ammonite by nicola griffithAmmonite by Nicola Griffith is story that grips you with intrigue from the start and doesn’t relinquish that hold until the end.

That is, unless you have a dog willing to rip the book from your hands with the hopes of devouring the novel himself… literally.

At any rate…

Gp, or Jeep, is the name of the alien world the tale unfolds on.

Jeep is home to a society of women, isolated from the rest of humanity and living by seemingly primitive means. Likewise, Jeep is host to a deadly virus that kills all men, though even among women the mortality rate is high. In short, it’s a play on the old school trope of an entirely female planet, and all without falling back on the cliché depictions.

The Durallium Company sets its sights on Jeep, hoping to eradicate the virus and exploit the planet. This is where Marghe Taishan, an anthropologist, comes in. She arrives on the planet primarily to test a new, promising vaccine. However, her thirst for knowledge drives her out of the safety of Company’s outpost on the planet. Hoping to uncover the biological past and secrets of these native women she travels on her own to the North. It is a dangerous path, due both to the harsh elements and unfriendly natives. On top of it all, she only has enough of the vaccine to last for six months, and there is no telling what Company will do if the vaccine fails.

However, the more time she spends on the planet, and eventually runs across a particular individual, she comes to realize a change is taking place deep inside of her. She starts to realize that maybe, if she embraces that change Jeep could become more than simply another anthropological study. It could become a home.

Meanwhile, back at the outpost, (In a parallel storyline) Hannah Danner, the acting commander, has her own problems to face. She knows very well that if the vaccine fails then she and her forces risk being abandoned by Company on Jeep, if not worse. The struggles she goes through to protect her forces, and the ultimate decisions she’s forced to come to, trigger in her a slow, reluctant change as well.

In the end it truly is, as most of the book blurbs will tell you, change or die; the only options Jeep is willing to offer to all that set foot upon it.

The Characters

The characters in the novel are superb. Not least of all is the protagonist Marghe. Talk about character arcs, the one she goes through is, in a word, incredible. Stubborn and distant at first, the change she goes through results in a person Marghe herself can scarcely recognize.

Then there are the characters she encounters along her journey, each as intriguing and vibrant as the last. From the terrifying Uaithne to the benevolent and wise Thenike, the characters are just as colorful and fascinating as the world they inhabit.

And lastly, we can’t leave out the Company forces, known as Mirrors, trapped on Jeep either. Hannah Danner goes through quite the character arc as well, and her own story is just as engaging as Marghe’s. The women serving beneath her have their own distinct personalities as well, making revisiting them a treat.

Writing Style

Full of detail, the read is still smooth and has decent pacing overall. (There are times where it slows, but then, what is perfect pacing?)  And it’s visceral! The struggle Marghe goes through to survive against the elements and the fear she experiences feels so real its almost as if Nicola Griffith experienced them herself. The style has the ability to paint a scene and its mood expertly.

The Pros

It’s a pleasure to read, and it sticks with you long after having been read.

The book is full of intriguing world building. From the secrets surrounding the women and Jeep itself to the cultures that have risen on it, its all interesting. The cultural details are well thought out and appealing to learn about.

It’s also a thought-provoking novel, making one primarily contemplate the nature of change and obligation.

The Cons

It had to come to an end, forcing us to leave Jeep and the characters we meet behind, some of their futures yet uncertain.

The Conclusion

Ammonite has become a classic, not just among lesbian fiction, but science fiction in general. It was Nicola Griffith’s first novel, and does it ever pack a punch as a debut.

That said, I recommend this book to those looking for good lesbian science fiction and adventure. Keep in mind, it is more in the category of soft science fiction because of the way it handles the answers to certain questions, such as the way the women reproduce. That said, it is piece I would recommend to anyone looking for a good read.

Excerpt From Ammonite by Nicola Griffith

She rolled the nightbag into her pack. The sooner she left, the better. She dragged her pack through the tent flap, stood and stretched, and looked around.

Fear slapped the breath back into her lungs.

She was surrounded by riders on motionless horses. Shrouded in mist, with only their eyes visible under frost-rimed furs, they looked like apparitions of otherworldly demons.

Marghe lifted her arms to show she was weaponless and walked stiffly towards to the nearest figure. When she stepped within the cloud of breath wreathing the horse, its rider snapped down her spear. The stone tip brushed the furs at Marghe’s belly, and she realized that stone could kill just as effectively as steel. The rider’s eyes were heavily-lidded and light blue.

The point of the spear did not waver a hair’s-breadth as the rider pulled back her hood to show flame-red braids and cheeks shinning with grease.

“Stranger, why do you stand in the ringstones of the Echraidhe?”

The accent was difficult, but Marghe heard the cool lack of interest in her questioner’s voice and her throat closed with fear.

“The penalty for soiling the stones of our ancestors is death.”

The spear moved as the rider balanced it for a belly thrust…

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Bits and Bobs

  • ISBN: 0-345-37891-1
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books

Nicola Griffith Online

niki@thelesbianreview.com'