This is the last book in Butler’s Patternist series chronologically, though I’m reading it first since it was her first published. It’s more interesting to me to see how her story developed according to our own timeline, and thankfully the story stands on its own well enough without any additional background. It’s a rather slight book by itself, but it punches above its weight class.
The basic plot is thus: Teray, a powerful Patternist and son of the current Patternmaster, is brought into the house of Coransee, a more powerful brother. While Teray does not wish to inherit the title of Patternmaster from his father, Coransee sees him as a threat to his own claim. What follows is a steady builtup of tension between the two brothers, as they begin to maneuver around each other — Teray seeking his freedom, and Coransee seeking to neutralize any rivals to his claim.
The narrative, I found, was grounded in Teray’s experience, a point of view which can explore the intricate dance this highly stratified society engages in. There are slaves and there are slaves, you see — the hierarchies of power are complex and always shifting, and one can be a slave and slave-master at the same time. And even when power is wielded benevolently, the nature of the hierarchy almost guarantees abuses will occur.
The hierarchy protects itself. Through the masculine ideals deemed toxic, it protects itself. Butler meditates on the toxic aspects of masculinity through both Teray — who simply wishes to live free of control — and through the woman who teaches him the most, Amber. A bisexual in a nearly (though not completely) male-dominated society, Amber also wishes to live free of outside control, telepathic or otherwise, and rebuffs even Teray’s offers to become his wife, subordinate to him. Their romance is necessarily brief, though tender.
In terms of the character drama, Butler moves onto well-trod ground, to be sure, but she paints it upon a canvas that is both startlingly imaginative, and refreshingly non-European. Those who know of Butler’s impact on the genre need no additional recommendation from me, but still: pick this one up.