Parable of the Talents is a direct sequel to Octavia E. Butler's fantastic novel, 'Parable of the Sower'. 'Talents' stands as an excellent book by itself, having garnered a Nebula award for best novel. Together these two books comprimise the 'Earthseed' series chronicling the birth of a new faith in post-apocalyptic America, and it's charismatic messiah, Lauren Olamina.
Similar to the previous book, The story in 'Talents' is told through the personal journal entries of Laruen. This time around however, there's more of a retrospective look, as parts are narrated by her grown daughter, unnamed at first, but referred to as Larkin later in the book.
Taken from her mother soon after her birth, Larkin spent much of her life with no idea who her mother was, and her relationship to the rapidly growing 'cult' of Earthseed. After her discovery, Larkin is somewhat confused about her feelings towards her mother, and her one-minded pursuit of spreading Earthseed. In an effort to understand her, and out of respect for her dedication, she share's Lauren Olamina's journals with us.
It's difficult to fully explain the plot without revealing some of the shocking surprises Butler has laid in store, so what follows will only be a short summary of the opening events of the novel.
After arriving at Acorn, a plot of land belonging to Laruen's husband Bankole, the Earthseed wanderers establish a small community. Through trade with the community, and their willingness to help, Acorn begins to prosper and the Earthseed community grows larger. Bankole begins to grow uncomfortable, worried their increasing size will draw the wrong kind of attention. Recently, the Church of Christian America has risen to prominence. An ultra conservative group, it persecutes other religions, in particular 'cults', such as Earthseed. Perhaps his concerns are warranted, as a prominent church member named Andrew Steele Jarrett is seeking election to the office of President.
Similar to the first book, the religion of Earthseed is sown throughout the book, which can be a bit of a burden on a reader simply looking for the excellent story, and not necessarily the attendant ideology. The novel is scattered with excerpts from 'Earthseed: The Books of the Living' which can be interesting to read, and contribute to the overall atmosphere of the novel.
True to form, Butler's characters are excellent. Lauren, of course is completely fleshed out, and we insights into every aspect of her mind and her motivations for her sometimes illogical actions. With any book narrated from the perspective of a single character, it's a challenge to provide a supporting cast that approaches the protagonist in terms of complexity. However, Butler manages very well indeed, and the reader is gifted with wonderfully drawn heroes and villains. Lauren's long lost brother Marcus is a special treat, as Lauren and Larkin's perspectives on his character differ greatly, and the reader is left to decide exactly where the truth lies.
In a similar vein as 'Parable of the Sower', 'Talents' is full of tragedy and despair, although again, there's an underlying vein hope. The entire novel is written in a dark manner and time and time again hopes are crushed characters are destroyed. Butler paints a surreal portrait of a broken America, and people scrabbling in the dust to try and rebuild their lives. The book is interspersed with bits of history, politcs, and science, all combining to paint a vivid picture of Lauren Olamina's world. As gloomy as the novel tends to be, the ending manages to be much more upbeat, without sacrificing any of the dark intensity of the novel.
The two 'Earthseed' books are a pleasure to read, truly an excercise in masterful writing. A story of hope in a grim future, they are replete with meticulously crafted atmosphere and three dimensional characters. 'Parable of the Talents' is a wonderful finish to what Octavia E. Butler began in 'Parable of the Sower', and is truly a masterpiece of modern fiction.