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Fledgling, Octavia Butler's new novel after a seven year break, is the story of an apparently young, amnesiac girl whose alarmingly inhuman needs and abilities lead her to a startling conclusion: She is in fact a genetically modified, 53-year-old vampire. Forced to discover what she can about her stolen former life, she must at the same time learn who wanted - and still wants - to destroy her and those she cares for and how she can save herself. Fledgling is a captivating novel that tests the limits of "otherness" and questions what it means to be truly human.

310 pages, Paperback

First published September 8, 2005

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About the author

Octavia E. Butler

105 books15.8k followers
Octavia Estelle Butler was an American science fiction writer, one of the best-known among the few African-American women in the field. She won both Hugo and Nebula awards. In 1995, she became the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Grant.

After her father died, Butler was raised by her widowed mother. Extremely shy as a child, Octavia found an outlet at the library reading fantasy, and in writing. She began writing science fiction as a teenager. She attended community college during the Black Power movement, and while participating in a local writer's workshop was encouraged to attend the Clarion Workshop, which focused on science fiction.

She soon sold her first stories and by the late 1970s had become sufficiently successful as an author that she was able to pursue writing full-time. Her books and short stories drew the favorable attention of the public and awards judges. She also taught writer's workshops, and eventually relocated to Washington state. Butler died of a stroke at the age of 58. Her papers are held in the research collection of the Huntington Library.

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Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,965 followers
July 4, 2017
I admit that I wanted to like this more than I did simply because I am a big fan of Kindred. I was slightly ambivalent about another book on vampires, however, and while I tried not to take that into serious account when reading Butler, it still crept in.

Mostly, however, I liked the book fine. Any major issues I have can be neatly summed up in my opinion on quasi-pedophile literature in general. It's designed to make us squirm. If it doesn't make you squirm then maybe you're reading just a tad too much pedo-literature. Suffice to say, I squirmed a lot. I tried telling myself over and over that a 53-year-old vampire with amnesia with the body of an eleven-year-old girl should be judged on the stated facts alone, not by the super-creepy visceral feel it evokes.

Putting that aside, the rest of the novel doesn't break any new ground. Far from it. Can anyone else remember a novel that starts out with an amnesiac MC? Anyone? Is it one out of six novels? By proportion, I do believe that about that many of us in real life must be amnesiac. It makes sense, doesn't it? That's probably why we keep forgetting how many times we've read novels with amnesiac main characters.

Moving on. Slow build, discovery that we're dead. Check. Mind-rolling all the first people we meet. Check. Falling into long-term relationships with these random people. Check. Now let's have a little violence and ask the question of why. Uh oh. Vampire politics. Check.

Voila! One vampire novel to order. It did have a kinda courtroom feel at the end, no? *sigh*

I may sound like I hated this novel, but no. Like I said, it was fine. Not extremely creative, just a tad or a bit more than a lot of creepy. The horror aspect went away pretty early and the novel fell into a comfortable settle in with her mind rolled lovers before it became Law and Order for bloodsuckers. It just feels like I've read this book before. Many times. And the only thing that makes it stand out is the fact that it creeps my non-pedo-self out. That's not exactly high praise.


Next, please.
Profile Image for s.penkevich.
851 reviews5,841 followers
April 4, 2023
What do vampires want most, Octavia Butler was asked by her friend. To suck blood? No, her friend replied, to walk in sunlight. Fledgling by Octavia Butler provides a solution for these vampiric woes, inspired by her friend’s question and written during an escape from the grit and darkness she had to occupy while writing the Earthseed books (the first, Parable of the Sower is an absolute knock-out of a novel). One of only two stand-alone novels—though her notes show an intention to have written more—Fledgling is playfully subversive in its approach to themes like racism and free-will, while defying expectations and denying the readymade lore around vampires. It is classic Butler in the form of a vampire novel. It all begins with a rebirth: Shori awakens wounded in a cave without any memory of her past and must learn to navigate the society of the vampires (the Ina) while tending her flock of humans made obedient by sucking their blood (symbionts) and resisting the violence against her by other vampire families. Will she continue the legacy and traditions of her people? Who has murdered her family and why do they want to stop her? These questions and more drive the novel alongside Butler’s fascinating worldbuilding, though it can get fairly exposition heavy and the dialogue occasionally feels rather stilted. Still, Fledgling is a fun, imaginative story with important undercurrents that bestows a fresh vampire to the genre who is both a woman and Black while grappling with issues both historic and current around the social struggles of this intersectional identity.

Fledgling is as much a thriller and vampire mystery as it is a book of ethical questions. We have Shori with superhuman powers, genetically altered, fighting against an unknown enemy that has massacred her family while also having to learn about her own society all over again without having her memory. It is a lot of fun at times, with super speed, healing powers, and a super sense of smell (though this felt a bit eye rolling at times, such as her smelling a helicopter before she could hear it or smelling week-old gunfire through the smoldering ruins of a village…its a big ask even for those willing to suspend disbelief for the sci-fi fun). The story eventually becomes a court room drama of sorts, with a massive vampire trial where the jury must hold powerful families with important legacies accountable while further murders are taking place during the trial like some sort of gothic John Grisham novel. It’s a fun read, and while some of it didn’t quite land for me, it does hit it’s marks in terms of thematic intent.

That is the most unromantic declaration of love I've ever heard. Or is that what you're saying? Do you love me, Shori, or do I just taste good?

Butler has a knack for subverting expectations and genre tropes. There are really insightful themes here, cleverly folded into the worldbuilding while still speaking directly to our own reality. Most predominantly here we see her evade the readymade vampire world, creating her own lore such as long lives instead undead, an ability to heal themselves and being a genetic species instead of biting folks to create more. Theres a humorous approach here, with Wright (the first person Shori encounters who takes her in) finding all his internet research on vampires to be fairly useless and when Shori touches a crucifix with no results he says ‘well there goes that theory.’ What I really enjoy here is the way Shori being Black is sort of a superpower, allowing her to be in the sun when other Ina cannot. There are interesting reversals of power here, with Shori as a Black girl appearing to be around the age of 10 having power over the white adults, such as 23 year old Wright who is her primary sexual partner after first discovering her naked and confused beside the road in the start of the book. Butler aims for discomfort with sex scenes involving what appears to be a child (and while she is still not fully mature in her own species is significantly older than Wright), and even though the power imbalance is inverted it still recalls horrors of slavery where young slave girls were sexually assaulted by the adult overseers.

