Upgrade to a better browser, please.

Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Books

The Gate to Women's Country

Added By: Administrator
Last Updated: Administrator

The Gate to Women's Country

Purchase this book through Purchase this book from Purchase this book from
Author: Sheri S. Tepper
Publisher: Gollancz, 2013
Bantam Spectra, 1989
Doubleday Foundation, 1988

This book does not appear to be part of a series. If this is incorrect, and you know the name of the series to which it belongs, please let us know.

Submit Series Details

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: Apocalyptic/Post-Apocalyptic
Human Development
Avg Member Rating:
(81 reads / 34 ratings)


Classic fantasy from the amazing Sheri S. Tepper. Women rule in Women's Country. Women live apart from men, sheltering the remains of civilization They have cut themselves off with walls and by ordinance from marauding males. Waging war is all men are good for. Men are allowed to fight their barbaric battles! amongst themselves, garrison against garrison. For the sake of his pride, each boy child ritualistically rejects his mother when he comes of age to be a warrior. But all the secrets of civilization are strictly the possession of women. Naturally, there are men who want to know what the women know! And when Stavia meets Chernon, the battle of the sexes begins all over again. Foolishly, she provides books for Chernon to read. Before long, Chernon is hatching a plan of revenge against women!


STAVIA SAW HERSELF AS IN A PICTURE, FROM THE outside, a darkly cloaked figure moving along a cobbled street, the stones sheened with a soft, early spring rain. On either side the gutters ran with an infant chuckle and gurgle, baby streams being amused with themselves. The corniced buildings smiled candlelit windows across at one another, their shoulders huddled protectively inward--though not enough to keep the rain from streaking the windows and making the candlelight seem the least bit weepy, a luxurious weepiness, as after a two-hanky drama of love lost or unrequited.

As usually happened on occasions like this one, Stavia felt herself become an actor in an unfamiliar play, uncertain of the lines or the plot, apprehensive of the ending. If there was to be an ending at all. In the face of the surprising and unforeseen, her accustomed daily self was often thrown all at a loss and could do nothing but stand aside upon its stage, one hand slightly extended toward the wings to cue the entry of some other character--a Stavia more capable, more endowed with the extemporaneous force or grace these events required. When the appropriate character entered, her daily self was left to watch from behind the scenes, bemused by the unfamiliar intricacy of the dialogue and settings which this other, this actor Stavia, seemed able somehow to negotiate. So, when this evening the unexpected summons had arrived from Dawid, the daily Stavia had bowed her way backstage to leave the boards to this other persona, this dimly cloaked figure making its way with sure and unhesitating tread past the lighted apartments and through the fish and fruiterers markets toward Battle Gate.

Stavia the observer noted particularly the quality of the light. Dusk. Gray of cloud and shadowed green of leaf. It was apt, this light--well done for the mood of the piece. Nostalgic. Melancholy without being utterly depressing. A few crepuscular rays broke through the western cloud cover in long, mysterious beams, as though they were searchlights from a celestial realm, seeking a lost angel, perhaps, or some escaped soul from Hades trying desperately to find the road to heaven. Or perhaps they were casting about to find a fishing boat, out there on the darkling sea, though she could not immediately think of a reason that the heavenly ones should need a fishing boat.

Near the Well of Surcease, its carved coping gleaming with liquid runnels and its music subsumed into the general drip and gurgle, the street began its downhill slope from the Temple of the Lady to the ceremonial plaza and the northern city wall. At street level on the right a long row of craftswomen's shops stared blindly at the cobbles through darkened windows: candle makers, soap makers, quilters, knitters. On the left the park opened toward the northwest in extended vistas of green and dark, down past the scooped bowl of the summer theater where Stavia would play the part of Iphigenia this summer. Not play, she thought. Do. Do the part. As someone had to do it. In the summer theater. In the park.

A skipping seawind brought scents of early spring flowers and pine and she stopped for a moment, wondering what the set designer had in mind. Was this to remind her of something? All the cosiness of candle flame and gurgling gutters leading toward this sweet sadness of green light and softly scented mist? Too early to know, really. Perhaps it was only misdirection, though it might be intended as a leitmotif.

The street leveled at the bottom of the hill where it entered the Warrior's Plaza, unrelenting pavement surrounded on three sides by stories of stolid and vacant colonnades. The arched stone porches were old, preconvulsion structures. Nothing like that was built today. Nothing so dignified, so imposing, so unnecessary. The ceremonial space seemed far emptier than the streets behind her. The arches wept for spectators; the polished. stones of the plaza cried for marching feet, the rat-a-bam of drums, the toss of plumes, and the crash of lances snapped down in the salute, kerbam! The plaza sniffled in abandonment, like a deserted lover.

Oh yes, the journey had been meant as a leitmotif, she could tell. The plaza made it clear.

