Jul 13, 2016


by Octavia Butler

The narrator wakes up alone, in the dark, with a severe head injury and a desperate hunger. She has no idea where she is, what has happened to her, or even her own name. She feeds on animals she catches (craving raw meat) and slowly healing, starts walking out of the forest. Gradually the names of items around her come back, and she starts to make sense of the world. But other things she cannot recall, so when she first meets a human she has no idea of their differences. She stumbles through the world unknowing, and so does the reader along with her.

She is Ina. An ancient species that lives by feeding on human blood, that cannot stand the daylight, that has extra-heightened senses and strength. Vampires, but not exactly the same as those in human folklore (even the characters in the book have misconceptions of the Ina). For example, they can't convert humans into their own kind, they are not undead, they raise their young and live in family groups separated by gender. The main character here- who looks like she's ten but in Ina years she's over fifty- gradually learns about herself as she comes across others of her own kind. It's an urgent matter, because almost as soon as she discovers what she is and where her people are, she finds out that someone is very seriously trying to kill them, and maybe they are targeting her in particular. Because it turns out she's not quite like the others of her kind. Her skin is darker and she can walk around in the daytime. She barely understands herself what these differences mean, but it's very apparent that someone else finds them threatening.

I liked the idea behind this book, and the themes it explores. Especially how it showed the Ina creating symbiotic relationships with the people they fed on- becoming bonded, giving something of value to the humans in return. Their social structure is different from what I expected, and it takes the humans in the story time to adjust to that as well.  Her first human partner is a grown man but oddly enough I didn't find it disturbing to read descriptions of this to-all-appearances pre-pubsecent girl being in such a relationship. I suppose because I expected a vampire story to be creepy or disturbing in some way. And this one doesn't really have any gross factors. But the other reason might be because I never really felt connected to the characters, it never felt real or engaging. The prose often felt stiff, the descriptions were not of things that interested me, and even though the backstory and explanations came through other characters, it felt like they were just there to do that: lots of people standing around telling each other stuff, in the most deadpan ways. I admit I skipped an entire chapter in the middle because I was loosing interest, then picked up reading again and skimmed more near the end.

Read more about it in the reviews linked to below- I didn't even tell you some of the more interesting points because I'm tired now.

Rating: 2/5        316 pages, 2005

more opinions:
Things Mean a Lot
Speculative Book Review
Amy Reads
Savidge Reads
Rhapsody in Books
Literary Omnivore


bermudaonion said...

I'm not into vampires or supernatural so I'll probably skip this book.

Thistle said...

I've learned the hard lesson to only buy one book from a new author, then buy more if I like it. I discovered her before learning that rule. Someone had raved so strongly about her books that I bought TWELVE of them even though I never previously read a single word she wrote. First book didn't work for me, second didn't work... finally I put them all aside.

A couple years back, got an ebook by her, and it too didn't work for me. Eventually I donated all those books, most unread. She just doesn't seem like an author who works for me.

It sounds like this book follows that trend.

Jeane said...

I read two or three of her books in my college years- and liked them ok at that point. But I remember having the same dissatisfied feeling, like I didn't quite connect w/the characters or enjoy it. It disappoints me, as I really like the premises she comes up with.

Turns out this was the last book she published before passing away. Some other readers said too bad, it felt like the first of a series that will now never be completed.

I borrowed this one from the library- forgot to make note of that in my post!

Stefanie said...

I love Butler! I have had this book on my shelf for ages because it is the last one she published before he untimely death and I haven't been able to bring myself to read it.

Thistle said...

That's the same reaction I had had, too: I like the ideas she comes up with, but I never seem to connect with her characters.

Jenny @ Reading the End said...

I've been nervous to read Octavia Butler ever since I didn't get on great with Kindred. It was fine! Just not for me! And I don't want to get a definitive answer on whether I like or dislike Octavia Butler, really, because I'm afraid it'll be that I don't like her. I prefer this state of limbo I am currently in! :p