I enjoyed Parable of the Talents for the most part, but I didn't think it was as good as its predecessor, Parable of the Sower. There is a lot to recommend it, and it did win the Nebula award while Sower was merely a nominee, but for whatever reason, perhaps the bar being set so high, it wasn't quite everything I had hoped for.
Talents starts out quite slowly. Trudging, plodding through placid communal life in their safe haven of Acorn, I wasn't sure I would be able to finish the book. I was a little tired of the constant threat of danger with very little happening. I'm sure the first 168 pages were setting the stage, and some interesting things do happen, but I had trouble with it. Then, as though it were a roller coaster that just topped the first rise and plunged downward, the book becomes a frantic mess.
The memory of the Branch Davidian compound must have been fresh in Butler's mind when she was writing Talents, because there is a lot of similarity in the destruction of Acorn. Instead of being burned alive for their beliefs, however, they are rounded up, collared, and "reeducated" by Crusaders. Olamina's two-month old daughter is taken away from her, and then they spend around 18 months in a concentration-camp-type setting. When a fortunate accident finally frees them, they are in really bad shape. Her dream of Earthseed has been smashed down, and rather than let it happen again, she and her followers separate and try to reestablish themselves and find their family members that have been given up for adoption and worse.
So once again, the story slows down. Without the constant threat to survival, it sort of lags. I think that every time the focus shifted to building up the idea of Earthseed, and the religion of "God is change" and "let's go live in space," I got a little bored. I hated watching all these nice people getting sucked into this movement as though it were more than a simple idea being turned into something large and unnecessary. Like the beginning, there are some interesting twists that move the plot along, but the pacing was definitely slower. I was really surprised, then, when the most poignant and devastating thing in the book happened just before the ending, actually in the Epilogue. It wasn't someone dying. There was no blood. Instead, it was the discovery of a betrayal that had taken place years before. It was so simple and basic, but it provoked the strongest emotional response of anything that I read.
My final regret is the ending. To me, the technology to become a space-faring people is still hundreds, if not thousands of years in the future (I don't mean little jaunts to the moon here). Yet the dream that Olamina has of seeing people beginning their voyages to the stars is realized during her very lifetime, even though in the first half of her life mankind makes a severe regression in many ways. It's almost like it's tacked on to make the ending more palatable, rather than the dismaying letdown that it seemed to be. Personally, I'd rather see people clean up the earth and become a lot more civilized before they begin taking their habits and corruption across the universe. Even though I've known since I was a kid that eventually we need to leave the earth or be destroyed like the dinosaurs were, I was never crazy about Earthseed, and I derived no joy from seeing it succeed.
I always seem to say this, but read Talents if you read the first book, at least so you can find out what happens. There are surprising twists in the lives of the characters that are worth finding out about. However, if you wouldn't like to watch the lives of good people destroyed by the worst things that could possibly happen to them, then maybe this isn't your book. Similarly, if you dislike watching mankind so easily duped into hating one another by their ignorant fears and prejudices, or if you hate religion being portrayed once again in a science fiction novel as a negative development of humanity, skip this one. But if you do like a dark book, or at least one that is primarily bleak and filled with senseless violence, where main characters aren't spared their share of the pain in the world, this could be a good book for you. Not counting, of course, the optimistic ending tacked on in the final pages.