In Manhunt, author Gretchen Felker-Martin highlights the people that gender-based dystopias (think Patrick Ness’ The Knife of Never Letting Go or Naomi Alderman’s The Power) generally gloss over. When a new plague washes over the globe, it specifically targets those with high levels of testosterone, turning them into uncontrollable creatures who only live for sexual violence and murder.
Fran and Beth are trans women who’ve been surviving by mutilating these creatures and eating their organs, which are valuable sources of estrogen that keep the deadly testosterone at bay. This way of life is risky business, and if not for Robbie, a trans man who Beth quips is “the last man on earth,” they would have met certain death at the hands of a ravaging pack of feral men. Together, the three of them find a sanctuary from the apocalypse that looks a little too good to be true: an underground bunker ruled by an eccentric billionaire with ulterior motives. If only a militant and well-armed group of TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) would stop trying to gun them—and everyone else who doesn’t fit into a biologically essentialist narrative—down.
Felker-Martin’s prose thrives in this world of intense bodily preoccupation. She describes everything from the DIY removal of a character’s broken tooth to an enthusiastic sex scene with a character on their period. Consider this description of the feral creatures at the book’s center: “Seams of [raw flesh] glistened like meaty lava flows between the shifting tectonic plates of their hides.” Felker-Martin revels in both the disturbing and the erotic, crafting a picture of a dangerous world where one’s own body can either kill you at any moment or give you intense catharsis in the midst of a crumbling society. Manhunt explicitly depicts harrowing scenes of rape and bodily harm, but it is also at times incredibly tender, as in this line where Robbie contemplates the fate of other trans men in this dystopia: “They were out there, making their own manhood in the wreckage of the world.”
Original and unabashed, Manhunt is unafraid to be messy as it cultivates a flawed and intriguing cast of characters, centering voices that have been previously unheard in dystopian fiction.