Our favorite books coming out this week include new titles from Angela Saini, Lily E. Hirsch, and Robert Dugoni.

The Patriarchs: The Origins of Inequality

Angela Saini. Beacon, $26.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-8070-1454-7
Patriarchy is not an irresistible monolith, but rather an unstable power structure that requires constant maintenance, according to this wide-ranging and incisive study. Science journalist Saini (Superior) surveys the ancient Nairs, “a powerful caste-based community that... organiz[ed] itself along matrilineal lines” in present-day India, and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy of tribal nations in North America, in which women held important leadership roles, revealing that both societies underwent a long, partial, and contested shift in gender norms as a result of Western colonialism. Noting that 18th- and 19th-century Westerners looked to Bronze Age Greece for “validation of the unequal societies they were choosing to build,” Saini suggests that gender inequality emerged with the rise of the first states, which required a stable population to defend and enrich them and used gender roles as one method to enforce order: “The moment gender becomes salient is when it becomes an organizing principle.” Elsewhere, she examines feminist reforms in the former Soviet Union and the imposition of Islamic fundamentalism in Iran and Afghanistan to underscore that inequity and egalitarianism are in constant conflict. Encouraging feminists to look to the past for inspiration, Saini makes a persuasive case that patriarchy is more vulnerable to change than it appears. It’s a game changer. (Feb.)

Can’t Stop the Grrrls: Confronting Sexist Labels in Music from Ariana Grande to Yoko Ono

Lily E. Hirsch. Rowman & Littlefield, $32 (208p) ISBN 978-1-538-16906-3
In this impassioned study, musicologist Hirsch (Weird Al: Seriously) calls out the music industry’s long history of sexism, racism, and toxic double standards. The author laments the media’s mistreatment of female artists, as when journalists Dan Carlinsky and Edwin Goodgold wrote in the Los Angeles Times in 1972 that Yoko Ono used her “hypnotic power apparently acquired in the Orient” to break up the Beatles, and, more recently, Janet Jackson was the subject of misogynistic coverage after her wardrobe malfunction during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show. Britney Spears, Hirsch writes, was called “crazy,” an appraisal that was later used in a 2008 court case that would lead to her conservatorship, which ended in November 2021. But the book ends on a hopeful note: Hirsch proposes that a “real revolution” can occur with the amplification of women’s collective testimonies, because “there is strength in numbers—the stories of so many women—when they repeat in basic contour and language.” Hirsch’s arguments are revelatory, and she approaches her subjects with respect: “What is the right way to confront and challenge abuse when it involves someone else’s trauma?” This is a convincing call to action. (Mar.)

Her Deadly Game

Robert Dugoni. Thomas & Mercer, $28.99 (410p) ISBN 978-1-6625-0019-0
Keera Duggan, the protagonist of this twist-filled standalone from bestseller Dugoni (The Silent Sisters), works as a criminal defense attorney in her father’s Seattle law firm. She was once a prosecutor, until she ended her romantic relationship with her supervisor, Miller Ambrose, because of his alcoholism, and he demoted her, leading to her departure. Keera now finds herself on the opposite side of the courtroom from Ambrose defending Vince LaRussa, the owner of a wealth-management and investment firm. A noted philanthropist, LaRussa is the prime suspect in the shooting murder of his wife. Despite an apparently solid alibi, the politically ambitious Ambrose charges LaRussa, setting up a high-stakes trial showdown. Keera, a well-developed and nuanced lead, has an additional complication to deal with: a stranger, who knows she’s an accomplished chess player, emails her: “You’re in the game of your life, so play like your life depends on it... because it very well might.” Dugoni’s own litigation experience is put to good use in trial scenes that feel true-to-life. John Grisham fans will be pleased. Agent: Meg Ruley, Jane Rotrosen Agency. (Mar.)

Thomas Mann: New Selected Stories

Thomas Mann, trans. from the German by Damion Searls. Liveright, $30 hardcover (256p) ISBN 978-1-63149-848-0
Searls infuses the prose of Nobel laureate Mann (1875–1955) with momentum and energy in this excellent collection. English-language readers will find the humor and digressive appeal of Mann’s prose enhanced in modern classics such as “Chaotic World and Childhood Sorrow,” in which teen siblings mock their parents by calling them “the Elders” and a little girl named Lorrie sobs over her older crush, an engineering student named Max, while not yet understanding romantic love: “why...isn’t... Max . . . my brother? Max . . . should be . . . my brother.” Aschenbach, the 50-something author at the center Death in Venice, rationalizes his obsession with “beautiful boy” Tadzio, whom he meets at his island hotel, with comparisons to Greek heroes. A well-chosen excerpt from the novel Confessions of a Con Artist, by Felix Krull exhibits a connection between the title character, a peripatetic young man, and Mann’s other protagonists: “What a royal gift the imagination is, and what pleasure it affords us!” Felix narrates. Throughout, the characters are linked by their unspeakable desires, and their inner worlds are just as significant as, and often more so than, their actions. Scholars as well as those new to Mann will find much to appreciate in Searls’s stimulating approach. (Feb.)

