The second book in a duology of dark SF books. The first is Darkland.
Publication year: 2007
Page count: 292
Bloodmind has four point-of-view characters who are all written in the first person. They are all women and on different planets. I think Vali is in her thirties but the other two are much older. So, I’d call this book quite a rarity among SF.
Vali Hallsdottir is on her home planet Muspell and her story starts right after Darkland ended. She’s just returned to the headquarters of Skald, the intelligence organization she works for. She’s a assassin for Skald. Someone has just brutally killed Idhunn, Vali’s closest friend and the leader of Skald. Then a Darkland organization called the Morrighanu conquers the Skald’s headquarters. Along with everyone else, Vali is taken prisoner. The Morrighanu probe her mind, essentially mind torturing her. With the help of the selk, Vali escapes. The selk take her to Darkland where the selk want Vali to team up with another Darklander whom we saw in the previous book. The Darklander has his own reasons for helping Vali but doesn’t tell them just yet. Vali agrees, reluctantly.
On Mondhile, an old warrior woman feels that she’s near death and so she leaves her clan for the wilderness. She’s hoping that she will find her long lost sister before she dies and she’s also visiting the Moon Moor. When she was young, she went to the Moon Moor and found a strange, high-tech cave underneath it. The Mondhile clans don’t know much technology and the clans ofter fight each other.
One point-of-view characters simply refers to herself as “I” and the chapter headings don’t give any clue to her identity. She thinks herself as a weapon.
On Nhem, men have genetically engineered their women to not be sentient. However, some women manage to awaken and escape their brutal live. They live away from the male dominated cities, in a small colony called the Edge and from time to time, other women manage to escape and travel there. Sedra is the oldest woman living there and the others treat her as their unofficial leader. She’s starting to feel her age because she can’t do anymore some of the things she used to do.
About four hundred women live in the old city. They don’t know who built it or why the builders left but the city is full of images which might depict tall women, and the current settlers call them the goddesses. They don’t have much technology or medicines and the land isn’t fertile, so living is hard.
The Nhemish women are all short, dark haired and dark eyed. One day, a woman with fair skin and hair comes to them. She has made the same dangerous trek as all the others. Sedra briefly fears that she might be a spy but she is still welcomed to the community.
The conditions that the women used to live in are horrific. Perhaps it’s just good that they can’t remember most of their lives before they became sentient and were able to escape. One woman tells that she remembers that the man of the house (called a House Father) killed his slave woman (you can hardly call her a wife) over a broken cup and the woman’s sons dragged her body out laughing. Some years back it was forbidden by law to give girl children names; now they are named for example Boy-Next-Time and Luck-To-Come. Frankly, if the whole book had been about Nhem I don’t think I could have finished it.
On the other hand, I was fascinated by the concept of people who are sentient only part of the time. With the women in Nhem, some of them can become sentient at some point but were apparently born without it. We get a couple of descriptions of awakening sentience and it doesn’t seem to be something the women themselves do. The women are illiterate and also don’t understand language that the men speak.
On Mondhile, things are somewhat similar. Children are born without sentiense and they are left in the wilderness to fend for themselves at six months old. Around 14, they become sentient by coming near a village and the village’s technological defences somehow trigger it. Also, the Mondhile people have an ability called the bloodmind during which they lose their sentience again for a brief time. This can happen in battle but happens also during a yearly event called the masque. Most of the people don’t have any control over it.
The third example is on planet Muspell. The selk, a sea dwelling people/animals, are sentient only part of the year.
I’m not sure I buy sentience being just an ability that can be turned on and off but it’s a fascinating thought. I’m also not sure that I buy that the women of Nhem can do household chores well without self-awareness. Cooking, for example, would have to be pretty basic and mending clothing would also require knowing what you’re doing. To be fair, what we see women doing is scrubbing floors, serving food, carrying things, and being prostituted.
The atmosphere of the book is somewhat different from the previous book, Darkland, which was a more intimate story of Vali confronting her past and Ruen confronting his present. In Bloodmind, on the other hand, the focus is on the future of several groups of peoples.
The pacing is quick, as is usual with Williams, with chapters alternating between pov characters. But Vali still has time to wonder about the motives of the other characters, not to mention her ancient ancestors who started this genetic experimentation.
The ending is somewhat depressing, for me at least.