Red-cloaked handmaids marched in silence down a central London street ahead of the launch of Margaret Atwood’s new book, The Testaments.
The highly anticipated sequel is set about 15 years later in the same fictional universe as The Handmaid’s Tale, which has seen enormous popularity through its adaptation into a hit Netflix series.
Set in the republic of Gilead, the dystopian tale centres around three women who share their experiences as its toxic power structure starts to rot from within.
The novel is inspired by readers’ questions over the 34 years since The Handmaid’s Tale first hit the shelves, as well as “the world we’ve been living in”, Atwood has said.
In a statement last year, the author said: “Dear Readers: Everything you’ve ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book. Well, almost everything. The other inspiration is the world we’ve been living in.”
Six handmaids and two Pearl Girls dressed in silver walked through the doors of the Waterstones bookstore in Piccadilly shortly after 8pm on Monday night, followed by around 400 guests.
Green, blue and white placards reading “Free the women of Gilead” and “Reading and writing are human rights” lined the storefront to mark the launch.
Fans were enjoying a “one-night festival” of speeches, crafts and Atwood appreciation, washed down by themed cocktails.
Atwood is making an appearance later, treating fans to a short reading from the novel’s 432 pages as the clock ticks down to midnight.
Rosie Smeaton, 28, was one of the first dozen in the queue and was treated to the tickets as a birthday present.
The life-long Atwood fan from Wanstead, east London, said: “I have loved The Handmaid’s Tale since I was about 14. It’s terrifying and I adore it, and when I found out there was going to be a new book I nearly lost my mind.
“It feels like we are regressing with women’s rights a little bit, and we are not where we would like to be, and I think the message is even more important now than it has been for a while.”
The book is shortlisted for this year’s Booker Prize, after requiring an “extraordinarily complex” process of non-disclosure agreements so the judging panel could read it before publication.
Atwood, 79, previously won the prize for The Blind Assassin in 2000.