Adventure, Apocalyptic

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison


The first time she needs a name, she uses Karen. After all, she has a friend named Karen. Well, she used to. All her friends are gone, co-workers, Jack – all gone. Alone, but for how long? The epidemic has basically killed the world. Few men survive, fewer women and no children. Karen fears that she is the only survivor, and walking through the city she finds no one – not a single sign of life.

Perhaps it’s her imagination, but suddenly she smells food. Upon further inspection, she discovers Chicken and Joe cooking in a Mexican restaurant. Maybe there are only three people left. She feels relief being with them, and when they ask her to join them when they leave, she is more than happy. Sadly, it doesn’t take long before they run into a gang of men. Chicken and Joe quickly abandon her, remarking that the gang is there for her, not them.

After a year of hiding, Karen is finally ready to move on; she has grown tired of being frightened by every noise and movement. She fills her backpack with a few clothes, food, water, and carries a gun on her belt. Her heart has also grown tougher, developing a protective shield around it. As she travels quietly from town to town, she avoids the few people she sees. Occasionally, she comes across another lonely traveller. It is obvious that they long for company and want to join her. While she feels sorry for them, she is adamant that she travels alone. It doesn’t take long for her to decide that it is safer to disguise herself as a man. The gangs are hunting down women to sell into slavery or to trap in an abusive lifestyle. Karen practices walking and talking like a man, shaves her head, carries her pistol where everyone can notice it, and wears clothing that hides her curves.

As she gathers supplies wherever she finds them, she especially picks up contraceptives. Before the world fell apart, Karen was a midwife, and one of the side effects of the epidemic are women who die shortly after giving birth to stillborn babies. Now, she wants to save as many women as possible. Wherever she finds them, she helps those who cannot save themselves.

Karen finally approaches two men who have two female prisoners. She tells them her name is Rob and she would like to do some trading for time with the women. Rob puts on the air of being a man to the best of her ability. It seems to be enough to fool these monsters. Once she is alone with one of the women, she quickly gives her contraceptives and advises her to don the appearance of a man if she is able to escape. Carefully leaving the group behind, she decides to work on her male persona – plucking at her crotch, giving hard eye contact, shrugging her shoulders so they appear bigger.

More than once she hides from gangs, and more than once she is forced to kill men in order to save herself. Confidence with her gun grows, but her first choice is always to run, if possible, and to never be found.

I’m Karen. I’m Carl. I’m Alex. I’m Dusty. I am Jane.

This is quite a tale. There are characters who are cruel monsters and you wonder what their purpose is in life. Then there are the ones who are caring, loving, and sharing, which can make up for all the ugliness in this apocalyptic world. You might think this book would be depressing, but it is fascinating. Watching Karen go through so many stages of change and maturing in this new reality made me wonder if I, or any of us, would be capable of adapting as well as she does. Nothing comes easy, but there is no stopping her journey once it has begun.

The rating:

  • Genre and general reading age – Apocalyptic for adults. I don’t think teens would understand what this book truly has to offer.
  • Level of sexuality – It’s not horribly graphic, but women being chased by men for the sole purpose of sex and slavery is a big part of the story.
  • Is there graphic language? Yes.
  • Did I cry? No.
  • Did I laugh? No.
  • Is this part of a series? Yes, it is book one.
  • Level of character development – They are very well-done and express all sorts of emotions, which, of course, embellish the story.

I enjoyed this book a great deal and I believe that most readers will, as well. I award this book ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ stars.

Available here on Amazon

Available here in paperback on Barnes & Noble

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