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The Power
(Review, Synopsis & Summary)

By Naomi Alderman



Book review and synopsis for The Power by Naomi Alderman, a powerful novel imagining a world where women develop the ability to discharge electric jolts from their hands.

Synopsis

In The Power, the world is a recognizable place: there's a rich Nigerian boy who lounges around the family pool; a foster kid whose religious parents hide their true nature; an ambitious American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family.

But then a vital new force takes root and flourishes, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power: they can cause agonizing pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world drastically resets. From award-winning author Naomi Alderman, The Power is speculative fiction at its most ambitious and provocative, at once taking us on a thrilling journey to an alternate reality, and exposing our own world in bold and surprising ways.

(The Detailed Plot Summary is also available, below)

Detailed Plot Summary

Chapter-by-Chapter Summary
See the Chapter-by-Chapter Summary of The Power
Quick Plot Summary

The two-paragraph version of this is: The Power is framed as a historical account of a period in history where women discovered they have the power to shoot electric jolts of energy from their hands, making them very dangerous. It results in revolts in countries where women have been oppressed, and in more women taking over positions of power. As their power increases, they begin to oppress men in similar ways to how women were previously oppressed and mistreated.

Meanwhile, opposition to the women mounts as well and various factions are vying for power. The book ends as a destructive world war is about to start, known as the Cataclysm. The epilogue takes place thousands of years later as the writer of this historical account defends his description of the events though a series of letters. The letters indicate that the Cataclysm remade the world into one run by women, where men are seen as the “nurturing” and “gentle” sex and where men are discriminated against and sexualized and oppressed.


The Prologue of the book indicates that it is a historical account of the events, written by an author named Neil Adam Armon. The book follows a few characters, starting ten years before the final events of the novel.

Ten and Nine Years prior, Roxy Monke is a 14-year-old girl living in London whose father, Bernie Monke, deals in illegal activities. He’s gotten on the wrong side of a man referred to as Primrose, who sends some men to kill Roxy’s mother. Roxy isn’t able to save her mother, but she discovers she has the power to release electrical jolts of energy from her hands. Later, Bernie comes up with a plan to attack Primrose with the help of Roxy, her half-brothers and his men. The plan goes awry, but Roxy’s powers are strong enough to defeat and kill Primrose.

In Lagos, Tunde is 21-year-old guy who records a girl zapping a man who is harassing her, and he posts it online. CNN soon offers to buy the video, and Tunde starts trying to record more displays of these powers. He eventually travels to Riyadh where a riot is brewing over girls’ uses of these powers. He arrives on the night of the big riot and gets his footage. Less than two weeks later, the King of Riyadh is dead and the government has collapsed.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., Margot Cleary is a city governor whose daughter Jocelyn has gotten in trouble for hurting a boy by zapping him. When Jocelyn demonstrates her power to Margot, and it causes the power to awaken within Margot. (The power started appearing in teenage girls first, but can be awoken in other women. It is powered by a part of the body called a “skein” that lays across the collarbone.) As news of the riots around the world pour in, Margot hides her powers. The state governor, Daniel Dandon, fears these powers and decides to mandate testing for all governmental employees. Margot manages to control her powers enough to pass the test.

In Alabama, Allie is a 16-year-old mixed-race girl who grew up in foster care. Her adoptive father, Mr. Montgomery-Taylor, often hits and rapes her. Her adoptive mother is aware of what goes on and turns a blind eye. Today, the voice in Allie’s head tells her to fight back, and Allie uses her powers to kill him. She then runs away, eventually ending up at a convent near the ocean in South Carolina. Other girls who have been displaced from their homes due to their newly powers also arrive at the convent. Allie practices using her powers and becomes highly skilled as using subtle, precise jolts of electricity to impact the mind and body. Because she’s wanted for murder, Allie lies about her name, going by the name “Eve” instead.

Eight Years prior, Allie performs a “miracle” at the convent by healing a girl whose power causes seizures. She does this by using her own powers to create needle-like jolts to heal the girl. They start bringing other girls in need of healing to Allie and she is able to do things like relieve pain and headaches for them. Allie tells the girls that their powers are from the “Holy Mother”, and soon the girls are referring to Allie as “Mother Eve”.

Elsewhere in the U.S., Margot proposes the creation of various centers where girls can safely practice their powers. Margot claims that it will be safer for everyone if the girls know how to control their powers. While Governor Dandon opposes it, Margot receives enough funding from donors to start the centers, which end up being called the NorthStar camps.

