I was wary of science fiction and fantasy until I read this novel. Since the novel opens with the narration of a man longing for a woman and walking across the earth to find her, I assumed that it will be a cute romance story about how love overcomes all obstacles. I was wrong. Very wrong. Instead, the story deals with issues of agency and power, slavery, death, loss and just so many dark issues, including a twisted Eugenics project (I’m trying really hard not to give any spoilers).
Summary: Doro is an entity who changes bodies like clothes, killing his hosts by reflex–or design. He fears no one–until he meets Anyanwu. Anyanwu has also died many times. She can absorb bullets and make medicine with a kiss, give birth to tribes, nurture and heal, and savage anyone who threatens those she loves. She fears no one–until she meets Doro. From African jungles to the colonies of America, Doro and Anyanwu weave together a pattern of destiny that not even immortals can imagine. (from goodreads)
I was impressed by Butler’s skill in discussing African issues in this novel. There are many references to Nigerian (Igbo) culture. From some of the characters names: Anyanwu, Nweke, Okoye, etc., to the brief discussion of ogbanje (children in Nigerian mythology who are believed to be ‘evil’ and born to their mothers in multiple incarnations). There were references to Igbo customs like breaking kola nut and drinking palm wine, and some of Anyanwu’s beliefs/statements sounded like something out of Nollywood, like something a Nigerian parent would say. I haven’t seen an American writer write so vividly and honestly about a culture that I am familiar with, in fact I don’t think some African authors write with the same level of depth. I just kept thinking about how much research Butler must have gone through to write this novel.
I was also amazed by Anyanwu’s shape-shifting ability. Sometimes, I try to imagine how my life would be different if I inhabited a different body, so it was interesting to see how it impacted Anyanwu’s life. She could turn herself into a white man during the slave trade to avoid harassment, or into a bird to fly wherever she pleased. It took me a while to finish the book though, I had to pace myself with all the sad things that happened, and I cried multiple times towards the end.
Nevertheless, it was a good read, and exposed me to the beauty of African sci-fi and fantasy. I think what discouraged me from speculative fiction was the idea of reading about unicorns and fairies (not really my style). Wild Seed showed me that there’s so much more. It was definitely a 5 star read.
Have you read Wild Seed or any of Octavia Butler’s works? What speculative fiction books would you recommend (for someone who’s relatively new to the genre)?