Unfortunately, your access has now expired. But there’s good news—by subscribing today, you will receive 22 issues of Booklist magazine, 4 issues of Book Links, and single-login access to Booklist Online and over 200,000 reviews.
Your access to Booklist Online has expired. If you still subscribe to the print magazine, please proceed to your profile page and check your subscriber number against a current magazine mailing label. (If your print subscription has lapsed, you will need to renew.)
Free Trial, activate profile, or subscribe
Titles similar to Foul Is Fair
When we think of violence and women, most of us probably tend to picture violence against women. This is the pairing that’s given the most attention: it’s what’s in the headlines, what’s in our entertainment. In crime fiction, women are, most often, the victims; in superhero stories, they’re frigid. Slasher movies of the 1970s reacted to a growing cultural acceptance of women’s sexuality and autonomy by violently ripping apart female bodies onscreen. When women are given the opportunity to be violent, it’s often sexualized and on behalf of the male gaze (Nikita, Black Widow, the femme fatale—all play to the camera) or they’re monsters, and punishment is inevitable (Medusa, Lilith, Lady Macbeth).
The conversation grows more complex when race enters in—men of color, and especially Black men, are often victims of violence, and face much higher consequences for perpetrating it than white men. But for men of a certain background, with certain privileges, violence has no consequence. Violence makes them kings.
Shakespeare knew it, and Hannah Capin does, too. In her slick, divisive sophomore novel, she revamps Macbeth as the contemporary scorched-earth story of Jade Khanjara, who is gang-raped by a group of St. Andrew’s Prep lacrosse players at a party on her sixteenth birthday. But violence, as they say, begets violence; afterward, Jade cuts her hair and dyes it black, and she and her three best friends—her coven—vow revenge. And because the boys who tried to destroy her—prep school elites—are untouchable by the law or the justice system, Jade knows that revenge means murdering them herself.
There are those who may be disturbed by this sort of mutually assured destruction. Surely, they might say, the answer is not to kill off the men. But here Capin raises an interesting, if extreme, counterpoint. Why not, she asks, when women have been dying violently for centuries? In a different sort of novel, Jade wouldn’t follow through with her plan. She would lose her nerve as she infiltrates St. Andrew’s as a new student, or she would bond with the boy who is the key to her plan—Mack, the golden boy, the lacrosse player who was uninvolved with her rape, but whom she needs in order to murder the others. She would, like Lady Macbeth, falter at the sight of blood on her hands. She would feel the sting of consequence as her plot unwound and the bodies began to fall.
But Capin isn’t writing that kind of story.
Vicious, manipulative Jade will have her critics, but she’s unconcerned with likability. Men have been rampaging across Tarantino films for years—hell, any kid who’s read a Shakespeare play in an English class has been privy to unchecked male violence. It is jarring to see a 16-year-old girl commit (or conspire to commit) the acts of violence that Jade makes happen, if only because it is so far outside of what we have come to expect. But this isn’t a how-to-murder-your-classmates manual; it’s a ferocious, frenzied reaction to a world that has, for too long, treated women as collateral damage in stories that have been deemed more important than theirs.
Through Jade and her coven—a group that, despite its brutal mission, is fiercely loyal, open to all different ideas of what a woman can be, and not so close that it can’t accept someone new—Capin bulldozes through Macbeth, tackling rape culture and those who benefit from it with the claws-out, take-no-prisoners approach of someone who is done with being afraid. Jade’s first-person narrative, steeped in rage and drenched, unapologetically, with gore, moves at a relentless pace. The plot is not rooted in any sort of reality; it is a fever dream, a violent fantasy, an allegory with bloody teeth.
It will not be a book for everyone. There is no moral, no debate. This is about vengeance in its most biblical sense. If you need a story about a teenage girl to be rooted in ethics when boys and men are allowed moral ambiguity in theirs, then this is not the book for you. But for those who, like Jade, have witnessed and experienced violence against women in its many forms, who are tired of taking the high road, who are seeking catharsis, this book may be exactly what is needed. We’ve been hurt enough, it whispers. Your turn.
Free Trial, activate profile, or subscribe