“The other Laurie R. King” is my series of reflections—as we approach the publication of a distinctly non-Russellian story, Lockdown—on why I write books that aren’t Russell and Holmes. Stories that just push at me until I have to step outside Mary Russell’s time and place. For other posts on the topic, click here.
The first story I ever wrote—or shall I say, the first one I half-wrote, then paused for some years, then wrote The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and several other books, before finally getting back to it—was Califia’s Daughters. In a different world, one that gave the young mother that I was sufficient time and inspiration to finish this story right away rather than putting it in a drawer for years, you might now be reading a blog post talking about “Why I write other books than those of the Califia’s Daughters universe…”
Instead, my foray into speculative / futuristic stories is a sort of one-off, a tip of the hat to a world that might have seen Laurie King as a writer of science fiction rather than crime.
Califia’s Daughters is one of those stories I couldn’t have told if I’d stayed inside the Russell & Holmes milieu. For one thing, Sherlock Holmes wouldn’t have been permitted to wander around with quite such abandon, since in Dian’s world, men are both scarce and cherished, discouraged from risk-taking, packed in cotton lest they come to harm.
Only the elders of the Valley remember life the way it used to be, when people traveled in automobiles and bought food others had grown. When the ratio of male to female was nearly the same. Before the bombs fell, and a deadly virus claimed the world’s men.
Now, civilization’s few surviving males are guarded by women warriors like Dian, the Valley’s chief protector, as fierce and loyal as the guard dogs she trains. When an unexpected convoy of strangers rides into her village, it is Dian who meets them, ready to do battle.
Or as the reviewer at Hankrules wrote:
I also found it interesting, to be honest, to see how in a matriarchal society, so many stereotypical traits, often associated with men in a less than stellar way, shine through even though men not only aren’t the prevalent gender, but aren’t even exposed to society and culture. It’s as though there’s little to no difference between the two genders when the two are in power at separate times in history.
A sort of reversed, and benevolent, Handmaid’s Tale.
Historical fiction allows us to hold a mirror up to a portion of our lives: the situation of these characters is different from ours, yet they are the same as us. The minor distortion of history makes a mirror that gives what we see a slight twist and shimmer, causing reflections of thought as well as vision.
To Russell and Holmes, the 21st century is the distant future, our lives and mores as alien as this postapocalyptic story’s situation are to us. Russell’s England feels the twentieth century, but is still ruled by Victorians; we feel the edges of this future, and yet we are built on the past. Similarly the roles of men and women: Russell herself is exceptional, but would be so in any era, even one with fewer constraints on her freedom.
As historical fiction allows us to see ourselves in a foreign setting, so perhaps do we glimpse the familiar in a land transformed…
And if nothing else, as the above reviewer noted:
Califia’s Daughters is one of the most unique, inventive, thought provoking, dark, disturbing, pseudo-violent, feminist-based, post-apocalyptic/dystopian novels I have read in a long time, if ever. I thoroughly enjoyed it and came away impressed with the book and author. What a work of art! …. I found myself on edge half the time, hoping like hell she could get out of the mess she was in.
To read an excerpt of Califia’s Daughters or see order info, go here.