Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler: A-

From the back cover:
Lauren Olamina’s love is divided among her young daughter, her community, and the revelation that led Lauren to found a new faith that teaches “God is Change.” But in the wake of environmental and economic chaos, the U.S. government turns a blind eye to violent bigots who consider the mere existence of a black female leader a threat. And soon Lauren must either sacrifice her child and her followers—or forsake the religion that can transform human destiny.

Parable of the Talents picks up five years after the end of Parable of the Sower. Lauren has successfully established an Earthseed community named Acorn, home to about sixty people. They’re self-sufficient and doing well until a well-organized group of crusading Christians arrives to wipe out their heathen ways. Acorn gets turned into Camp Christian, its members enslaved, and its children (including Lauren’s newborn daughter) “rescued” and given to Christian families. The rest of the novel chronicles Lauren’s attempts to find her daughter while trying to ensure that Earthseed succeeds.

The story is told in excerpts from Lauren’s journals, as well from writings of her husband and brother. These selections were chosen by Lauren’s now-adult daughter, who introduces each segment while gradually providing more information about her own life. The daughter finds a lot of fault in Lauren’s actions, especially Lauren’s refusal to heed her husband’s request that they move and raise their child in a more established community. Feeling like she always came second to Earthseed, the daughter is resentful.

I love that we get not only Lauren’s first person explanation of her actions and motivations but also a dissenting voice, critical of the protagonist’s flaws and failings. There’s a great line where the daughter says that if her mother had created Acorn, peaceful haven for the homeless and desperate, but not Earthseed, she would’ve been able to find her a wholly admirable person. I’ve not seen this kind of framework before—protagonist’s story interspersed with unstinting criticism of protagonist. It’s interesting and I admire it a lot.

There are a few things that bug me a little, though. The cultish creepiness of Earthseed is more apparent, now, with established rituals, ceremonies, and hymns, but this is balanced by the daughter’s obvious disdain for the movement. Also, it seems that every Christian man (and practically every man, period) is a hypocrite, molester, or sadist. The ending is also rather rushed, but nonetheless ends on a very satisfying note.

Dark, grim, and fascinating, this duology has been a very good read. I recommend it.

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