I wish I knew of a list of all the books that Ursula K. Le Guin has ever personally recommended, blurbed, or otherwise endorsed, because she’s pretty much always spot-on. I got this book because of her blurb, and was delighted by it – and surprised that I hadn’t heard of it previously. I’m going to blame poor marketing. I’m also going to give Part One of the paperback edition of this book (A Woman of the Iron People is one book; split into two paperbacks as part of that poor marketing) this year’s award for Most Ridiculously Inappropriate Cover. Check out that lady with the boobs holding a skull! In front of a tall stone tower! With a spaceship in the sky!
I presume that the cover is supposed to depict one of the main characters, an anthropologist. The character in question is ethnically Chinese, describes herself as being more flat-chested than average for a human female, and at no point does she wear a silly fashion bustier, nor does she hold a skull. OK, at one point a character does get his skull bashed in, but said skull does not get removed from his head. There is also a ‘tower’ in the story. It’s a primitive structure fashioned from reeds and organic materials. And there is a spaceship, although the one pictured doesn’t match the description provided. Sigh. The cover for the second half isn’t quite as egregiously random, but it’s not great, either. (Yes, the alien people are furry – but their fur is a slick pelt, like otters, and they have a thick, stocky build, like bears. They also wear clothes and don’t dance around naked, as pictured.)
Ignore the covers, and just get to the story. A criticism that the book could be more tightly plotted might have some validity. It can be a bit meandering. But I still loved it. (Maureen McHugh gets that kind of criticism, and I love her too.) If you’re interested in a first contact story with a strong anthropological focus, which concentrates on the gradual process of two very different women coming to understand each other – this is a book for you.