She’s shown herself to be a weirdly ethical little thing most of the time.

In Fledgling, a vampire’s bite does not kill or turn the victim, but instead gives the vampire nourishment while the act itself gives an intensely satisfying feeling to the bitten, something hinted to be a nearly-sexual gratification, that brings them under her power in a symbiotic relationship (thus these humans are referred to as symbionts). It brings up a lot of questions about free will such as if these symbionts truly have agency over their decisions to remain with the Ina they serve and even commune communities like the Gordon’s might only give the impression of equality while still being a master/slave hierarchy beneath the clever marketing. Couple this with the fact that the symbionts are also used for sexual practice until an Ina is able to mate with one of their own and this seems…well ethically questionable to say the least (meanwhile Wright is concerned about possible pedophilia with his irresistible eroticism towards what appears to be a 10 year old, like I said, Butler wants to make you cringe and does so successfully). Much of this novel feels referential to the Antebellum South, and the dynamics with the symbionts reminds me of the ways people used to try to paint the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings as consensual love when she was still quite literally a slave owned by him. Butler nudges topics like this in many ways, interestingly enough in a situation where it is the Black “child” having ownership over white adults. Yet this also is used to explore ideas of families, too. All in all, it is a fascinating society Butler creates, one I wish could have been explored in more depth (a historian promises Shori a deep dive that never happens on page) but I suppose this was intended to be fleshed out more in further stories that unfortunately never appeared due to Butler’s unfortunate early death at 58 during the prime of her writing career.

If we found the people who had murdered both my male and female families, I wanted to kill them, had to kill them. How else could I keep my new family safe?

Racism is also constantly present throughout Fledgling, with a sort of speciesism being a metaphor for it but also found hiding behind facades of classism as well. The latter aspect is a sullen reminder for the ways race and class are often tied. While Shori seems to serve as a bridge between many communities—vampire and human as well as race—it is her genetic altering that made her Black for which she is targeted by those who want to retain a “purity” in the vampire line. It is literally white supremacy from many Ina with their ‘grotesquely albino’ skin color. And, like in our own societies, we see how many Ina see this going on and some actively participate in the violence, some look the other way, and a few stand-up at their own peril. It becomes a big issue during the trial (which like, for a big trial over murder they sure just let people come and go as they please) portion of the book, as well as the ethics behind using symbionts for murder like creating tiny proxy-wars with them.

I really do enjoy a lot of the ideas behind this book and many I wished could have been explored even greater. It starts off as a pretty fast-paced novel but begins to really lag in the second half, particularly during the trial. This section is very dialogue heavy, which is cool and explores a lot of the world but unfortunately much of the dialogue felt a bit stilted. It is serviceable to the plot but sometimes just felt very flat. Also I found there to be a void of tension in areas that could have really provided a good grit to the story, such as how Wright just…instantly accepts Shori is a vampire and goes with it. Everyone seems to just agree and go along far too simply in this book (partly due to Shori’s influence from the bites), though this was something I noticed as well in Kindred where the boyfriend immediately is all believing she is time traveling without her even having to try much to convince him. The ending feels a bit flat, though at the same time it seems to be the right way to end the story, I guess I just came away wanting more having seen Butler display far better writing and snappier plots in other novels. Which isn’t to say Fledgling is a bad book, and there are many ways in which Butler can really affect the reader.

Racism is a gross and unfortunate evil and Butler very cleverly addresses it even in the vampire world of Fledgling, a book that thrives on some excellent subversive approaches to its ideas. Anyone looking for a unique take on the genre will certainly enjoy this, as Butler’s imagination shines bright here as in all her works. Not my favorite I’ve read by her but still an exciting novel all the same.

Profile Image for Apatt.
507 reviews780 followers
August 16, 2017

Sci-fi vampires!

Octavia Butler!

While I love Octavia Butler, I have been avoiding Fledgling for a while because Twilight* and the “paranormal romance” genre that followed in its wake are anathema to me. I knew of course that Ms. Butler would never slum it with Stephenie Meyer, but the subject matter is kind of spoiled for me. Still, I am running out of Octavias to read so I did not want to skip one of her - all too few – novels just because of my disillusion with vampire fiction in general.

Octavia Butler writes entertaining books but they are never mindless entertainments, she always has her (non-pecuniary) reasons for writing them. So when she takes on the popular vampire genre you can be sure there is more to the story than sexy neck biting. To say that Fledgling is an allegory is to disregard Ms. Butler’s love of storytelling for its own sake. The book is not all about the allegory, you can completely ignore the underlying message and still enjoy the finely crafted narrative. Perhaps it will make you reflect on something you have experienced in real life, perhaps not, it does not matter. As usual with Octavia Butler's books, I found it to be compelling from page one. There was no need to familiarize myself with the setting, or the style, no need to take a peek at the book’s synopsis, just dive into it and let the lady work her magic.

Fledgling is about Shori, a “young” 53-year-old vampire. At the beginning of the book, she wakes up in a cave, badly burned, injured, blind, and without memory of who or what she is. Fortunately, some poor, unsuspecting creature comes within her reach and she immediately eats it and starts healing rapidly, though her memory remains lost. She stumbles onto a road and a kindly unsuspecting chap picks her up in his car, to take her to a hospital. She refuses to go to a hospital, he won’t hear of her objections and so she bit him. A strange symbiotic relationship begins.

The main plot of the book concerns Shori’s attempt to find who tried to kill her, caused her to lose her memory, and - as she later learns -killed her entire family.

