The long sought-for sequel, set about 15 years later, to the brilliant "Handmaid's Tale"...
... and I'm not sure we actually needed it.
Gilead has fallen - and how that came to be is told from 3 points of view: Aunt Lydia, Agnes/Hannah who grows up in Gilead and Daisy/Nicole who learns of her origins after her adoptive parents are killed and is sent to Gilead on a mission for mayday.
And while the story that is told is certainly interesting and gripping, there are certain parts that are either repetitive or simply unbelievable (and/or unbelievably naive).
The first question is how much of the TV-series "The Handmaid's Tale" is canon. Atwood is part of the series' consulting team, but there are inconsistencies: Lydia's background for example (in season 3 she's a discontent teacher who's sort of disgusted by her own female nature and sexual urges - here, she's a judge till Gilead takes over and she's faced with the choice to either submit or be killed), how Nic(h)ole's name's written, the way Hannah doesn't remember her mother at all (she wasn't so young as to not remember meeting her in season 2)...
Anyway, the book taken for itself, Lydia keeps meticulous records of everything that goes on in Gilead and is sort of the person who sets everything in motion once Daisy is finally found. It's she who built the whole aunt-sphere in the first place, she who has dirt on everyone, she who arranges marriages, she who admits girls as aunt-supplicants. Of course, the details almost mentionned in passing are as gruesome as ever: commanders killing their wives, pedophilia, arranged child-marriages, murders, perjury... all just to have all the pieces in their places to finally be able to overthrow this corrupt system.
To be honest, once I decided to keep books and TV-series apart, Lydia's story became more relatable. I can distantly see that she doesn't buy completely into the idea of Gilead but sort of positioned herself to be able to act later on when opportunity would present itself. This doesn't make her acts any more palatable or excusable, not at all. But I can see her path as one option out of the pitiful collection she had when Gilead took over.
That Hannah and Nicole would serve as the messengers to the final destruction... seems more convenient name-dropping than true plot-driven necessity. Especially the fact that mayday chooses Nicole who just learned of her true origins, learned about Gilead at school or through the refugee work of her adoptive parents... in short, is absolutely not trained to fit in at all in a misogynistic system, making the whole mission sort of a hail-Mary adventure... and then both sisters meeting... it feels contrived and scratches the edge of credibility or cliché. Why would Lydia's meticulous plans rely on such an untested girl? Moreover, using her and simultaneously implying that June eventually escaped and has worked for Mayday raises the question of why she never approached her daughter. Hannah, on the other hand, could have been substituted by any other Gilead-educated girl. And she remains bland to the end.
Overall... it was a good book, yes... but it leaves more questions than it answers... questions that didn't need to be raised, not even in the hype over the TV-series.