On three sides of the plaza, the colonnades. On the fourth side, the towering wall, high-braced with buttresses, glimmering with mosaics, pierced by the Defender's Gate, the Battle Gate, and the Gate of the Warriors' Sons, which comprised a triptych of carved timbers and contorted bronze depicting scenes of triumph and slaughter. The Defender's Gate was at the left of this lofty arrangement, and she stood close to it for a long time--perceiving herself before it as though from a front-row-center seat, the compliant lines of her cloak melting before the obdurate metal--before reaching out with her staff to knock the requisite three times, not loudly. They would be waiting for her.

The small door at the base of the great portal swung open; she walked with every appearance of calm down the short corridor beyond. In the assembly room she found an honor guard. And Dawid, of course.

How could she have forgotten he was fifteen? Well, she hadn't. She was thirty-seven, so he was fifteen. She had been twenty-two when... when everything. All this pretense that the summons was unexpected was really so much playacting, a futile attempt to convince herself that something unforeseen might happen despite her knowing very well what the plot required. Despite Dawid's ritual visits on holidays, his twice-yearly homecomings--during which the initial shyness of the original separation had turned to fondness, then to shyness again, finally becoming the expected, though no less wounding, alienation--despite all that, she had chosen to go on thinking of him as she had when he was five and had gone into the hands of the warriors.

So, now, she must guard against speaking to that child, for this was no child confronting her in his polished breastplate and high helmet, with pouted lips outthrust. No child anymore.

"Dawid," she said formally, bowing a little to indicate the respect she bore him. And "Gentlemen," for the respect she bore these others, also. One had to grant them that; one could grant so little else. She risked one raking glance across the ranked faces above the shining armor, subconsciously thinking to see faces that she knew could not be there. Those that were there were young. No old faces. No old faces at all.

"Madam," intoned one member of the host. Marcus, she thought, examining what she could see of his visage between the cheek and nose guards of his helmet; Marcus, probably, though it might have been another of her sister Myra's sons--all three looked disconcertingly alike and had, even as babies. "Madam," he said, "your warrior son greets you."

"I greet my warrior son," the actor Stavia said while the observer Stavia annoyed herself by weeping, though inwardly and silently, as befitted the occasion.

"I challenge you, madam," said Dawid. His voice was light, very light, almost a child's voice, still, and she knew he had been practicing that phrase in the shower room and in corners of the refectory, no doubt listening with heartbreaking attention for the vibrant echo of command. Still, it quavered with a child's uncertainty.

"Oh?" she questioned, cocking her head. "How have I offended?"

"During my last homecoming"--he gave the word the aversive twist she had believed only a mature warrior could give it, "homecoming," as though it were something dirty; well, perhaps it was--"you made a suggestion to me which was unworthy of my honor."

"Did I, indeed?" The actor Stavia was properly puzzled. "I cannot remember any such."

"You said," his voice quavered. "You said I would be welcome to return to my mother's house through the Gate to Women's Country."

"Well, and so you would be," she said calmly, wishing this farce were done with so she might go home and weep. "So are any of our sons."

"Madam, I summoned you here to tell you that such a suggestion offends my honor! I am no longer your son. I am proud to name myself a son of the warriors. I have become a Defender!"

So, and well, and what had she expected? Still, for a moment she could not respond. The observer Stavia held the actor in thrall, just for this moment, seeking in that face the face of the five-year-old Dawid, mighty hunter of grasshoppers, thunderer on the toy drum, singer of nursery rhymes, leading contender in the skipping race from home to candy shop. That level-browed, serious-eyed, gentle-lipped child. No more. No more.

No, it was all bronze and leather now. The Marthatown garrison tattoo was on his upper arm. He had a cut on his chin where he had shaved himself, though his skin looked like a baby's. Still the arms and chest were muscular and almost adult, almost a man's body. Fit for love. Fit for slaughter.

Get on with it, wept the observer Stavia.

"Then I relinquish all claim to you, Dawid, son of the warriors. You need not visit us again." A pause for the words which were not obligatory but which she was determined upon. Let him know, even now, that it cut both ways. "You are not my son." She bowed, believing for a moment that the dizziness which struck her would prevent her getting her head up, but then the actor had her up and wheeling about, finding her way almost by instinct. Women could not return through the Defender's Gate. There was a corridor here to the left, she told herself, remembering what she had been told and managing to get into it with level tread, not breaking stride, not hurrying or slowing. Even the hiss behind her did not hurry her steps. A serpent's hiss, but by only a few, possibly only one set of lips, and those not Dawid's. Stavia had played by the rules since Dawid was born, and all those metal-clad automatons knew it. They could not hiss her in good conscience, and only zealots would do it. Despite them, she would not hurry. No, no, and no, the thing must be done properly if it had to be done at all.

Copyright © 1988 by Sheri S. Tepper


The Gate to Women's Country

- Thomcat
The Gate to Women's Country

- spoltz


No alternate cover images currently exist for this novel.