“It doesn’t seem fair that you can’t convert us like all the stories say.”
“That would be very strange,” I said. “If a dog bit a man, no one would expect the man to become a dog. He might get an infection and die, but that’s the worst.”

As I mentioned earlier, this is a sci-fi variation of vampire fiction. The vampires are not supernatural creatures but another species called “Ina” that have been living in secret among humans for as long as they can remember. They do need blood but they do not kill humans for it. Instead, they form symbiotic relationships with selected humans, and the symbionts benefit from the chemicals in Ina’s venom which extend their lives and cure their illnesses.

“His memory should improve because I was with him, because now and then, I would bite him, injecting whatever I injected into people when I bit them.”

The sci-fi aspect of Fledgling makes a nice change and the concept somewhat more believable. The novel is masterfully plotted and paced without a dull moment, though some readers may be put off by the odd (non-explicit) scenes of kinky vampire sex, and moments of sentimentality. Shori, in spite of being a vampire, is a fairly typical Butler protagonist, strong-willed, compassionate, and black. The theme of being an outcast, being lonely, and having the courage and moral fortitude to overcome these issues in a positive manner is something Butler often returns to.

The author has some fun with the vampire tropes (as can be seen from some of the quotes below) but, more importantly, she weaved in the perennial themes of tolerance, dealing with racial prejudice, and fortitude in the face of adversity. There is some violence in this book, nothing overly graphic or extreme; it would be nice to be able to resolve all conflicts without resorting violence but this is not really an option under the circumstances here.

So, another very satisfying Octavia Butler book, I think I only have a couple left unread, and one of them is an anthology. (╥﹏╥)

* Link to my *cough!* “insightful” review ಠ‿↼

“I wound up eating most of someone’s little nanny goat. I didn’t mean to take a domestic animal, but it was all I found after hours of searching. It must have escaped from some farm. Better the goat than its owner.”

“Invite me in.”
At once, she stood aside and said, “Come in.”
This was a bit of vampire theater. I knew it, and I was fairly sure she knew it, too. She had probably been brushing up on vampires recently. Of course, I didn’t need permission to enter her home or anyone else’s.

“Tell me about the lawyers.” “One of the ones I bit might be good for you,” Wayne said.
Profile Image for Terry .
394 reviews2,146 followers
January 22, 2015
3.5 – 4 stars

Another vampire book review from the guy who says he’s not a fan of vampires? Yeah, well I’m trying to find the good ones, not the dreck that’s jumped onto the Twilight bandwagon. And quite frankly I didn’t pick this one up because it was a vampire book per se, but because it was one by Octavia Butler, whose work I’ve been meaning to look into more, and this is the only stand-alone that I’m aware of. It turned out to be a good book, though there are some possibly ‘problematic’ issues with it.

In some ways there are superficial resemblances between this one and the last vampire book I read Let the Right One In: both books have as their star apparently pre-pubescent vampires who have ‘complicated’ relationships with their human companions. In Lindqvist’s case it was a Renfield-like adult who was enamoured of the vampire-child for whom he obtained blood and the young boy who becomes a part of her life. In the case of Butler’s book the vampire in question, Shori, isn’t even only apparently pre-pubescent…according to vampire physiology she is in fact still a child, though that still translates to her being much older than her appearance would suggest (around 52 years old in fact). Despite this fact the relationships she has with the humans around her bear all of the appearances of a pedophilic relationship, at least from the outside.

You see in Butler’s take on the vampire mythology the Ina (what vampires call themselves) are not undead. They don’t actually know what they are, whether it be an off-shoot of humanity or an alien race, but they are incredibly long-lived, are harmed by direct sunlight, and require blood (preferably human blood) to survive. So far Butler follows the myth pretty closely. Where she deviates to the greatest extent is around the relationships that they have with their ‘prey’. Far from being nocturnal hunters out to slaughter as many human cattle as possible to feed their blood thirst, these vampires actually maintain a group of humans (called symbionts) who share their lives with the Ina and in exchange for the benefits that Ina venom provides to humans they give the vampire their blood, as well as personal and emotional companionship. What benefits does the venom in Ina saliva provide? Well longer life for one: human symbionts live about twice as long as normal humans. They are also immune to most illnesses and tend to stay young through most of their lives as symbionts (depending on when they were ‘turned’ of course). The sex is also great. The mere act of being fed upon seems to provoke a reaction in the symbiont akin to the best sex you’ve ever had, and the Ina also like indulging in sex-play with their symbionts and the fact that they aren’t cross-fertile is just icing on the cake, right? The down-side? Well symbionts become addicted to the Ina venom in their body…actually to the specific venom of their personal Ina, and will soon go crazy and die without it. They also end up having an attachment to their Ina that is so close they cannot refuse a request (or order) made by them. Also if they are the jealous kind they will likely have an uncomfortable life in the Ina’s family since one Ina generally requires at least seven or eight humans to be his or her personal symbionts (or harem if you will) so there’s a lot of sharing…of everything…going on.

How does this all play out when the Ina in question is apparently an eleven year old black girl whose first symbiont is a white male in his mid-twenties? I’ll let you decide. All I can say is that I enjoyed the story from most angles. Butler’s idea that vampires would be more likely to shepherd the humans they require for survival instead of going on nightly and gratuitous killing sprees made a heck of a lot of sense. I’ve always wondered what those vampires in stories where they are coming out of hiding and hunting down humanity are thinking: who are they going to feed on once they wipe out the human race and why create an imminent resource shortage even if they plan on doing something about it in the long term?

The story opens as Shori awakens in pain and confusion in a cave and immediately succumbs to her base instincts in order to survive. As she continues to hunt, feed, and heal she comes more to herself, but still has no memory of exactly who, or what, she is. Eventually she makes her way down to a nearby community that has been utterly destroyed in a fire. There are no bodies and she has no memory of the place, but thinks it may have something to do with her. Deciding to look for other people in the hope that they can help her she eventually comes across Wright and finds herself instinctively attracted to him and ends up making him her first ‘symbiont’. Together they must learn exactly who and what Shori is and their questions lead them into dangerous territory, for it turns out that Shori was an experiment of some members of the Ina/vampire community: an attempt to graft Ina with human African-American genes in order to combat their natural weakness to the sun. Not all members of the Ina community were in favour of this and so Shori’s quest of discovery also becomes a fight for survival as she slowly tries to regain a semblance of what she was before her ‘accident’.

