I read this book for calico_reaction's Alphabet Soup book club. I've heard of Octavia E. Butler in the past and she's been an author who I've kept on my radar. This was the perfect excuse to read something by her, and I was lucky that my local library carried this title (though I didn't get it until closer to the end of the month because brought it back almost a month late.) I'm a bit on the fence about this title: there were some things I liked and a few other things I wasn't so fond of.
I loved Butler's vampire/Ina lore. Her vampires just made a lot more sense to me than most vampires do. The whole system they have set-up is logical, what with the symbionts (humans who are bound to vampires and are a source of blood for said vampire), as opposed to the typical vampire myth, in which when a vampire bites a human, said human usually either a) dies or b) becomes a vampire themselves. The different ways that the symbionts were perceived by the Ina was interesting and realistic as well. Some Ina have very deep and personal bonds with their symbionts whereas other Ina that are more purist see more them as property.
Shori was a very likable character, but I found her to be almost too perfect, in terms of her personality (as far as looks go, she is never described as being gorgeous or anything like that, probably because she looks so young.) She's ethical, rational, reasonable, super kind to her symbionts and everyone else around her, and almost everyone takes to her immediately. It's not a problem exactly, but I like my characters to be a little flawed for some reason. The only flaw Shori is ever described of having is a temper, which really, wasn't that much of a temper to me.
The plot itself was really dull I found. There's a murder mystery, as some organization keeps murdering off Shori's family. There was no tension as to who was committing these murders though. The first suspect ends up being the perpetrator and it's a huge family of purist Ina assholes. They were very dull villains that lacked any depth and were evil pretty much for the sake of being evil.
Butler brings up a lot of interesting and provocative issues with the Ina bonding to humans. When Ina take to a human, they inject their saliva into the human as well as their teeth. The saliva has a very addictive component, eventually making the humans dependent on their Ina. The line between free-will and control are really blurred here, and as much as Shori didn't WANT to control her Ina, it was hard to tell how much of a pull her spit was having on their choices. This was most obvious with Wayne of course. I couldn't ever decide if he was actually attracted to Shori and wanted to be with her, or if it was just Shori's saliva that was pulling him to her. I have a feeling it was the latter, because of a lot of things he let slip when Shori wasn't around.
Speaking of that, I have to point that I found Shori and Wayne's sexual relationship *really* weird. I tried to have an open-mind, and I realize it was because of the Shori's saliva that Wayne felt like that about her at all, and that Shori was actually 50-something and not 11, but the point is, she LOOKED 11-12 years old and Wayne lusted after her and has sex with her several times throughout the course of the novel. I'm not a squirmish person, especially when it comes to alternative sexual behavior (you can see my review of Dust by Elizabeth Bear, which deals with this issue quite heavily) but this just crossed a line with me and legitimately weirded me out.
The other sexual issues dealt with in the book were a little more to my liking though. The comparison of the symbiont-Ina relationship to a polygamous marriage is very apt. The tensions between the different symbionts was handled realistically and I thought it was a great element to the story.
The one thing that really bogged this whole book down for me though was the info-dumping. Shori has lost her memories and doesn't remember anything of her Ina heritage, so characters are constantly dumping copious amounts of information and background information on the Ina. I know it was necessary, but I found it a little heavy-handed. Also, Shori has to tell her story about losing her memory about 3-4 times and it's not explained every time in detail, but it was still something that grated on my nerves a little bit.
Final Verdict: Butler's vampire lore was very well handled and I liked it quite a bit. It's very different from the typical vampire mythology presented in most vampire books, and it made a lot of sense. The relationship between the humans and the vampires/Ina was also very well-treated and presented a variety of issues that were at times interesting and other times a little nauseating. The only thing that really turned me off from this book was I found there was a little too much info-dumping for my liking and the villains of the story ended up being very two-dimensional and dull. I haven't read any other of Butler's titles, but I do still plan to, despite my discrepancies with this title.