I was saddened to discover that Butler died in 2006, and that this was her last novel. I heard her read maybe ten years ago, and was profoundly impressed.
This is a vampire story, but in typical Butler fashion. she rearranges the vampire metaphors to speak strongly to race, sex, privilege and the like. It's a first person narrative, told from the perspective of a young vampire who's lost her memory in a terrible attack. The first person thing is tricky, because the narrator often doesn't freak out about the things I find deeply disquieting. I'm still not sure what I think about certain choices, but partially because Butler made those choices to upset me, and left me swinging in the air. There is no narrator-ly gloss on the events, which is a fascinating kind of restraint.
Butler's vampires are a separate species. We cannot turn into them or they into us. They are predators. Often, when authors even have a real sense of the vampire's predatory nature (and Twilight
does NOT count) they turn them into beasties, with red teeth and the smell of the charnel house. I think we forget that we are predators, really the best on the planet, the killingest thing that nature has produced. You can go out and find thousands of individual instances where this is not true, but hunting culture
is full of love and respect for the animal, one that Butler twists in a seriously satisfying way.
And that's not even getting into animal husbandry. Even the term itself, the source of countless immature puns, highlights our very real marriage
with the source of our food, a complex nexus of love and sex and blood and death. Due to the first person thing, I think, I was tricked into identifying with the vampire. Late in the novel, I flipped, when the masks slipped, and I saw myself as one of the cattle, collected, tagged, loved, but ultimately a non-actor, a creature whose life could be manipulated. The predator is in charge; it's prey is not.
As I think may be usual for me reading Butler's stuff, I loved her ideas while not being that excited by her prose. It's stiff, sort of, topical, maybe, with clunky dialogue and iffy characterization. The big vampire conference/trial felt done-before or Perry Masonish or something, and left me cold. I'm just bereft though, that Butler died before she could finish this series, as this book charts some interesting territory, and ends in an incompleteness that is intentional, but now historically frustrating. What were you going to do next, Octavia?