Any ick factor aside I thought that Butler’s depiction of the relationships that developed between Ina and their symbionts was well done. There are obviously questions of freedom and choice involved here. After all if you were basically chemically conditioned to love someone, to obey them, to be utterly devoted to them what would it mean about any choice, any feeling you had for them? On the other hand, most symbionts are made aware of the implications of their union with an Ina before any final step is taken in the bonding…of course that might just be akin to saying they only give the addict a couple of doses of the drug and they aren’t yet technically dependent on it before asking them if they want any more. Still I got the feeling that most of the relationships between Ina and symbionts were loving and ‘real’ and it was apparent that the Ina were just as dependent on their symbionts as vice versa, and not just for blood: the emotional bond seemed to go both ways. So, does Butler turn love, devotion, and desire into purely biological responses and imperatives or could it be argued that even in human relationships they already are? How much of what we do and decide about those in our lives is truly ‘free’? How much is pre-determined by our biology, our experiences, and our background? Who can say what’s really behind that ‘spark’ that attracts you to one person and not another? It may not be Ina venom, but is it something any less chemically or physiologically induced? I don’t know I’m just rambling here, but for some reason I just wasn’t as bothered by the venom element of the Ina-Symbiont bond. Maybe I’m just a submissive at heart.

There is of course also an investigation of race and purity. Not only is Shori visibly Black, a member of a human minority (though apparently to Ina that has no importance), she is a hybrid: a half-breed mix of Ina and human genes whose end is to produce a better, stronger Ina capable of overcoming the natural weaknesses and limitations of the traditional ‘pure breed’. So now we have Shori straddling an interesting dichotomy: on the one hand she is basically the product of a eugenic experiment (though one whose methods appear to have been benign) whose end goal is something that might be called a ‘master race’; on the other hand she is the victim of horrific persecution and bigotry for not being ‘pure Ina’ and her life, and that of those she loves, is in danger as a result.

Will you like this story? I don’t know. I did, but I can see how many people would find it, as I mentioned above, problematic. Butler’s prose is fine, though nothing to write home about and I found a few instances where I thought she over-described a scene (such as adding details about the kind of sandwiches and other paraphernalia they packed for lunch) in ways that seemed unnecessary. Overall though I found myself carried along with the story and thought that she did a very good job of both keeping the plot moving and doing it through the development of well-rounded and interesting characters. Ultimately this was for me a story about just that: characters and the personal relationships and growth that they experienced.
September 6, 2018

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I am shocked that this was published by the same Octavia E. Butler who wrote PARABLE OF THE SOWER and KINDRED. It felt like it was written by a totally different person. If I hadn't looked at the publication date and seen the "2005," I would have thought that this was a less-successful first novel. That seriously bums me out because I love vampire novels, and the idea of reading a novel about a black vampire that explores the themes of racism within a supernatural context sounded fascinating, especially since I had loved what I'd read of this author before and how she explored similar themes within the science-fiction framework. Joining me in this buddy read was my fellow vampire-lover, Heather, who doesn't seem to be into this book either for many of the same reasons I'm about to dive into.

Shori is an adolescent vampire who awakes at the beginning of the novel to find herself mortally wounded and in a severe amount of pain. She's picked by a hitchhiker who intends to drive her to the hospital - until she bites him and that makes him sexually attracted to her and crave her like she's a drug and he's an addict. This would be fine if she didn't flipping look like a preteen. It's mentioned several times that she looks like a child, and while complaining about this in one of my status updates, I had someone basically tell me that I shouldn't be so offended. Well, I am. I think that's gross. And I don't care if she's fifty-three in human years, even in vampire years she's prepubescent, because it's mentioned several times that she's not fully developed and can't yet reproduce, even if her sexual organs are functioning (ugh and they are - prepare yourself for incredibly gross sex scenes).

I don't have children so I can't imagine how gross and uncomfortable this would be for people who do. I don't want to read about adolescent sex (or sex with people who look adolescent), especially not if it's framed as a functional and desirable relationship. I get that Octavia Butler was a daring writer who pushed boundaries of what was socially acceptable in order to challenge the status quo (something my critic seemed to be arguing, albeit slightly less eloquently), but it's my right to say when I feel like an author goes too far for my own personal tastes. I felt the same way about Bryn Greenwood's ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS, which is basically a romance between an eight-year-old girl and a fully grown man. One person's "oh my god, that's so brave and literary!" is another person's "no, god no, why would you write that? what the hell?"

Apart from the grossness of the female character and her - ahem - relationships with other characters in the book, I did like the way vampires were presented here (they call themselves the Ina, and they have their own rules and social hierarchies that reminded me of the Xenogenesis saga, except that didn't have gross underage freakiness), and I thought the trial at the end was interesting. The problem with this book is that it's slow AF, and while the human and compassionate part of you wants Shori to get revenge for the awful things that happened to her, the reader and hedonist part of you is going to be bored off your ass waiting for anything resembling a climax (EW, no, not that kind of climax - get out of here you gross person) to happen. This is Butler's weakest effort by far.

