Book Fridays: Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler

I always go to the library with a list but I also go with a hunger to discover new books. Unlike grocery shopping hunger is a welcome companion here. I have Kindred on my TBR but I knew my library didn’t have it on the shelf so I wasn’t looking for it. On display at the end of the stacks was Fledgling and having not heard anything about it I picked it up, read the back and decided to take it with me.

I want to get the two issues I had with the book out of the way: firstly the editing was not very good. I found several typos and other errors that had me reading sentences over and over thinking there was something wrong with me. The other is the element of pedophilia. I can’t decide if Wright was a pedophile or not. I almost feel like this is a moral dilemma presented to the reader on purpose. Our protagonist, Shori, is a vampire. A species separate and different to humans. Her body is like that of an eleven year old girl. That is Wrights first impression as she doesn’t have breasts but later on we learn that female vampires don’t have breasts so the evaluation of her body in comparison to human development is incorrect. Shori and Wright have sex shortly after he picks her up on the side of the road thinking her a runaway child. I did not get the impression that he had any nefarious intent when he stopped to offer help. He did not become interested in her sexually until she bit him.

Her saliva, we learn, is a drug to humans. It gets them off and it gets them high. If they go without it they die. Vampires and humans have a special relationship and this turning them into junkies ensures that vampires have a willing supply of food at all times. Humans, or symbionts as they’re called once they’re paired up with a vampire, are under the vampire’s influence at all times once they’ve been bitten. Even if they don’t want to follow an order they do, because they have to. I can see where the initial ick factor presented by Shori’s apparent childhood would put readers off. She’s a 53 year old vampire and she never comes across as an innocent child despite her physical appearance. At all times she has the upper hand, in physical strength and consent.

Shori is a vampire-human hybrid. Her family successfully crossed vampire and human DNA in order to create a vampire who was able to stay awake during the day and able to go out into the sun with minimal issues. The magic indredient: melanin. Shori is of mixed race in terms of her coloring. Her human mother was black. Therefore, she looks markedly different to her full vampire counterparts. So in this book Butler subverts the idea of melanin and all of the negative associated with it. In her world melanin is powerful.

As Shori looks for answers as to why her family was attacked and destroyed (she’s the sole survivor) Wright offers up his theory as to why she is being hunted and attacked:

“Chances are, this is all happening for one of three reasons.It’s happening because some human group has spotted your kind and decided you’re all dangerous, evil vampires. Or it’s happening because some Ina group or Ina individual is jealous of the success Shori’s family had with blending human and Ina DNA and having children who can stay awake through the day and not burn so easily in the sun. Or it’s happening because Shori is black, and racists — probably Ina racists — don’t like the idea that a good part of the answer to your daytime problems is melanin.”

When we first meet Shori she is recovering from the attack that killed the female side of her family. A head wound seemed to have affected her memory so that throughout the book she is learning about Ina culture along with the reader. Even so as her memory is jogged and she learns about how to be Ina (what the vampire species is called) Shori exhibits humanity. When one of her symbionts is killed off Shori intends to kill the vampire responsible but refuses to consider killing the symbiont who committed the murder because she found it despicable to use symbionts as though they weren’t people.

I really enjoyed this book and I am definitely going to read more of Butler’s work. It is unfortunate that she passed away shortly after publishing Fledgling. I would have loved to read more about Shori.