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Saturday, April 26, 2014

Guest Review: KINDRED by Octavia E. Butler (Beacon, 2004)

Guest Review by Gina Denny. Read her Goodreads reviews here and follow her on twitter @ginad129

From Amazon: Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana's life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.

Audience: Adult
Genre: Historical, Fantasy
Length: 288 pgs

Rating: *****

Review: I had a hard time deciding where to place this book on my shelves: I mean, obviously, there's a major historical element, as 90% of the book takes place in the antebellum South. But the main character is a modern black woman who travels back in time via a preternatual link she shares with a slave owner. Time travel would normally make a story science fiction automatically, right? But there's no feat of physics here, and the "science" mimics magic more than anything... and that's how I landed on "historical" and "fantasy" as the genre classification. 

This is the second speculative fiction novel I've read in a row in which the speculative elements were so subtle that they were almost unnoticeable. The story is character-driven, full of beautiful prose that isn't usually found in spec fic at all. I want to call it a literary novel with minor speculative elements - though it often gets sold as science-fiction. 

(Side note: black woman wrote and sold "science fiction" in the 1970s... why are we still dickering about with pen names and the whole "girls can't write sci-fi" nonsense at cons???)

Back to this book: It was beautiful. Poignant, powerful, and just gorgeously written. The protagonist, Dana, is strong with being a Strong Female Character. She just... is. She knows what is right and what she is entitled to, but she has limits and the story pushes her to those limits over and over again. 

I also love how... confused? Is that the right word? Maybe conflicted is better... I love how conflicted she was about her place and her position in the slave-holding South. She knew it was wrong, but she understood how easy it was to be manipulated, coerced, and forced to do things you knew were wrong. So powerfully presented. 

Don't get me wrong - this wasn't a "Gone with the Wind" sort of presentation of slavery. It was brutal, honest, and graphic. But it was also incredibly human. Lives were involved - not just statistics and faceless stories. I shed a lot of tears during this book. 

I'm definitely going to pull some more books by this author, I want to see what else she has to say.

Violence 5/5: This was tough to rate. The violence isn't gory (like Goodkind or Martin), but it is horrific. Cold-blooded, vicious. Murder, suicide, hangings, whippings, beatings, casual violence. Multiple rapes happen off-screen. 

Sex 1/5: One really, really vague reference to the fact that a man and wife missed each other and didn't get to sleep until late one night. Allusions to the fact that they were "practically living together" before they were married. 

Language 4/5: Lots of uses of the N-word. All in a historical context, and the modern character discusses her displeasure of it repeatedly, but still. It's a lot. A handful of lesser words, and the B-word is tossed about several times too. 

Substance Abuses 1/5: A character gets drunk once. Whiskey is passed around at a party.
Overall Rating: PG-16* 

* * *

Gina Denny is a fantasy & sci-fi writer. Flipping fairy tales upside down, reimagining classics, and obsessing over something new every week. Ravenclaw. Mormon. Homeschooler.

*I gave the rating based on Gina's description of content

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About Me!

I've been writing since I was old enough to grasp a crayon--my grandma even has an early copy of a "book" I made her. I have a bachelor's degree in history from the University of Wyoming and will (hopefully) soon be starting a graduate program in English. When I'm not breaking up impromptu UFC fights in the living room or losing miserably to my boys at Uno, I'm ... well, writing or editing, of course! I'm married to my best friend, and we have three rambunctious but simply amazing little boys.


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