Review: The Power by Naomi Alderman

UK book cover of The Power by Naomi Alderman

I don’t even know where to start with this book. It doesn’t surprise me that it won the Baileys’ Women’s Prize for Fiction, and I’m also not surprised that I’ve seen a few reviews by men that hated it. The Power is, at heart, a very female book with a very clear Message, but that in no way detracts from what is also a very compelling story.

Plot summary: All over the world women are discovering they have the power. With a flick of the fingers they can inflict terrible pain – even death. Suddenly, every man on the planet finds they’ve lost control. The day of the girls has arrived – but where will it end?

So we’ve got a very basic premise – women can suddenly create sparks from their fingertips, via a skein that has grown alongside their collarbones. A sort-of explanation is provided for why this happened, but that’s not really the point of the story. It’s more about the societal, militarial, religious and political repercussions of men no longer being the physically dominant race.

What I particularly appreciated about this book is that it follows a different format than it would if the same concept were played out in a sci-fi novel. There’s no slow discovery, long-winded explanations or sitting around talking about how weird it all is. We start at the discovery, but then jump forward two years, then four, five, nine and finally ten years, checking in to see how the world has changed in that time. It works so beautifully. The small gaps in time allow the reader to follow developments more objectively and watch as huge consequences unravel.

We follow several different characters throughout the novel:

  • Allie, a runaway teen who becomes Mother Eve, the founder of a new maternally-centered religion.
  • Roxy, the daughter of a criminal overlord.
  • Margot, a female politician aspiring to reach new highs in her career.
  • Tunde, a male journalist who is travelling the world and documenting the chaos.

Two further characters are added roughly two thirds of the way through, but that’s slightly jarring and I’m not convinced of the need for them. However, on the whole, the changing point of view allows us to watch the consequences in multiple spheres at multiple points across the globe. Whilst I found Margot’s perspective the most interesting, Tunde’s experiences were incredibly moving at times, as he observed women who had been oppressed for decades finally free themselves and their sisters from their shackles.

“They do not let us drive a car here,” she says, “but watch what we can do.”
She puts her palm flat on the bonnet. There is a click and it flicks open.

There are young women advancing across the centre of the screen, each of them backed by the fire, each of them walking with the lightning. They are going from car to car, setting the motors revving and the engine blocks burning into a molten heat. Some of them can do it without touching the cars; they send their lines of power outfrom their bodies and they are all laughing.
Tunde pans up to look at the people watching from the windows, to see what they are doing. There are men trying to drag their women from the glass. And there are women shrugging off their hands. Not bothering to say a word. Watching and waiting. Palms pressed against the glass. He knows then that this thing is going to take the world and everything will be different and he is so glad that he shouts for joy, whooping with the others among the flames.

I almost cried at these parts. They really affected me and I read in a sort of stupor. The other parts that really made me sick were the reaction of the men to the new state of affairs. It’s actually quite well balanced, in that the male gender isn’t described to be generally stupid or or evil or even whiny, but the outward reaction of a few is fascinating and sickening. Much like the real world.

The CDC is hiding things from us, Tom says, that’s what they’re protesting. Have you seen some of that stuff online? Things are being kept from us, resources are being channelled in the wrong direction, there’s no funding for self-defence classes or armour for men, and all this money going to those NorthStar girls’ training camps, for God’s sake – what the hell is that about? And fuck you Kristen, we both know you’ve got this fucking thing, too, and it’s changed you, it’s made you hard; you’re not even a real woman any more. Four years ago, Kristen, you knew what you were and what you had to offer this network, and what the fuck are you now?

It’s not a very subtle book and at times it is very sledge-hammery with the Point it’s trying to make. That said, it is indeed a very good Point, and it’s not like anybody who picked up a book where one gender develops power abilities really expected a subtle agenda.

The thing that really brought it home for me, was the fact that The Power is theoretically written many, many years into the future, where nobody can even imagine the world being any different. The concept of men wielding any sort of power is amusing to them, cute, even. Again, not subtle, but it works so, so well, as a lot of the language used echoed familiarily in my head as that usually used about women.

Surely it just makes more sense that it was women who provoked the war. I feel instinctively – and I hope you do too – that a world run by men would be more kind, more gentle, more loving and naturally nuturing.

Please read this book. It’s important. It’s enjoyable and accessible, yes, but it makes a very good point about the fragility of the gender identity perpetuated by society and the sledgehammer used to emphasise the point does not detract from the importance.

Read Ellie’s review of The Power at Curiosity Killed the Bookworm.


  1. Ellie Warren says:

    It's not all that subtle, is it? However ultimately there's a message of balance, that no one group should really have all the power. I wonder if the men who hated it got to the end…

    I loved Tunde's parts too, and what happened to Roxy was :O :'(

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