Meanwhile, Tunde’s reporting has led him to Moldova, the sex-trafficking capital of the world. As women’s powers are awakened, they fight back and kill their captors. The Moldovan president is determined to quash the rebellion, but he’s soon found dead. It’s implied his wife, Tatiana, used her powers to make it seem like a heart attack. Tatiana is appointed interim president, but a military coup ousts her. Tatiana then takes a small army a moves into a castle near the southern border of Moldova, and she establishes the country of Bessapara there.

After Primrose is dealt with, Roxy goes to South Carolina to seek out “Mother Eve” after seeing her videos online. Allie senses that Roxy has the strongest powers of anyone she’s met and quickly befriends Roxy. Roxy uses her father’s contacts to set Allie up with fake passports and IDs. Allie is convinced all men are bad, and Roxy disagrees, but the two women ignore their differences of opinion. With Allie’s leadership and Roxy’s power, Allie’s organization soon outgrows the small convent. They look to move to a larger facility as other outposts of the convent start cropping up around the country and the world.

Six and Five Years prior, Tunde continues his journalistic work, venturing into dangerous areas and nearly getting raped. He also interviews, UrbanDox, a men’s rights activist.

Meanwhile, Allie’s organization has continued to grow with churches popping up everywhere. Allie goes to Bessapara where she befriends Tatiana. Allie agrees to lend her support to Bessapara is in their war with Northern Moldova (which is being supplied with troops and weapons by the exiled king of Saudi Arabia).

Roxy also heads to Besapara where she starts selling Glitter, a drug that’s chemically formulated to help to enhance the power. When she gets the news that her half-brother Ricky was attacked and raped by some girls, Roxy goes back to London and kills the girls. As a thank you, Roxy’s stepmother gives her a book of her father’s contacts. Roxy recognizes one of the names as a man who was involved in the murder of her mother. Roxy and half-stepbrother Darrell track the man down, the man reveals that Bernie was the one who ordered the hit on Roxy’s mother. Reluctant to kill her father, Roxy demands instead that he retire and let everyone know that he’s handing his business over to her.

In the U.S., Margot successfully runs for governor. Her daughter Jocelyn has been dating a boy, Ryan, with a genetic abnormality causing him to grow a skein, resulting in gossip. Margot lies to Jocelyn by saying that Ryan is secretly a men’s rights extremist, and Jocelyn breaks up with him. Meanwhile, Jocelyn has been attending one of the NorthStar camps where they are training girls to be soldiers. There’s an attack one night and Jocelyn is peer pressured into killing one of the attackers. The NorthStar staff agree to cover up the killing, saying that she had no choice.

One Year prior, Margot, Jocelyn, Tunde, Roxy and Allie all go to the castle in Bessapara for a party. There, Tatiana is needlessly cruel and vicious to a waiter, Peter, and Allie starts to realize that Tatiana is unhinged and needs to be replaced. Tatiana also talks to Margot and convinces her to lend U.S. support to Bessapara. In exchange, Bessapara will hire NorthStar soldiers (which is beneficial to Margot both financially and politically due to her ties with the camps).

Roxy leaves the party early to deal with business. She ends up walking to a trap set up by her half-brother Darrell and Bernie. They strap her down and surgically remove her skein, to be transplanted in Darrell. She manages to escape, but not before they’ve ripped out her skein, leaving her powerless.

Tunde is warned that journalists are being kicked out of Bessapara soon, and Peter begs Tunde to please stay and report on how men are being mistreated. Soon, Tatiana announces a whole host of new restrictions for men in Bessapara — men all must have a female guardian, they’re not allowed to travel without the approval of their guardian, men cannot drive, men cannot own businesses, etc. The night, Tunde sneaks out of his hotel and heads out to do his reporting on foot. Before he goes, he sends his notes and photographs to a female journalist he knows for safekeeping (but he later finds out that she ends up stealing all his work and publishing it under her own name).

In the lead-up to the Cataclysm (“Here we go“), in Bessapara, Allie uses her powers to manipulate Tatiana into signing over more power to the church. Eventually, she forces Tatiana to cut her own throat when it’s clear that Tatiana is no longer useful. Near the border, Darrell takes over the Glitter business in Roxy’s absence. When Jocelyn (now a NorthStar solider) comes across his warehouse, he fights her with his new powers, injuring her severely. However, he is then immediately attacked and killed by the women at the warehouse who are loyal to Roxy.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., male extremist have been making threats and there are rumors they have access to chemical weapons. Margot (now a senator) convinces the U.S. President that it’s necessary to make a show of force and make it clear that the U.S. is willing to escalate.

