Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler.
Grand Central Publishing, Hachette Book Group, New York, 2005, my edition 2007.
Modern vampire fantasy, 310 pages.
Lexile: 730L .
AR Level: Not leveled.
NOTE: This book is recommended for adults only.
Shori wakes up in the woods with a ravenous hunger and a taste for blood. She doesn’t remember who she is, where she came from, or even what she is, but after she bites Wright, he’s willing to help her find out. The only clues they have to start with are a burnt property and Shori’s own instincts and half-remembering.
I came across this novel because Butler was recommended to me as a major speculative fiction author of color. Science fiction and fantasy are two of my favorites, although I’ll read any genre but horror. It was continually bothering me that I hadn’t read any speculative fiction by PoCs, so I wanted to try one of her books.
Several of them are series works, and I didn’t want to get entangled in a series for a new-to-me author without reading an excerpt or anything. So I looked at what books were available on clearance, nixed all those that were part of a series, read the blurb, and ended up with this one. It was a good choice, as I enjoy vampire novels, if they’re not too scary.
This book definitely had suspense without terror. Because Shori herself has no idea of who she is and who she’s surrounded with, we as readers journey with her to slowly learn more about the Ina (her people), and what it means to have a symbiotic relationship with the various humans she collects and joins to her.
However, there were also some elements that really bothered me. The major problem I had could be considered a spoiler, although it happens relatively early in the novel (if you are very sensitive to spoilers, please drop down to the final paragraph). Shori is, as the back of the book tells us, a 53-year-old Ina. However, she presents as a girl who “can’t be more than ten or eleven” (p. 8) When she first meets Wright, he tries to force her to go to the police or the hospital (obviously the guy never had any trauma training), which triggers her to bite him. They have an experience that is similar to what you’d expect in most vampire novels, pleasurable with erotic overtones.
Then in chapter three, she has sex with him. It’s described, not just mentioned in the text, and she is still, to their knowledge, a young girl. She does consent, and he does express doubts about it a few times, but it happens. There is a disturbing subtext here as well, because he is a white man and she is a black girl. I felt that Butler intentionally wrote it this way for our consideration.
Eventually when Shori is placed within her Ina culture, this behavior is normalized, but the first instance is still shocking and potentially triggering for some. Once we learned her age and some more about her culture, it made sense (although I still didn’t like it) and I was still able to enjoy this novel.
There is also violence in this novel. Characters die, are tortured, and perpetuate violence amongst themselves. The violence isn’t glorified but is necessary, and at times enjoyed by some characters. The final resolution, however, is not brought about through violence which I was grateful for.
Prejudice is a big aspect of Shori’s world. In some cases it is the prejudice of a white world against a black girl who is strong, confident, and not afraid to speak her mind. But within her culture, it is prejudice not only against the skin color that helps her walk in daylight, but also against the fact that human genes were used in her creation. The Ina see themselves as superior to humans even as they are wholly dependent on them, while Shori blends aspects of human and Ina in a frightening way for some members of her race.
Butler apparently originally intended for this to be a trilogy, and at the end of this article you can read some more about her plans for this world, which included exploring the nature of the symbiotic relationships and also what might occur much later if Shori’s potential offspring dominate the Ina world. These ideas definitely gave me further thought about the world presented in this book.
Ironically enough, given that I read this book with the express purpose of wanting a non-series book, now I wish that there were more books about these strange vampires Butler created. Due to the violence and graphic sexual scenes, I feel that this book is only suitable for adults. However, if you are a grown-up who wants a fresh take on vampires, this might be the book for you.