In this very complex story, you meet three very different women from Toronto, Canada: Tony, Charis, and Roz. You learn about their pasts and what makes them tick. What they have in common, what binds them, is being manipulated and betrayed by the evil witch of the story, Zenia, The Robber Bride.
The story's title is a reference to the fairy tale, The Robber Bridegroom. The characters themselves are meant to mirror fairy tale characters. Tony is Rapunzel, Charis is Sleeping Beauty, and Roz is Cinderella. Zenia is the wandering orphan, the dangerous rootless wanderer, the prince-less one. The references make perfect sense as you get to know the characters.
Zenia is an enigma. Her past is explained many times, by Zenia herself to the other women. But what parts of her self proclaimed history are fact and which are fiction? Zenia invents herself again and again in different ways for the other characters of the story, but you never know for sure who or what she really is except a disturbed and intriguing personality. At some point in their lives, Zenia has burned each of the main characters; seducing husbands/significant others, lying, betraying, causing general chaos against the other women for her own mysterious reasons. Also at some point, each character dreams of Zenia. Or in Charis's case, has a vision of her. "..Charis's astral body falls to its knees, raising imploring hands to the astral body of Zenia, which burns red, a red crown of flames like spiky leaves or old fashioned pen nibs flaring around her head, with emptiness at the centre of each flame", page 221. Tony, Charis, and Roz end up both admiring, fearing, and despising Zenia at different times, seeing themselves in her in spite of it.
I'm not so sure what a male reader might get out of this story. I loved it myself and identified with different bits of each character. But I have a feeling this kind of feminism might only be able to be understood by women.
"The story of Zenia is insubstantial, ownerless, a rumour only, drifting from mouth to mouth and changing as it goes. As with any magician, you saw what she wanted you to see; or else you saw what you yourself wanted to see. She did it with mirrors. The mirror was whoever was watching, but there was nothing behind the two-dimensional image but a thin layer of mercury", page 509.