You know what? I am so burned out on Vampire fiction, that I don’t know if I will ever read another Vampire book for at least, oh, two or three months. Maybe longer. I mean, it could be YEARS before I read another vampire book. Which will make it hard for me to complete the Vampire Diaries, but, oh well. I am sick to death of it and the release of New Moon ain’t helpin’. I have felt this way for quite awhile too.
Yet, I had heard of this book, Fledgling, by Octavia Butler, which is a vampire book, and I was intrigued. Reviews said it isn’t like your normal vampire book. It’s different. It’s good. There are no sparkles. Read it. So, when I came across the audio version on Overdrive, I thought, what the heck? What do I have to loose? 12 hours and 19 minutes. I can part with that in the search for an original and compelling book about vampires.
I’m really glad I listened to all those bloggers, and my gut, and listened to this. I can’t say that I loved it, in fact I have quite a few problems with it, but it made me think and sometimes that’s even better than loving the story. And I got original and compelling. In spades.
Fledgling is about Shori, who looks like a pre-teen African-American girl. At the beginning of the novel, she awakens in a cave, alone, with serious injuries, including the loss of her memory. It is eventually revealed, through much running around and searching, that she is actually a 53 year old child of a race of people called “Ina.” Ina are the race that fueled mankind’s folktales about vampires. The Ina are nocturnal, ancient, and use human’s for their food, by drinking their blood. However, they do not kill humans, but live with them, carrying for them as part of their families. Shori was a genetic experiment by her family. She was giving human DNA, African-American DNA, which gave her the dark skin that allows her to walk in sunlight and stay awake during the day.
Shori meets a 23-year-old white man named Wright, who becomes the first of her symbiots, the name the Ina call their humans. Humans derive great pleasure from the experience of an Ina drinking their blood and he quickly becomes infatuated with her. With Wright’s help, Shori begins to explore just what and who she is, to discover who killed her family, and why.
Fledgling is more than just the story of a girl trying to rediscover her identity. It is more than a story of vampires, romance, or an exploration of the supernatural. It’s a story of racism, of identity, of honor and love. It’s a story of survival, not only of a single person, but an entire race. It’s the story of sexuality. Of community. Of what it means to be human.
From here on out, there will probably be some spoilers about the book, but there are some feelings about it I just have to get out.
As I said, I did have a few problems with the book. For one thing, despite Shori being a “53 year-old Ina female” she has the appearance of an 11 year-old human girl. So, when she and Wright (and later, other characters) begin to explore a sexual relationship, I was turned off. Also, as in traditional vampiric lore, because Shori bit Wright, she has control over his wants and desires and gains it quickly. This leaves Wright struggling with his feelings for Shori and his desire for a regular life. Obviously this was an exploration of a type of slavery, where the master keeps the slave and believes that it is a mutually beneficial union, but by the end the plot line felt dropped. I didn’t feel that there was a resolution that left me feeling that Wright was where he wanted to be. Another part of this setup that bothered me was the establishment by the Ina of these family marriages. Shori is destined to be “mated” to another Ina family of brothers. That’s right, she will breed with an entire family of brothers. Breed. Not to mention that she sleeps with both of her male symbiots and explores a relationship with one of her female ones. That’s a lot of sex going on, for someone that is considered a child by her kin and looks like an 11 year-old!
Another small problem I had with it, and I am putting it down to listening to it in the audio format, was the repetitiveness. It seemed like Shori was mentioning her memory loss every 5 minutes! Every time she met a new Ina character, or really, ANY new character, she just had to tell them she didn’t remember them, she didn’t remember anything before the attack, and that she didn’t think she would ever get that memory back. It drove me BATTY. By the last disk I was like, okay, already, I GET IT, you don’t remember anything!!! Sheesh! However, I’m not sure I would have noticed it as much if I had read it to myself instead of listening to it.
Other than those problems, the book is very interesting and very well written. I like how the females in the Ina race are so strong and considered equals to their male counterparts. Like I said, it made me think a lot. As someone from the South, I see and deal with racism frequently and it makes me sad. It is wonderful that an African-American woman like Octavia was able to write these books in such an unusual genre and succeed. Despite my problems with the book, I enjoyed it and really came to care about Shori and her family of humans. If I was going to give it a number rating, I would probably say 3.5/5, which is good with me and an even better recommendation is saying that I plan to read more of Octavia Butler’s work. It’s such a shame she passed away in 2006 as I would have liked to see a sequel to Fledgling.
Written by: Octavia Butler
Read by: Tracy Leigh
Publisher and Date: BBC Audiobooks America, 2007
Audio: 12 hours 19 minutes
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I downloaded the book from Overdrive, through my library’s partnership with them.