The first installment, the Philip K. Dick Award-winning The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, set the tone with a pandemic that destroyed civilization, leaving behind 10 men for every woman. To avoid rape and enslavement in this male-dominated landscape, the eponymous midwife must present herself as a man to survive.
In the next volume, The Books of Etta, set a century later, gender remains fraught but the rules have changed. The midwife’s legacy lives on in the town of Nowhere, where women are decision-makers and leaders. In this evolved world, Etta is allowed to choose the traditionally male job of raider, although she must still pretend to be a man to travel across a sparsely populated Midwest. Fortunately, this isn’t as heavy a lift for Etta as it had been for the midwife since Etta prefers to be called Eddie and identifies as male.
The notion of choice is one that Elison takes a step further in the trilogy’s latest and final installment, The Book of Flora. Assigned male gender at birth, Flora was castrated as a youth by a slaver, and, as an adult, identifies as female. Although she doesn’t always find acceptance among the communities she encounters, she refuses to hide her gender identity even when traveling alone, preferring the risk of being female to hiding who she is.