1.5 stars
Profile Image for jo.
613 reviews489 followers
December 1, 2009
*** this review has spoilers that will do irreversible damage to those who have not read the book, is long, and is, i'm afraid, rather academic in tone, because i just think that way. be warned. ***

Fledgling opens with a birth scene of sorts. a little girl (we don’t yet know that she’s a little girl, but find out soon enough) wakes up in a cave in tremendous physical pain. her body is badly injured, more, we gather from the description, than a human being would be able to survive. she’s covered head to toe in severe burn wounds. she can barely move. her skull is fractured in at least two places. she’s blind. she weaves in out of consciousness.

besides feeling in agonizing pain, the girl is hungry in a way that feels life-or-death to her. a large animal comes near her. she immediately kills it and eats it raw. a few days later she’s on her feet and well on her way to healing. she hunts down deer, kills them with her bare hands, devours them on the spot.

the birth symbols – the cave, the physical pain, the blindness, the total incapacitation, the starving need, the complete amnesia – seem to me to signify both sides of the birth couple. the girl is both baby and mother; she gives (re)birth to herself.

what the girl slowly discovers, through well plotted and well paced steps of knowledge and self-knowledge acquisition, is that she’s a vampire who used to live in an all-female community, and that this community was wiped out in its entirety by humans. soon she finds the male community formed her father, brothers and older relatives, but this community, too, is soon almost entirely wiped out by humans.

in the meantime shori’s instincts and deeply-rooted needs and desires have led her to discover (everything is a discovery for her, and the amnesia never resolves itself) the pleasure of drinking blood from humans.

the rapport between the vampires (or “Ina,” not just a different race but a different species entirely) and the humans they feed on is easily the most mesmerizing, enthralling, and, to me, frankly pleasurable aspect of the novel. in the narrative i can detect – feel? – butler’s easy (she’d been doing this for years, and her novels always tread on the dark edge of the forbidden, which is probably why she chose to write sci-fi or speculative fiction) dipping in her own unconscious, into a pool of profound woman/lesbian longing that is rarely represented in literature. the whole book seems to me an answer to freud’s famous question “what do women want?” it seems both the representation of deep-seated and (therefore) tabooed female desires and the luscious, unbridled fantasy of their fulfillment. butler needs to push the envelope of difference in the desiring subject as much as possible.

shori, the first person narrator, is unique both in the cast of characters who people the book and, perhaps more importantly, in the cast of characters who are likely to read the book, in a number of ways. as far as the former is concerned, she’s black (one of her brothers is also black but of a much lighter hue, and anyway he’s quickly dispatched by the assassins who are after shori’s family; a small number of humans are black as well, but their blackness is not a primary issue in the novel the way shori’s is), she’s alone (the Ina live in communities and return to communities: shori is alone and wants to stay that way, form her own family instead of joining an existing one), she’s small for her age, she’s remarkably poised, wise, and intelligent, and, above all, she’s an Ina-human hybrid. this last trait, alongside her blackness, is key in the novel, but since it raises interpretive issues other than the ones i have at heart here, i’ll set it aside. as far as the readers are concerned, she’s unique in being a sexually active, sexually promiscuous child who’s equally attracted to adult men and women.

this is the thing that interests me most so this is what i’ll talk about from now on. shori, who looks like a human 10-year-old and is a 53-year-old Ina, is and isn’t a child in both worlds. from a human point of view, she of course belies appearances because she has 53 years of life under her belt. at the same time, not only does she look very much like a little girl to the human eye, but, also, she’s just undergone a pretty thorough and literal rebirth, and her memory is wiped entirely clean. when she gently bites her first human, he, a man of 23, experiences intense sexual (never described as such, but clearly that’s what it is) pleasure, and so does she. soon, she tells him that he can have sex with her if he wants to, because of the bond they have created through her feeding. the man may or may not feel instinctive reluctance to have sex what a small 10-year-old, but does nonetheless. shori is apparently (the sex scenes are not very detailed) an experienced lover, and this makes wright, the young man, feel altogether better, so that they go on to being regular lovers for the rest of the novel.

this is of course intensely disturbing to the reader. what is an adult male doing having sex with a little abandoned kid he’s just rescued on the side of the road? vampires and their humans, though, have a unique relationship. first of all, vampires are incredibly powerful, not only physically (they live a long time, are always healthy, heal themselves from injuries, are superhumanly strong, etc.) but emotionally. the moment they bite someone, the person experiences a pleasure that makes him or her little more than putty in the vampire’s hands. what stands between this and exploitation is the profound love vampires have for their symbionst, and ethics. the vampires desire their humans just as much as their humans desire them. their bond is pretty much absolute. even though humans mate with each other and have children of their own (and vampires do the same), the bond between vampires and symbionts is stronger than any other – it is visceral, and necessary to the survival of both. since vampires live as long as four or five hundred years and human symbionts, to whom vampires communicate a lot of their physical gifts, to 150 to 200 years, vampires are doomed to losing their symbionts, and the experience is described in the novel as so devastating as to be barely endurable. whereas, though, vampires can replace their symbionts, symbionts will get sick and possibly die if they lose the vampire to whom they are bonded. other vampires can and will take over out of ethical obligation, but it doesn’t always work.

as shori chooses and makes hers human after human, the reader’s pleasure deepens. the first human, wright, has little to no choice. both he and shori have no knowledge of what is going on between them, but, whatever it is, it’s irresistible to both of them. because she can’t feed on one human alone, shori then creeps into a woman’s bed at night and feeds on her. the woman is immediately, profoundly in love, and so is shori. technically they don’t have sex but they might as well have. these are the only two humans shori chooses. the other three she acquires in the book are, two of them, left-behind adult female symbionts of her father’s and brother’s, and, one, an adult male child of another symbiont who falls in love with shori and wants to be with her, and to whom shori is incredibly drawn. in other words, she has a profound attraction to three of her symbionts and only grows to love the other two. (two of her symbionts, the young man and the young woman she inherits from her brother, are also black).

the desire/fantasy this book portrays so effectively is that of total control over the love object, if not, possibly, over love itself. i submit that this is the desire/fantasy of those whose sexuality is chronically disempowered – queer people, women, who else? vampires cannot help reciprocating their humans’ love, but making this love authentic rather than exploitative is entirely a matter of ethical upbringing and ethical choices. shori, for instance, has to do violence to herself, at first, to allow herself to learn from her symbionts, some of whom have been living in vampire families for a long time and know way more about her people than she does. her willingness to treat her symbionts as equal is depicted as an act of great respect and humility on her part.

