snowgray's Reviews > Fledgling

Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler
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's review
Aug 30, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: fantasy, vampires
Read in August, 2011

VAMPIRES. Who doesn't love them? However, in Butler's mythology, vampires are a non-human species, called Ina. Ina live in groups with their same-sex relatives, and each Ina has several human symbionts, who voluntarily feed the Ina. Ina venom is pleasantly addictive, and extends the life of the humans who feed the Ina. The relationship between Ina and human is described in the book as "mutualistic symbiosis," with the humans gaining the advantage of extended life and protection during the night, and the Ina gaining the advantage of readily-available food supplies and protection during the day. The relationship between the Ina and humans also appears somewhat emotionally codependent.

To be perfectly honest, I read this book only because I'd first read a fantastic AU/crossover fanfiction using an approximate version of Butler's vampire rules. The plot of "Fledgling" isn't terribly thrilling: the main character, Shori, awakens with amnesia, and has to slowly find out that she is a vampire, what the 'rules' of her vampirism are, and eventually, who killed her family. Shori, it turns out, has been created with genetic engineering to be part human, and unlike the rest of the Ina, looks like a black human rather than a white one. Racism, and/or speciesism, becomes an obvious plot point, and the motivation of the villains is paper-thin. I'd have been thrilled if Butler had been able to live long enough to write sequels exploring the interpersonal relationships between various characters within this mythology. Shori eventually discovers that other Ina live in single-sex groups (of themselves, i.e. male Ina with their fathers and sons, female Ina with their mothers and daughters) with their human symbionts (who can be of any gender), and the huge compounds where various Ina families live seem ripe for "Big Love" type drama. Butler describes the peaceful living between the various symbionts and Ina as a given, but for a reader used to monogamy, the clearly partly sexual relationship between an Ina and a symbiont couldn't be easily shared. There are some discussions of free will: humans addicted to Ina venom will die without it, and an Ina has emotional or psychological control over a human whom he or she has bitten. But the 'rules' of the Ina would, in a great novel, foster interpersonal character exploration, and there isn't much of that in this book. No human rejects Shori, either, though it seems that any human who'd heard the full details of what being bitten would mean would certainly have reasonable doubt about the risks (essentially mind control) versus the rewards. Shori's development as a character mostly consists of re-learning what she's lost due to amnesia, and few other characters in the book grow or change much at all. Shori is described as irresistible by other Ina and humans, despite the fact that she looks like a ten-or-eleven year old girl (she's 53). For me as a reader, I didn't actually come to care for Shori as an individual much at all; I gave up trying to visualize her, because she explicitly has sex in the book, despite looking so young. I was far more interested in the 'rules' of the Ina world than I was in Shori as a character. I think this could have been rectified in future books, but alas, that's not an option.

tl;dr - Read this book for the cool vampire rules, then write some fun fanfiction with characters you actually care about.
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