Mutterschoß (literally: Mother’s Lap) is a novel by Elea Brandt, set in Ghor-el-Chras. It was not (yet) translated into English.
Finished on: 10.6.2021
[I received a copy of this book to review, or, as they say in German, this post is Unbezahlte Werbung.]
Content Note (for this review): ableism, abortion, slavery
[there is a complete list included in the book itself and available at the author’s homepage]
Ajeri is a midwife. Since she also performs abortion and is a former slave, her standing is difficult, but she likes her work. One of her clients, Midena, is just about to give birth – hoping it will be finally the heir her husband Bailak, head of the slaver’s guild, has been waiting for. But Midena has been plagued by nightmares recently, and when her labor comes early, everything goes wrong very quickly. Ajeri calls for a doctor to help. To her dismay, it’s Shiran who shows up – arrogant doctor’s apprentice and an old acquaintance of Ajeri. They start fightnig for Midena’s life, but it’s too late for her. The child is alive, but it is not right. Ajeri finds herself on the run, blamed for what happened, while Shiran is tasked by Bailak to figure everything out or risk losing everything himself. Ajeri and Shiran both realize soon that there is a dark force after the pregnant women of the city.
Mutterschoß is a good read with an openly feminist message, which I always appreciate. But I struggled a little with how the book deals with ableism, so I couldn’t love it unreservedly.
Let me say this first: Mutterschoß is a well-written book with engaging characters. I especially liked Ajeri – her feminist stance, that she is queer, the way she just survives in an incredibly hostile world. I pretty much hated Shiran, an arrogant, privileged egotist – and that is certainly a compliment to Brandt’s writing making him vivid enought to hate, though I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was supposed to like him a little more than I did.
I also loved that the film tackles birth from a feminist perspective and a horror perspective. This is a book unabashedly rooted into pregnant people’s right to make their own choices, their right to their bodily autonomy – although the world around them is certainly not feminist.
But I had a lot of trouble with the fact that the children who are born here – who are disfigured, disabled – are said to be evil and killed. Contrary to the opposition to the sexism and misogyny of this world that we find in Ajeri, this course of action is not criticized. Ajeri herself, basically the reader’s moral stand-in, is in favor of killing these children – because they are not of this earth, they belong to another force. Just because the evil of the children appears to be quite literal in this world, doesn’t change the fact that it hits too close to home, to how disabled children were and are still treated in our society. I was always hoping for some kind of twist that would call this connection of “disfigurement + evil + not allowing babies to live” into question somewhat, but it didn’t work out that way. And it just doesn’t sit right with me.
The other thing that kept me a bit at a distance to the novel is the fact that it is set in an obviously “Arab-inspired” fantasy setting, with all its orientalist overtones. I knew that this was the case when I decided to read the book. I signed up for it knowing that I always find it’s a pity and a little problematic when (white) fantasy looks towards other (“exotic”) cultures in their world-building. I thought that I could look past it a little better than I did in the end, but I guess that’s not the book’s fault.
Despite these issues, I enjoyed the novel. It’s a fast-paced, well-plotted, entertaining book that gives us good characters and good horror.
Summarizing: worth reading.