REVIEW: Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Last Updated on March 8, 2024

In Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred, Dana discovers she can transport from the 1970’s to the 1800s, where her skin makes her a slave. One moment she’s unpacking in her new house with her husband Kevin, and the next moment she’s saving a child named Rufus from drowning. Fifteen seconds later in her own time, she’s back standing in front of her husband, having lived in 1815 for many minutes more than she’d been away.

Cover for Kindred by Octavia E. ButlerThis begins a series of time jumps where whenever Rufus is in danger, Dana is involuntary jumped back in time to save him. Only, he is the son of a plantation owner, and she is black. As she gets to know this boy, and then man, she hopes there is a chance her more modern values and her influence as his ongoing saviour might allow her to make the lives of the slaves on the plantation slightly better. Perhaps she can get some of them free.

Published in 1979, Kindred is a brilliant read, engaging and written in an easy style I could have read and appreciated back in my teens. What I would not have been prepared for in my teens—and what I probably still can’t fully appreciate as a relatively privileged adult living on the other side of the planet—is the deep, dark look at the horror of a slave’s plantation life. Watching Dana experience both her own ancestors in a life she’d only read about before, plus the slow movement of her mindset as she engaged Rufus over the years and slowly understood what it was like to have her humanity stripped away is just harrowing.

The characters in this book are its strength. From Dana, to Kevin, to Alice, Nigel, and finally Rufus. The fear, the strength, the hateful acceptance of the realities of their life and the repercussions of the failed attempts to better it. Butler doesn’t go into a tremendous amount of gory detail, but you picture it easily based on the knowledge Dana gives you about what happened. Rufus is where grimdark fans will want to get their teeth in a little bit. He’s a horrible human bred from a horrible system, but Dana’s impact and influence on him as he grows from boy to man to slave owner gives you a really good insight into his “why”. And as hard as that must have been to write as an African American author, she did an excellent job of making him a human, with all the aspects that make even the worst of us so.

From a protagonist and main storyline perspective, there isn’t much in the way of grimdark in this book, but I encourage every grimdark fan to give it a read. It’s an experience, and its root in American history makes it an important read in the fantasy genre. The juxtaposition between Dana’s worldview (from 1976) and the world she is teleported into is an excellently delivered concept.

Kindred is a magnificent read. A harrowing, horrible tale told brilliantly to make a significant point about a country’s history and the generational trauma carried across the centuries.

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Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins runs Grimdark Magazine and loves anything to do with telling darker stories. Doesn't matter the format, or when it was published or produced--just give him a grim story told in a dark world by a morally grey protagonist and this bloke's in his happy place. Add in a barrel aged stout to sip on after a cheeky body surf under the Australian sun, and that's his heaven.