I may, like chess than checkers, in that it’s not just strategic, it’s sneaky. You see, The Power isn’t what it appears to be … Superficially, The Power is a study of what changes when the balance of power is inverted, but beneath its speculative surface, it reveals itself to be an investigation into what doesn’t change, and why. It’s powerful, paradigm-shifting stuff.
Alderman tests her female characters by giving them power, and they all abuse it. Readers should not expect easy answers in this dystopian novel, but Alderman succeeds in crafting a stirring and mind-bending vision.
...this is an inventive, thought-provoking work of science fiction ... Both the main story and the frame narrative ask interesting questions about gender, but this isn’t a dry philosophical exercise. It’s fast-paced, thrilling, and even funny. Very smart and very entertaining.