much as the symbionts long for her, shori has complete control over whom she feeds on, whom she has sex with, whom she chooses to love. they don’t. she, also, is clearly the head of the family. she decides what gets done when; the symbionts only suggest. moreover, she’s responsible for making the symbionts get along with each other. this last trait is of course reminiscent of motherhood. in fact, the whole feeding-as-a-sexual-act thing is very much a symbol of mother love, even though, in this case, it is the mother(-child) who feeds on the (adult) children. this role reversal is profound on many levels. because it gestures toward the breaking of a primal taboo, it shocks and pleasures at the same time. the smallness of shori’s body is always on the front of the page. she climbs into her symbionts’ laps, is enfolded in their arms, and, when they have traditional intercourse, which happens only with the men, always needs to position herself, and have her symbiont position himself, carefully.

interestingly, while butler describes with great intensity the pleasure shori derives from licking her symbionts’ blood (she doesn’t always feed on them; sometimes she just tastes them because it gives them both tremendous pleasure), she does not describe the pleasure she derives from having sex.

on the matter of sex: while shori is allowed to have sex with her symbionts, she is not yet allowed to have sex with other vampires, even though there is tremendous attraction between young male vampires and herself. i think she’d probably be around 16 in vampire age, and she’s too young to mate. for one, she couldn’t reproduce, for two, she’s just too young. the rules of proper-age mating hold just fine in the intra-vampire world.

which, problematically, sort of dehumanizes the humans. as i was reading the book, i kept slipping into a dissociative mode in which i perceived my dog as a symbiont. she is profoundly bonded to me, and loves me without any capacity for rejection. she obeys me even when it deprives her of pleasure (as when i ask her to go to her bed instead of staying on mine with me). i am bonded to her too, and i am as fiercely protective of her as vampires are of their symbionts. with all probability, she will die sooner than i and her death will devastate me. if i die before she does, someone will take her over out of ethical obligation to me.

if we want to eschew the suggestion that butler dehumanizes her humans, we can say that, at least, she infantilizes them. i cannot imagine reading this book if i had kids. i can stand seeing my dog the way vampires in the book see humans, but it would disturb me way too much to see my kids that way.

at the same time, seeing myself as a very powerful kid vampire who can control and attract so many adults (significantly, no one, vampire or not, is younger than shori in the book), and has such wise command of her emotions and her body, was tremendously thrilling to me.

i don’t know if the thrill i derived from this book is a consequence of my history and some damaged part of my emotional makeup, but i doubt all of those who liked it (and felt disturbed by it) have my same wounds. as i said, i think this book appeals to those – women, queer people, maybe disabled people, etc. – who are at a social disadvantage in the domain of sex and love. i admire tremendously what butler did here – the courage it took to write this on-the-surface reprehensible and distasteful book, her artistic integrity, her vulnerability.
Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
789 reviews1,183 followers
January 29, 2021
I had a twenty year love affair with Anne Rice's vampires. It's no wonder I was most often single during those years because a real-world partner would probably have been jealous of my deep feelings and obsessions over Maharet and Mekare, Merrick, Pandora, Mona, and yes, the Brat Prince himself, Lestat. 

So it's perhaps odd that I've never met a vampire outside of Anne Rice's books that I liked. There's never been another vampire story to draw me in and get under my skin. I usually give vampire books a pass because of this but, having loved Octavia E Butler's Earthseed: The Complete Series books and wanting to read something else by her, I decided to give this a try. Also, it was the only one of her books available without placing a hold.

Well.... it's not Anne Rice and Shori did not make me fall obsessively in love with her. In fact, I don't know how any of the characters fell in love with her... it was gross.

Though Shori is a 53-year old vampire, she looks like "a child of ten or eleven". And we have grown ass men wanting to have sex with her. It's disgusting. And not just wanting to, but doing it. 

What the fuck, Octavia Butler????

Shori narrates the story and you can tell she's lived longer than ten years by her words, but still. I  kept picturing this young girl and these.... men. Her first, Wright, is so relieved when he learns she's actually 53 years old because it means he can have sex with her because he's oh so attracted to her child's body.

Raven Thats So Raven GIF - Raven ThatsSoRaven DisneyChannel GIFs

That just ruined the book for me. As for the rest of the story? It was ok but nothing spectacular:

Shori wakes up alone and in pain, injuries on most of her body. She has no memory of who she is. She has an insatiable need to eat raw meat which helps her injuries heal.  

When she is strong enough, she stumbles along a road where Wright happens to drive by and picks her up. Because he's such a good person a loathsome pedophile, he lets her move in with him while keeping her secret from his neighbors and family. 

The book has Shori struggling to find out who and what she is. When she learns there was an attack on her family, killing all but her, Shori wants to hunt down the people responsible. 

So that's the story - Shori doing detective work and learning the history of the Ina (vampires)..... and having a considerable amount of sex and otherwise erotic acts with adult humans in between.

I probably would have enjoyed learning the history of the Ina if I hadn't found the book so disturbing. It was interesting that Shori is genetically modified and I appreciate what Ms. Butler did, in bringing out the stupidity of racism. 

It was often repetitive though, so even had it not been for the disgusting pedophilia, I probably wouldn't give this book more than 3 stars.
Profile Image for Joe Valdez.
485 reviews807 followers
October 9, 2015
One of the best books I've read is Kindred, Octavia Butler's 1979 time travel novel. Had it been published twenty years earlier, I'm sure it would've put her on Rod Serling's radar as he scouted writers for The Twilight Zone. Butler's use of dark fantasy to dramatize issues of social injustice and racism, and explore our reaction to genocide, wrapped me up in a spell. I hesitated to read more of Butler's work, fearing it wouldn't measure up.

Fledgling doesn't measure up. I scanned the second half of the novel so I wouldn't have to abandon it and pin it with one star, but this book warrants a rating that low. Butler's final novel, published in 2005 a year before her death, apparently came after a period of writer's block, depression and health issues. I can only speculate that the author wanted the book finished before her time ran out, but this effort is a major disappointment.

