Like everything else by Octavia Butler that I've ever read, this book is simultaneously masterful, eye-opening, and disturbing. On one hand we have Anyanwu, an immortal, black, female protagonist who places strong values on family--both found and blood--community, and humanity. On the other hand we have Doro, the male immortal who lives by killing, who brings communities of different people together to breed both prey and companions for him, and his domination over Anyanwu through threats to her children. It's uncomfortable, but real, to see a strong, competent, powerful woman have to submit to a monstrous man to stay alive and protect her family. Her power cannot save her or her family, and at first only marks her as a desirable target and brood mare to Doro, since he can kill her, and she cannot kill him.
You'd think, then, that this would be a book of despair. Anyanwu's dilemma closely tracks the dilemma of moral people facing off against unscrupulous opponents, or of oppressed people facing off against systematic oppression; one side has a line that they will not or cannot cross, while the other does whatever they need to in order to keep and exercise their power. One side has all the power, and the other side has none. However, there is hope at the end of this story of domination and threats, as compromised and dark as it might feel, because despite the power differential, despite the fact that Doro lives and Anyanwu has sacrified her independence, Anyanwu has won, because Anyanwu has changed the monster that she can't kill, has gained enough power over him to make the world a better place for those under Doro's thumb. It's grimly hopeful, much like the slow, incremental fight of progress towards a better world.
As you might be able to tell, I feel pretty strongly about this book, and that's entirely because of how much there is in here to consider. Butler deals deftly with issues of dominance and oppression, love and abuse, otherness and community, and does it without reducing them, so that at the end of the book you're left without any pat answers, but all sorts of important questions. I highly recommend that everyone read either this book, or something else by Octavia Butler. I have yet to read one of her books that fails to make me think hard about my assumptions.
5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.