In Bessapara, Tunde is captured by a group of women. However, Roxy (still powerless) has been laying low and healing from her injuries with them, and she recognizes him from his journalistic work. Roxy negotiates for Tunde’s release and the two go to a refugee camp. When the refugee camp is attacked, Tunde helps the two of them to escape. The two sleep together, and Roxy makes arrangements to sneak Tunde out of the country.

Before Roxy leaves, she is briefly reunited with Allie. Roxy thinks everything has gone too far and she wants peace. Allie, however, wants the war to happen. Before they part, Roxy tells Allie to talk to her adoptive mother. Allie calls Mrs. Montgomery-Taylor, who talks about how she was the one who turned Allie into the woman she is today by giving her proper discipline. As they talk, Allie realizes that Mrs. Montgomery-Taylor was the one who ordered her husband to hurt Allie. Allie realizes that her idea that men are inherently bad and women are good is false. Still, Allie believes the solution is to destroy everything.

The historical record ends with Allie, Margot, the extremists and the Saudi Arabians (who have been fighting Bessapara) all ready to engage in war, resulting in the Cataclysm. (Meanwhile, Roxy goes home to where her underground bunker is after successfully saving Tunde. She and Tunde are together now, and she seems to forgive her father for his actions.)

Following the end of the historical record, there are a series of letter written thousands of years later between the author of this record, Neil, and someone named Naomi. The letters indicate that the Cataclysm remade the world into one run by women, where men are seen as the “nurturing” and “gentle” sex and where men are discriminated against and sexualized and oppressed.


For more detail, see the full Chapter-by-Chapter Summary.

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Book Review

The Power by Naomi Alderman was published back in October 2016, and I’ve been meaning to read it for years and years. For a while, I tried placing it on my nightstand as a reminder to read it, but it only made my neglect that much more conspicuous when I found myself brushing a thin layer of dust off its cover.

Anyway, there’s not a particular reason I finally got around to reading this. I suppose I’ve been really pleased with some of the non-new-release books I’ve read lately, which has probably motivated me to cross more of them off my reading list. Since I started this site, I’ve been reading more and more new releases since I know people tend to be interested in reviews for those, but there’s so many great older books that I want to read as well.

The Power imagines a world where women develop the ability to shoot electrical jolts of energy from their palms, allowing them to be the more physically dominant than men. From there, Alderman imagines the consequences of that development both in terms of how it would affect the day-to-day develop interactions between men and women and also on a larger scale in terms of political and global consequences.

The Power is international and broad in scope, using its premise to highlight areas of the world where women have been oppressed. It also contemplates the nature of power in general.

Illustration from The Power

Illustration from The Power

Themes and Meaning

I’m surprised at the number of review decrying this book as some type of “female revenge fantasy”. Based on the way it’s written, Alderman doesn’t seem to glorify or approve of the violence in the book or the mistreatment of men. Instead, I think it’s meant to be subversive and help people to question and compare it to the treatment of women in our society and in places where women are denied basic rights.

Beyond that, I think the book pretty clearly is not meant to convey that women are “better” than men. Instead, the storyline suggests that women are just as capable of doing bad things when given the power to do so. In many ways, I think this book is as much about the nature of power as it is about men and women.

Some Criticisms

I should start by saying that I was overall really impressed by The Power. As a thought experiment, it really is a powerful and required reading-type book. Alderman uses her premise to explores the subvert the notions of gender roles in a way that is revealing and novel.

As a narrative though, I do think it lacked a little bit of an emotional through line to string the story across. Alderman does a fantastic job of thinking through and making imaginative and impactful use of her premise, but it lacked a certain beating heart running through the story. I kept expecting something to emerge that I could latch onto emotionally.

That said, I didn’t have any problems staying interested in it or getting through it. I just ended up feeling like there was a little something missing from the story.

Read it or Skip it?

The Power is a thought-provoking and powerful novel. I was impressed by the situations she conjures within her premise and her thorough exploration of the nature of power and the development of gender roles.

It’s no surprise to me that this was on so many “best of” lists and was widely read by book clubs, since this makes for a fantastic book club read with a lot to discuss and debate. I wish I had read this sooner, honestly. It’s confidently and capably told.

See The Power by Naomi Alderman on Amazon.

The Power Audiobook

Narrated by: Naomi Alderman
Length: 12 hours 5 minutes

Hear a sample of The Power audiobook on Libro.fm.

Book Excerpt

Read the first pages of The Power



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