Dangerous Women: Fifty Reflections on Women, Power, and Identity

Edited by Jo Shaw, Ben Fletcher-Watson, and Abrisham Ahmadzadeh. Unbound, $18.95 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-80018-064-2
“What does it mean to be a ‘dangerous woman’?” ask the contributors to this strong collection. Editors Shaw and Fletcher-Watson, who previously collaborated on The Art of Being Dangerous, join with Ahmadzadeh to bring together 50 selections from the University of Edinburgh’s Dangerous Women Project, which in 2016 solicited reflections from around the world on the “dynamics, conflicts, identities and power relations with which women live today.” Lebanese novelist Nada Awar Jarrar recalls a schoolmate who bristled against the anonymity of having to wear a hijab and the complex cultural considerations involved in her decision to stop, with Jarrar concluding that “a dangerous woman is one who... insists on remaining true to herself.” Other highlights explore such historical women as medieval Christian mystic Margery Kempe, whose pious behavior forced male officials to consider if persecuting her meant persecuting God, and the late medieval sex workers of Florence, whose participation in the semiregulated sex industry gave them legal recourse denied to most other women. The wide-ranging selections—which touch on ambivalence about maternity, the legacy of South African pop star Brenda Fassie, and the difficulty of getting a divorce in India—are rich with history and testify to the numerous ways women across the globe are challenging patriarchy. Invigorating and incisive, these provide food for thought. (Mar.)

A Day of Fallen Night

Samantha Shannon. Bloomsbury, $35 (880p) ISBN 978-1-63557-792-1
Shannon artfully builds on the world of The Priory of the Orange Tree with this masterful standalone prequel. Taking place centuries before the events of Priory, it’s an expansive epic that interweaves four connected story lines as the protagonists reckon with both personal conflicts and the cataclysmic resurgence of wyrmkind. Glorian Berethnet, teenage daughter to the queen of Inys, faces mounting pressure to conceive her own child and secure the line of succession. Wulfert Glenn, a foundling and housecarl sworn to Glorian’s father, the king of Hróth, struggles to cast off whispers of witchcraft that cling to him from his mysterious past. Meanwhile, Tunuva Melim, a warrior of the Priory, ventures into the outside world to pursue a runaway postulant whose relationship with an outsider puts their sanctuary at risk. And Dumai, raised in a secluded mountaintop temple, is thrown into a dangerous world of courtly intrigue when she learns she’s the firstborn daughter of Jorodu, Emperor of Seiiki. As roving monsters sow destruction throughout the realm, all must race to survive. Shannon skillfully grounds high-stakes fantasy action in human emotion and a mature exploration of duty, bodily autonomy, identity, and motherhood. Series fans and any reader looking for queernorm fantasy will be thrilled by this self-assured adventure. Agent: David Godwin, David Godwin Assoc. (Feb.)

Who Does that Bitch Think She Is?: Doris Fish and the Rise of Drag

Craig Seligman. PublicAffairs, $29 (352p) ISBN 978-1-5417-0216-5
Cultural critic Seligman (Sontag and Kael) delivers an illuminating history of drag performance through the life of drag queen Doris Fish. Born into a middle-class Catholic family in Sydney, Australia, in 1952, Fish (real name: Philip Mills) became a queer legend in San Francisco at the height of the AIDS pandemic. Drawing on candid and often hilarious interviews with Fish’s family and friends, Seligman recounts his emergence as a performer in Sylvia and the Synthetics, a “psycho troupe” of drag queens in Sydney, and his move to San Francisco in the 1970s, where he blossomed as a sex worker and performer in the drag shows Sluts a Go-Go and Nightclub of the Living Dead and the sci-fi drag film Vegas in Space. Fish’s “enormous libido” and wicked wit—after being diagnosed with AIDS, he held a tribute for himself called “Who Does That Bitch Think She Is?”—are on full display, and Seligman weaves in enlightening histories of the AIDS pandemic, Anita Bryant’s Save Our Children campaign, and more, while making a strong case for drag shows as political theater that “accomplish[ed] satire’s deepest dream: not just to rail against society, but to change it.” This smart, funny, and sexy queer history is a smash. Photos. (Feb.)

The Woman Who Climbed Trees

Smriti Ravindra. HarperVia, $27.99 (432p) ISBN 978-0-0632-4048-3
Ravindra debuts with a stunning chronicle of an Indian woman’s coming-of-age. The story opens with Meena, a 14-year-old girl from Darbhanga, preparing for her wedding to Manmohan, a 21-year-old Nepalese student. The night before the ceremony, a local barber’s wife gives Meena exquisitely detailed mehndi tattoos and tells her an ambiguous story about a young bride who takes to climbing a tree every night and is condemned as a witch. Though the story unnerves Meena, the barber’s wife encourages her to marry anyway, as a woman’s “life is in limbo until she marries and changes mother, motherland, home, name, affections.” In Kathmandu, where she moves alone while Manmohan finishes his education, misery sets in quickly. Meena falls hopelessly in love with her sister-in-law Kumud and loathes her absent husband. After several miscarriages, Meena gives birth to a son, and two years later, a daughter. Later, with Manmohan in the house, Meena cannot meet her husband’s exacting standards for cooking and cleaning, and the children witness their parents’ sometimes violent interactions. Ravindra stuffs the epic with wildly irreverent scenes, such as Meena giving up her fertility prayers and instead fantasizing about Bollywood stars. Many Indian and Nepali stories, songs, and myths anchor the narrative, and by the end, which circles back to the witch story, their meaning in relation to Meena becomes increasingly complex. This is electrifying. Agent: Stephanie Cabot, Susanna Lea Assoc. (Feb.)