The story is the first person account of an adolescent girl who awakens in a cave with no memory of who she is or how she came to be there. She finds herself able to devour an animal that comes near her and though naked and covered with scars, begins to heal herself. She wanders through a small village that seems to have been burned down recently and stumbling onto a road, lures a motorist to stop to help.

Wright Hamlin is a 23-year-old construction worker renting a nearby cabin from his aunt and uncle. The girl, which Wright names "Renee," bites him on the hand, but rather than feel pain, he instead feels a strange ecstasy. Knowing she's far too young for him to get involved with, Wright nonetheless feels a connection to her. He concludes rather quickly that she is a vampire. He takes her home.

Of the thousand different directions Butler could've taken the story -- I would've liked one focusing on the doomed relationship between Wright and "Renee" -- Butler instead has her characters launch into talking, the sort speculation found in futuristic science fiction novels. Poorly written futuristic science fiction novels.

With her physical and psychological control of Wright complete, Renee leads him back to the ruins, where she makes contact with a man who reveals himself to be her father. "Renee" is really Shori Matthews, a 53-year-old being known as an Ina who has some of the characteristics which folklore attributes to vampires: immortality, the need of blood for sustenance, feats of physical strength, aversion to sunlight.

Shori, who's black, is an experiment by her family to develop a dark skinned Ina who can stay awake by day, Ina being heavy sleepers. This genetic kink may be the reason Shori's mother and aunts were wiped out in the village. While the racial and hereditary makeup of Shori is intriguing, it isn't a story, and instead of telling the reader a story, Butler devotes page after page of the novel to talking.

I don't want to read a novel about characters discussing vampires. I want to read a novel about characters doing something about vampires. This is the failure of Fledgling. The book reads like a first draft, a junk draft, with a lot of ideas and concepts and family history that might've been useful to the author in later drafts, but what's being passed off as the book isn't fit for publication.

The dialogue is atrocious, worse than a Chinese martial arts film dubbed into English.

"And no doubt that will make you feel better," she said. "But it won't help you. You've shown your teeth, Shori. They're sharp and set in strong female jaws. You are now less the victim and more the potentially dangerous opponent. You begin to overshadow your dead."

There's a lot of What did it all mean? and What had I done?, rudimentary, Young Adult novel writing, which makes no sense if the main character is 53. The book is repetitive, convoluted and poorly edited. Worse, it's boring. The last quarter is essentially Escape From the Planet of the Apes with Shori being questioned by a commission and talking, talking, talking, about the differences between herself and her inquisitors.

The idea of a black immortal, or one who resembled an 11-year-old girl, were unique and ripe for exploration. An idea I found repulsive and is explored ad nauseam is the symbiotic relationship between Ina and the human beings it gathers into a family unit to feed on, injecting a venom that make their symbioants dependent on them both physically and psychologically.

There's a lot of writing here about being paired, being mated and being controlled. Interesting ideas, but I don't want to read ideas, and I don't want to read about characters being forced to do things without their consent. It's not only immoral, it's boring.

Fledgling is not what I'd call a vampire novel. The speculative aspect sticks much closer to futuristic science fiction and there's nothing remotely eerie about this. For a book about an immortal predator and the impact it has on a community, read Let the Right One In instead.
Profile Image for Tim Null.
100 reviews63 followers
December 18, 2022
Sometimes things are not what they seem. That is the unspoken theme of Octavia Butler’s Fledgling novel. I don't recall Butler ever stating this theme outloud but she does confront us with one example after another. Butler is not afraid of making us feel uncomfortable in the process. If you are in need of trigger warnings, please read Lois' review before you read Fledgling.

I loved the two main characters in Fledgling: Shori/Renee and Wright. I love their relationship. I love how they start from a point of ignorance, and they gradually become aware of each other's characteristics and needs. How they gradually earn each other's trust and love. When Shori and Wright first meet, Butler will make you feel very uncomfortable. I know this because Butler made me feel uncomfortable. She made Lois feel uncomfortable. Butler will make you feel uncomfortable, too. When this discomfort hits you, remember that things are not always as they seem. Trust Octavia E. Butler. You're in good hands. Butler won't betray your trust.

I've never been particularly fond of vampires. I've heard lots of bad stuff about vampires. Vampires make me nervous. I'm ill at ease around vampires. If you feel the same way about vampires, remember that things are not always what they seem.

I loved Butler’s Fledgling. So far, Kindred and Fledgling are my favorite Butler novels. When Fledgling ended, I was in desperate need of a sequel. The way Fledgling ended, I was convinced Butler intended to write a sequel, but she died before she could write one. I'm hoping a ghostwriter will eventually be authorized to write a sequel to Fledgling. Until that happens, there are many more Octavia Butler books for me to read. Several people have encouraged me to read the Parable of the Sower, so that is what I'm reading next. In fact, I've already started. Hopefully, I will see you again on the other side.

Postscript: There’s another unwritten theme in Fledgling: We need to tell our loved ones that we love them, and we need to hold them close. If you celebrate a holiday in December, Happy Holidays! Tell your loved ones that you love them. Hold them close to your heart. Life is fragile. Every single day is precious.
Profile Image for Richard.
984 reviews358 followers
January 12, 2016
This was so disappointing. I'm actually bothered by this. I'm such a big fan of Octavia Butler's novel Kindred and this one (her last before her unfortunate passing) almost felt like it was written by someone else. The book actually sports a really great concept that's ripe for tons of conflict and exploration of ideas and themes. The story is about an amnesiac 11-year-old-looking girl and her rediscovery that she is in fact an experimental member of the Ina, a vampiric species that live in a mutually symbiotic relationship with several humans. She is one of a few Ina that have dark skin, who's melanin might be the key to withstanding the sun rays. There are so many cool ideas that can stem from these concepts and that's what kept me reading longer than I normally would have with this book.

