Suzy McKee Charnas

The Furies

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The Furies Summary

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The Furies is a 1994 science fiction novel by American writer Suzy McKee Charnas. Set in a post-apocalyptic future in which men have enslaved women, the novel follows former slave Alldera as she leads an army of women warriors to liberate their sisters from the male-dominated “Holdfast.” The Furies is the third volume in McKee’s Holdfast Chronicles. The first two volumes, Walk to the End of the World and The Motherlines, were published in 1974 and 1978 respectively; The Furies, written some two decades later, reflects the changing emphasis of feminist thought during the same period. The Chronicles conclude with The Conqueror’s Child, published in 1999.

The book opens as Alldera, the hero of the Chronicles’ previous volumes, leads an army of “Free Fems” across the desert toward the male-dominated Holdfast. Having escaped from the Holdfast in Walk to the End of the World, Alldera has been away for many years. During that time, she has assumed an almost legendary status among the Free Fems (women who have escaped from slavery in the Holdfast).

Alldera has also developed a close but antagonist relationship with some of the Riding Women, a group of women who have never been enslaved and reproduce by cloning, using horse semen as a catalyst. One of these, Sheel, an old rival of Alldera’s, leads a group of Riding Women after Alldera’s army of Free Fems, following at a distance to bear witness to their attack on the Holdfast.

The Free Fems’ primary goal is to rescue the women enslaved in the Holdfast, but many in Alldera’s army are motivated by the desire to avenge the wrongs perpetrated against them by the Holdfast’s men during their own captivity.

When the Free Fems arrive at the Holdfast, they find that during their absence the society has changed. After a bloody civil war started by Alldera’s former master, Eykar Bek, the social structure of the Holdfast has all but collapsed. Women are still second-class citizens, but they are no longer brutally enslaved. When the Free Fems attack, some of the Holdfast’s women even side with the men. The Free Fems’ first casualty comes at the hands of a woman.

Nevertheless, most of the Holdfast’s women are grateful to be liberated, and the Free Fems are victorious. In the initial excitement of victory, many of the Free Fems simply want to massacre all the men. Alldera stops them, pointing out that the Fems need men to breed; the tension comes to a head when some men, still fighting a guerrilla resistance, kill some of the Fems. Alldera is forced to brutally execute these men herself, to prove to her followers that she is not too soft on the enemy.

Alldera regains control, but tensions remain: the older women, who remember the worst excesses of slavery, still want to kill all the men, and as the primary fighters in Alldera’s army their wishes are hard to ignore. However, the younger Free Fems are eager to breed while they still can, and the newly liberated women have a great deal of sympathy for their former masters.

The situation becomes even harder for Alldera to manage when she finds her former master, Eykar, alive. In Walk to the End of the World, Eykar recognized Alldera’s humanity and freed her. In exchange, Alldera promises to protect him.

Some of the Free Fems practice the religion of the “Moonwoman.” Alldera comes into conflict with the Moonwoman believers because she sees their religion as a superstition. They want to sacrifice Eykar as part of an important rite, but when Alldera refuses to hand Eykar over, the Moonwoman practitioners begin to plot against Alldera.

Meanwhile, Sheel’s Riding Women are struggling. Many of them have become addicted to the mind-altering drink brewed by the Holdfast women, while others have begun to have sex with men (instead of cloning). Alldera offers to help her old rival, but Sheel refuses her help.

A group of captive men escapes, brutally murdering their female jailors. This event tips the scales against Alldera: she is blamed for treating the men too generously. Eykar and Sheel manage to save her life, but she is overthrown as the leader.

The Free Fems enslave the surviving men, treating them every bit as brutally as the men treated their female slaves. Alldera understands why Sheel has always been so suspicious of her: the Free Fems are not liberators, they are conquerors.

As well as an allegory for feminist political thought, The Furies is an exploration of broader themes, including power, justice, corruption, and violence. Called “powerful and poignant” by Publishers’ Weekly, The Furies is considered one of the most important works to date by McKee, a Hugo and Nebula Award winner, whose other works include The Vampire Tapestry (1980).