Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Review: The Priest, by Monica La Porta (2/5)

By Jessica Veter

Mauricio is a slave in a land ruled by women. Born and raised in the Temple, he has never been allowed outside, and he’s just been chosen to become a very special kind of slave: a semental. Welcome to Ginecea.

As a result of Mauricio’s change in position, he overhears Rosie, the daughter of the President of Ginecea, singing. Obsessed, he risks a glance and falls in love. A friendship begins which threatens the very fabric of Ginecean culture: he’s a slave and she’s privileged, their culture only recognises same-sex unions and Mauricio, no intellectual slouch, is about to put one and one together and discover the answer is three.

Thematically, Monica La Porta offers up a smorgasbord: gender-based slavery, same-sex unions, separation of church and state, and a burgeoning equal-rights movement. Phew

But again, the critical question. Does she succeed?

While I loved the premise of The Priest, the novel suffers from a lack of action. Sure, Mauricio is moved from place to place, and things happen to him, but he himself is, essentially, passive. Even his few acts of rebellion are passive and because his response to his punishment is, again, passive, the end result is a novel with very little tension (yes, I know he’s a slave and he’s physically restrained, but so was Spartacus, and he look what he did). Mauricio’s passivity, and the 3rd person limited POV is throwing up a lot of roadblocks for The Priest, unfortunately. I chafed at not learning more about Ginecea itself: its history and culture, for example (how did it happen that all men became slaves? We never find out. Argh!). Okay, it is written from the perspective of a cloistered slave, but the result is a tale with no sense of place.

Mauricio is a promising character. In spite of his enslavement, he remains intelligent, curious and unbowed. He expresses hatred for his mistresses from the beginning of the book, so we watch with disbelief as he falls for Rosie. She is the epitome of all he hates, but we see little in the way of an internal struggle. Rosie’s requital of Mauricio’s feelings is also a puzzle (a spoiled child’s desire to get back at her parents?), but Mauricio’s devotion and naïveté is hard to swallow. His past doesn’t seem to allow for it.

And what about Mauricio’s escape and his establishment of the City of Men? It’s told as an epilogue which quickly glosses over fifty years of what is the turning point in the history of Ginecea.

Monica La Porta
Monica La Porta ‘s The Priest is the first book in The Ginecean Chronicles, and, she says, “[e]very book follows the story of a different member of the Ginecean society.... In The Priest, the amount of information regarding Ginecea is limited by Mauricio’s lack of knowledge of what happens beyond the walls of the Temple. The four books will depict the Ginecean society in its entirety.” Fair enough, but The Priest, especially as it is the first novel in the series, must be able to stand on its own. For me, it didn’t.

But let me present to you my silver linings:

Monica La Porta is a risk-taker. There is a lot in this novel which many writers would shy away from, thematically speaking. She has not.

Poetry. There is a scene in which Mauricio goes outside for the first time in his life. Read this scene and you will see where Monica’s strengths lie.

Proofreading. If you have read as many self published authors as I have, you will understand the unadulterated JOY I experienced reading this book and finding no typos, spelling errors or grammatical errors.

Semen. I have never read a book which uses this word so many times and yet stays so clean (she barely nudges NC-17). Monica even coins the word ‘semental’. An adjective! Who would have thought?

Two stars: one for poetry and proofreading, but ‘semental’ gets one all to itself.

Monica La Porta was born in Rome and now lives in the Pacific. She is married with two teenagers. When she is not busy with bipeds and quadrupeds, she likes to write, read, paint, sculpt, walk, and cook. Check out her truly beautiful artwork at www.monicalaporta.com

About the ReviewerJessica Veter is a novelist raised in rural Ontario. Having escaped to Toronto, she spent the 90’s over-educating herself at York University and then the University of Toronto. Once she accepted that there were never going to be any job listings in The Globe and Mail headed “Medievalist Wanted”, Jessica went to Japan. There, she met her husband and they lived in England before returning to Canada with a son and a greyhound.  Now in rural Flamborough, Jessica and her husband raise 3 boys, 6 chickens and are owned by 1 dog. You are welcome to visit her at www.jessicaveter.com


  1. First off, I like the name Mauricio, it's catchy :) Too bad this book was a letdown though. I have read self published authors and I know how annoying poor editing can be, at least this one was written well. Nice review.

    1. I was actively looking for proofreading errors. Nada. There went my number one hobby. *sighs*