A storm, a disappearance, a band of women, and a remote island where anything is possible...
Woman, wife, female ruler of a state.
An archipelago off the east coast of Britain comes under female rule. Using resources traditionally the preserve of men — inspired by ancient British stories of islands where women ran society and controlled the climate — the women take charge of the islands’ education system, businesses and civic institutions. But a revolution by stealth is not enough for Cwen. She has been here longer than the civilisation she has come back to haunt. Her name has ancient roots, reaching down into the earth and halfway around the world. The clouds are her children, and the waves; and the islands she inhabits have always belonged to women. Now she has returned to hold them to account.
Following in Cwen’s wake, young climate activists stage a rebellion against the patriarchy. A grandmother bequeaths her sons’ inheritance to a feminist foundation. And a public inquiry is launched into the archipelago’s outrageous mutiny. This remarkable novel is a portrait of a world on the cusp of change. Exploring female power and female potential, both to shelter and to harm, it reaches deep into Britain’s matriarchal past, to ask how radical we might be, if given the chance.
‘A wild ride!... with female magic & transformations... & very funny’
MARGARET ATWOOD The Testaments
‘Magical, rich and magnificent’
‘A wild, original, sure-footed feminist reimagining of the present and the past that brushes up against the mythical. It reminds us, eloquently and passionately, what is or can be, and in its depiction of a revolution becomes a revolutionary book itself. A beautiful work.’
NEEL MUKHERJEE A State of Freedom
‘This clever, strange and wonderful novel brims with mystery. A group of women recount their past and present stories, revealing their visions of the future. A rare book, bold and powerful.’
XIAOLU GUO Nine Continents
‘Fantastic — a wonderful book. With intelligence, wit and zest, Cwen’s matriarchal dream shines a light on the oft-normalised distortions of our own reality, offers a bold vision of an alternative future, teases at our deep past, and subtly weaves together our environment and gender.’
LILY COLE Who Cares Wins
‘I loved everything about Cwen, a fable that is filled with wisdom but leavened with humour, balancing the light and dark, and expressing female fury as well as tenderness.’
CERIDWEN DOVEY Life After Truth
‘A phenomenal novel showing us that learning to love our female selves is essential for survival. Alice Albinia’s diverse cast, from ancient Britain to contemporary Pakistan, step up to support each other, take down patriarchy and create a new collective story.’
FARHANA YAMIN Woman’s Hour Power List: Our Planet
‘A superb book: original, fierce, elegant, and full of surprises from beginning to end.’
SONIA FALEIRO The Good Girls
‘A skillful counter-history, a disruptive and compelling reimagining in microcosm of a society designed and controlled by women. Brilliantly weaving together historical material and a narrative of life in contemporary Britain — a superb achievement.’
DANIYAL MUEENUDDIN In Other Rooms, Other Wonders
‘Swept on the current of so many centuries, this transporting tale lands powerfully at the point where vision and errancy combine in pursuit of that one wants most: a place to truly belong.’
SHARIFA RHODES-PITTS Harlem is Nowhere
‘An unforgettable story with a dazzling cast of characters who invert and recreate our manmade world layer by layer. A breathtaking, beautifully-told and profound novel for our times and beyond. I loved it.’
MIRZA WAHEED The Collaborator
‘Glittering with beauty and aching with promise, Cwen speaks of the persistent human need for freedom and community, and of the clash of these impulses with power and authority. A story for our times.’
TARAN N KHAN Shadow City: A Woman Walks Kabul
Cwen is a thing with a womb and two breasts. A brain and two far-seeing eyes. A clever nose and nimble fingers. The clouds are her children, and the waves, and the shells which the waves spit on to the sand. The islanders opposite, they are her children, too; and the sheep up on her island’s high bank; and her chickens, down by the shore. The birds crouch under her stroking hand; she raised them from chicks. Now, if they have a mother, it is her.
There were people here before her, she knows that, for they left a cairn on the hillside just up from the shore. An ancient mound, grass-covered, it is three paces from her spring, bigger than her hut, and shaped like a breast, or a belly-full-of-child. There is a large stone, blocking the way in. Cwen sits there in the early morning, her back against the stone, her body full of spring water, as she waits for the islanders opposite to arrive in their boats, with their offerings of grain, and slices of dried meat, and their questions, all quite predictable, about their harvests and wombs, their neighbours and the gods. In winter, the stone receives the glare of the rising sun. In summer, when the sunrays touch the top of the mound, Cwen sits up there instead, looking out over the other islands, all twelve of them. In this way, she bathes in gold.
Inside the cairn are the histories that remain to guard this island, her spring, and her. Every morning, every evening, she stands on the cliff and looks down at the tide; how the sea rustles in, and is sucked back out. Twice a month, when Moon is at its thinnest and its fullest, its birth and its death, the bay below her cliff empties completely of water, and on those days she walks right out, in her long dress and leather boots, to ease sea creatures from the sand.
She calls herself Cwen, and Cwen is what the island will be called after she is gone; after her bones and her hair have been dispersed to the sea, and her thoughts to the winds, and the sea creatures whose relatives she ate are eating her. Cwen, call the tides; Cwen, say the bubbles of her spring; Cwen says the Moon, as the sea aligns and realigns her island’s bounds.
Cover Art: Jason Hicklin