The Women's War, by Jenna Glass (Del Rey)
Reminiscent of both C.L. Polk’s The Midnight Bargain and Louise Marley’s The Terrorists of Irustan, this world’s women, although as capable as men of using magic, are denied its practice. Their value lies in the marriage alliances they can bring and the magic their sons may inherit. In the dominant Western European-style realm, even women from rich and aristocratic families are treated as chattel, discarded at whim into The House of the Unwanted and a life of prostitution and economic slavery. The story weaves together the lives of a number of women caught in different ways in this pernicious system: the widowed daughter of a king, despised by her half-brother and desperate to protect her children; one of the Unwanted, thrust from sex slavery into leadership, for which she feels singularly unprepared; the despised wife of the heir to the throne who sees her only worth in her unborn child; the princess royal of a small kingdom, destined to save her people by sacrificing love for marriage.
The world changes dramatically when several kinswomen, who have been practicing and refining their magic secretly, enact a curse over all the realms, and then perish. With their deaths, no one can reverse what they have done. The curse ensures that no woman shall be pregnant unwillingly. Across the realms, women who are not truly willing to bear children either miscarry or fail to conceive.
Political chaos threatens. Scapegoated and then exiled, the surviving Unwanted journey to a barren land, that guarantees extreme hardship and poverty. What they discover there will change their world even more than the curse.
The women and their plight, their courage, and most of all, the way they learn to work together swept me up from the first chapter.