Some more thoughts on The Gate to Women’s Country, all entirely non-spoilery. Or maybe less about this book in particular and more about, well, let me get to that.
I have read a large number of books that left me wanting more when they were over. More books in a series, more information about the world that was created, more information about the characters or their families or their earlier adventures. Sometimes I have questions, maybe a mystery was left unsolved, or maybe something mysterious happened in the past that drove a character to do something, but that mysterious thing was never explained. I usually consider this a good thing, even if it’s mildly (at best) frustrating. It meant I was fully engaged. I want to know more. The author did something right, and if I’m lucky, I’ll get those answers in later books. I’m not always so lucky. Robin McKinley is a good example. Off the top of my head, I can name three books of hers, all stand-alone novels, set in three distinct worlds. All three books were complete on their own*, but the worlds in those books had histories, the families had problems, and the books were about one event, one adventure, just one snippet of those worlds. I want to know more about those worlds and those characters. What was the cataclysmic event that happened to the world in Shadows before the story that was written began? How did a world that was basically our own turn into that world? In Sunshine, what is up with the main character’s family? It’s clearly important to her character, but wasn’t necessary information for the story itself so it’s only hinted at, not included. I don’t remember having a lot of questions after I read Dragonhaven, but I want more family history AND more dragons, please.
The Gate to Women’s Country falls on the opposite end of the spectrum. Everything is explained at the end, even a few things that the very smart main character should have already figured out. Some of it is explained to the main character, some of it is explained to someone else, but all of it is explained, and I find it very satisfying. No loose ends. No open questions (except the reader’s own questions about the future of this civilization, which are totally acceptable). There’s clarity at the end, the kind that makes you go back and re-read the first few pages now that you’ve been enlightened. Sheri S. Tepper tends to do that, to lay everything out for the reader at the end, to spell out the things you’ve suspected or point out the things you missed.
I don’t know which approach I prefer. I like it when things are wrapped up neatly. I like knowing everything there is to know about a fictional universe. (There’s a reason I own two companion guides each to Anne McCaffrey’s Pern and Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time.) On the other hand, hinting at the richness of another world leaves so much scope for the imagination. I find it harder to let those books go and move into something else, and I can’t think that’s a bad thing.
*I’m not talking about books without resolutions, like one by an author I really like that is billed as a mystery and that moves like a mystery and HAS a mystery in it but is really just a cover for character development so it ends WITHOUT SOLVING THE MYSTERY.