Octavia E. Butler
Fledgling Cover



Firstly, I wish there was a way to give this novel TEN STARS because like every single book she's ever written, it is a masterpiece of surperb writing, compelling characters and thought-provoking themes like sex, race and class - issues seldom dealt with in even the finest speculative fiction.

Only in the hands of a skilled author could new life be breathed into the quickly becoming stale vampire genre, and Ms. Butler succeeds where so many others fail. Anyone looking for Anne Rice will be sadly disappointed.

Shori, the novel's protagonist, is a complex creature. She is no brooding Louis nor an amoral Lestat, but a 53 year-old woman who outwardly looks like a ten year-old girl. When we first meet her, she is gravely injured and has no memory of where she is or even who she is. Slowly emerging from her place of hiding, she is picked up by a young man named Wright, who takes her home and cares for her. What follows from there is guaranteed to play with one's perceptions of age and sexuality and though as a reader we are more than aware of Shori's true age (and Ms. Butler writes Shori with such skill, there is no way to mistake her for anything but her true age), as a reader we are gently nudged into accepting their relationship without any qualm, especially when Shori and Wright make love. Instead of playing to shock value or prurience, the eroticism between Shori and Wright is handled wonderfully.

As the novel progresses, Shori learns her true heritage - that she is Ina, a race of vampires whose beginnings are swathed in mystery. She learns that she is the first of her kind, her dark skin allows her to go into the sunlight, something the other Ina cannot do. She also learns the ways of her people - of keeping humans (known as symbionts or syms) not merely as sustenance, but as companions and lovers. Kinship figures prominently in Ina and Sym society, and both live together in a somewhat utopian existence. There are questions of whom needs whom the most - Ina or syms - and the subtle threads of what could be viewed as a co-dependent relationship. Ina may live long, but they need not only the blood, but the vitality of their syms to exist. The syms become addicted to a toxin in the Ina's bodies that keep them young and free of disease.

As we learn later, and not surprising, there is also deep-seated prejudice amongst the Ina, who may pretend to have progressed beyond such petty concerns as racism, and there are those who do not see Shori as being one of them, merely a genetic experiment.

Fledgling is a multihued tapestry of a novel, a world of darkness and light that I didn't want to leave. Shori is a strong, resourceful and yet manages to engage us readers with her humanity. It's one of those novels that left me feeling as if Shori, Wright and all of the characters truly existed.