The Butcher

By Laura Kat Young

The Butcher, a novel by Laura Kat Young
Book details

I find sometimes find myself wondering how a dystopian world became so bad. What happened in a society that they thought making children battle to the death was a good idea? Or how a world forced woman to bear children? Sometimes it is better not to know how a society got there, but just embrace the unknown as part of the mystique. How did Lady Mae become The Butcher in Laura Kat Young’s dark and disturbing dystopia? Her mother was the Butcher before her and her mother’s mother before that. Does that make removing fingers and toes as punishment right? 

Lady Mae has always been shunned from the day she was born. Her mother is the Butcher, the person whose job it is to dish out regular punishment to the locals. Even minor infringements will find you guilty in front of the Deputies, the punishment can be to lose up to 20 fingers and toes. Lady Mae is next in line for the role, but when her mother’s belief in the system of law starts to waver, what will become of Lady Mae? 

Science fiction can span space or whole planets, but sometimes it is a simple tale of an insular place and time. When and where is Butcher set? It feels like an alternative 19th Century American West. The reduced population are under the yoke of The Deputies, those above this level are even more mysterious. By the time this story is set the reality of everyday life is set. Work yourself to death, any indiscretion will lead to losing a finger, toe, hand, or foot. The most powerful scenes are when Young describes the citizens as they lift their various mutilated appendages. 

Who do you choose to be the protagonist in such a place? Young chooses the very person that enacts the justice. Lady Mae is the Butcher. Her family is hated and feared. Rather than being repulsed by Lady Mae, Young ensures that we can sympathise with her. She is as trapped in her own situation as any other person. She does not choose the role, but she resigned to it. 

The books main impact is how this twisted society manages to work and Lady Mae’s place in it. The reader is given glimpses into a wider concept, but we never really develop a true understanding. This gives the book a sense of mystery and menace. It also allows proceedings to concentrate on Lady Mae, her relationships, and her attitude towards the Deputies. She may just be the catalyst for change. 

This book has been compared in part to The Handmaid’s Tale and it does have a similar subservient societal structure ripe to crumble. However, it is its own beast. Part body horror, part speculative fiction. Butcher is not a book that is any one genre. It is a powerful story of one woman’s experience in a broken world. The nature of the story means that it is not a light read and not knowing more about the wider world was a frustration, but as a character study of a person who finds themselves in a unique position, it was intriguing. 

Written on 9th January 2023 by .

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