Wild Seed (Patternmaster #1) by Octavia E. Butler
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.
Published: February 1st 1999 by Warner Books (first published 1980)
Just when I think I’ve found my favourite Octavia Butler book, I read another one that leaves me reeling. Ever since Parable of the Sower, I’ve been determined to find the rest of her books. I’m thankful for interlibrary loans. I actually didn’t know too much about Wild Seed before I picked it up. As I read on, I found it revolved around the volatile relationship of two (more or less) immortal characters and the power struggles between them.
When the shape-shifting healer Anyanwu meets the murderous immortal creature Doro in Africa during the late 17th century, they are both wary of each other. Anyanwu has lived only a few centuries long whereas Doro has had a much longer life and in many ways, a much more inhuman one.
Anyanwu’s reflex transformation into a leopard form to protect herself or her family is a tense sight to behold. Her regenerative and healing powers are also explored in a fascinating way. However, Anyanwu’s strength, resilience and refusal to be treated any less because of she is a woman, frustrates Doro at times. There is a running thread/commentary on patriarchy, misogyny, power and domestic violence in this book too.
Doro and Anyanwu operate on different moral codes but are paradoxically linked through their long, seemingly endless lives. Doro is one of the most chilling fictional creatures I’ve met. He has many sociopathic tendencies and resorts to emotional manipulation. Anyanwu is quick to identify when this is happening.
Doro is fixated on breeding a perfect race of beings with control over their powers, so that everything else to him (if it registers at all on a moral scale) is secondary. Slavery, consent, violence and the well-being of the people he collects are secondary issues, which makes him ruthless and sickening to Anyanwu and the reader.
I was torn between perceiving Doro as an entity largely removed from humanity and an entity with the capacity to regain human aspects. I was left wondering if my standards of judgement would apply to him either way, especially when that full circle ending had me churning over his character again.
I admire how Butler builds the most layered characters and explores their stories in extreme scenarios, which shake and question the core of her characters. I’ve read many stories about people with super powers but this one definitely veers into the horror lane. Butler’s books can be grim but the interrogation of survival also paradoxically highlights how crucial the need for hope can be.
This compelling fantasy story initially takes place in Africa in the late 17th century before moving across the sea to the colonies of America in the mid-19th century. I recommend it to fans of science fiction/fantasy – especially historical fantasy.
*Wild Seed has many grim moments, so trigger warnings for violence, incest, rape, slavery, attempted suicide and abuse.
*I’ll try to share more thoughts as I read the Patternmaster series for the first time. This non-fiction book prompted me to explore a bit more of Butler’s work.