Oof. I’ve been letting the team down. And, it hasn’t been because I haven’t been reading (as anyone who follows me on goodreads knows). It also hasn’t been because I haven’t been writing. This review has been in draft for a month. But, this review has been a long time coming for the following reason: I can’t believe I’m going to review this amazing book with a narrative that centers on the experiences of an African-American woman talking about a white male character. But, I am.
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler is the story of a woman named Dana who is sent back in time to the antebellum South. She is pulled there by an ancestor who is, to put it mildly, not very good at taking care of himself. Over the course of the narrative, we are introduced over and over again to the horrors of slavery in an intimate and heartbreaking way. This book was amazing for it’s tension and suspense. I loved Dana and I wanted to know what happened to her. I was scared for her and I wanted there to be a happy ending. But, it is also uncomfortable. If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “but there were good slave owners”, this fictional story might be a good way into interrogating those feelings because, even when an overseer or owner was fair, any outcome that involves owning another person is horrific.
Spoilers behind the cut.
In an effort to get out of my house and interact with something that isn’t my dissertation or my cats I have joined a book club. This is our pick for June. We meet tomorrow. Guess what I’m doing after I finish another hour of dissertation work?
A woman wakes up burned, shot, and with broken bones in a cave. She can’t remember who she is. She can’t remember how she got there. She can only remember the pain and some instinctual things like a need to eat. Slowly, she’s able to find food and put some things together. She finds the remains of a burned village. She hunts some deer. She wanders down a road and meets Wright and slowly starts to put the pieces together of who and what she is when she bites Wright and drinks his blood. She is part of a vampire race but she is special. She has been genetically engineered with a little human DNA so that she can be alert during the day and she has much more tolerance to the sun. She’s also dark-skinned, something that isn’t true about her people. Without knowing who she is or what happened to her (and the others? are the others like her?) she has to figure out what happened to her home. While trying to figure out what happened to her to make her have amnesia she meets her father who tells her that her name is Shori and explains why she is so special. Shori and her father begin the investigation into what happened to her and her family. Clearly there was a fire, but what caused it? Shori is put on the the path to solving the mystery of her destroyed community and bringing the perpetrators to justice.
This was a thrilling vampire novel, certainly the best one I’ve read since Sunshine by Robin McKinley. Since the main character has amnesia, we discover things about her species and her world as she does. You start to wonder pretty early on if what has happened to her is garden variety people hunting vampires, or garden variety people being racists asshats or something worse. When she is shocked and horrified by the behavior of humans and other vampires, we are, too. There is so much to say about this book but I don’t want to spoil anything (and I really want to do it justice if I’m going to analyze the themes of the book) so I won’t go into details. I will however say that this book could be a model for all of paranormal romance (even though it wasn’t a romance). I was so pleased with how it dealt with issues of consent that are so often missing from novels about vampires.
This book was so enjoyable and so wonderful and I can’t gush about it enough. Seriously. You should go read it. Now. You should read it now.