But these cool concepts are totally betrayed by not only the blandest plot you could ever come up with from such a great idea, but also some of the dullest and most lackluster writing I've ever come across. While Butler's work on Kindred had such an urgent insistence to it and a great sense of personality and pace, the work in this one was devoid of not only that but also lacked any flavor or style, leaving nothing but dry, awkward, and totally redundant dialogue along with wikipedia-like info dumps about Butler's ideas every two pages. She should have taken a note from George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series for a good example of how to organically provide tons of exposition. And I think it might have been a mistake to write this in first-person. Not only is it already tricky to successfully pull off an amnesiac protagonist in first-person, but our heroine's inner dialogue was laughable and sometimes cringe-inducing at times, with lots of annoying "what have I done?'s" and "could it be?'s" throughout, like a bad YA-book written for pre-teen girls.

I'll give the book a couple stars because it does bring up some great ideas about sex, race and racism, and free-will, but a better constructed delivery of these ideas could have turned this into an utter masterpiece. And I keep bringing up her work on Kindred because it proves that Butler could have done better. I read somewhere that she was having a hard time writing while taking medication later in her years and wasn't very confident about fledgling. So she probably knew she was capable of more as well.
Profile Image for Lena.
1,144 reviews241 followers
September 4, 2020
Ah vampires...

Sexy sexy vampires...

Octavia Butler used the last of her considerable writing talents to leave us with the Ina, an interesting new culture and species of vampire.

The author decided to make the MC sexy vampire female.
Yes, good choice.
And black.
Great, love diversity in stories.
And ten years old.
You've lost me.

By the third sex scene where this little girl is joyfully plowed by an enormous hairy white twenty year old man, I decided the author had lost her mind.

If this is where Octavia Butler's writing was headed then I'm glad it ended. We don't need more pedo fantasy writing.
Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
666 reviews867 followers
December 2, 2021
“When your rage is choking you, it is best to say nothing.”

Escaping with Octavia Butler

Given the apparent age of the heroine, Shori, she looks the part of a little girl even though she is a much older vampire-like creature known as an Ina, I can understand why Octavia Butler's Fledgling is disturbing to readers. While I enjoyed much of the novel, I'm not anxious to see scenes of our 10-year old (looking) heroine seducing adults.

Themes of sexual power and enslavement run through this book. It is no coincidence; however, that hatred toward Shori is not predicated on her being some sort of monster who preys on others, but on her blackness. And while the ending made for plenty of drama, it was not quite the wrap up I was looking for. Instead, I wanted a conclusion that showed more about Ina society. 3.5 stars
Profile Image for Lee  (the Book Butcher).
255 reviews67 followers
March 16, 2021
in the middle of the vampire/twilight craze Octavia Butler used the ancient blood sucking monster as a literary vehicle to combat racial intolerances. With a sort of trial at the end that echoed my favorite book To Kill a Mockingbird.

a woman wakes up in unbearable pain and with amnesia. it soon becomes clear that she is a supernatural creature and is told her name is Shori. it appears that someone attacked her and her family Who and why? is the mystery for the reader to discover. That's the synopsis and i was enthralled by the first chapter. Unfortunately i guessed the answers pretty easily. And my interest waned as i waited for the conclusion. A conclusion i was excited for and felt more than justified. The vampire lore Here is good. with my wife being goth I'm a bit of a vampire expert (we have watched every vampire movie we find) and i mean EVERY vampire movie! But it was dense folklore and dragged out the pursuit of justice. i did not expect a vampire council trial. but it went about the way i expected! the one thing i know from Kindred is Butler is great at writing relationships. like next level good in the sci-fi genre. the good news is in Fledgling she gets to work with a lot of these as Shori collects many surrogates who become bound to her. this is the best part of the book. Shori Juggling so many relationships was fun to read. there is a lot of sex in this book because it's about vampires. i was expecting that. but Shori being in the body of a juvenile made me uncomfortable. I could not shake that unease so i took a star off for that!

Fledgling gets it's message of tolerance across very well. this echoed To kill a mockingbird greatly. Shori amnesia mirrored Scout's childish narrative perfectly. Filled with vampire Folklore and sex if that's you're thing. pick this up and let Octavia Butler wow you with her ability to make you connect with the relationships in her books! this could have been the beginning of a series, to bad it will never be. i would have enjoyed it. RIP Octavia Butler!
October 6, 2010
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.
Profile Image for Fabian.
947 reviews1,562 followers
May 14, 2019
Audacious & radical, it is basically a rebel literary monster thirsting for true blood.

& innovation. Tired of the same formula, it breaks conventions as it establishes others. That there is a hybrid vampire able to move in sunlight, thus breaking with the status quo (or our interpretation of the status quo, you know, in some parallel universe where vampires exist), it is all just too majestically REAL.

The tragedy of FLEDGLING is that it invites us into a world that is so fully alive that right as the fun is about to start, the death of the inventive writer, a speculative fictional master without a doubt, stops it from its rightful fruition. This realization alone tingles the spine more than any other vampiric revelation.
Profile Image for Laura Noggle.
677 reviews387 followers
December 8, 2018
Reasons why I was excited for this book:

1) Genetically modified, 53-year-old vampire in the body of a young, amnesiac girl.
2) Octavia Butler, because, she's awesome.
3) My first experience reading about a black vampire.

Reasons why this book was a disappointment:

1) The POV is a young, amnesiac girl who never "remembers." (It got old, fast.)
2) According to my book club, several of Butler's other books are *much* better.
3) The most radical thing about the book was the "underage" sex.

Usually, I'm down for a tastefully written steam-scene, but the sex in this books was ... squicky. Yes, I know she was *really* 53 years old inside the body of a young girl (12-ish) ... but Wright (the man she sleeps with) ... he seemed pretty unfazed by it. Okay, Shori (the vampire "girl") has typical vampire powers to convince, but STILL ... It just seemed like it was scandalous for the sake of being scandalous, or maybe Butler had some kind of cougar fantasy?

This was the last book Butler wrote before her death, at age 58. Several women in my book club who are big fans of Octavia's feel that this book is so unlike her other work, and have really talked up Kindred and Parable of the Sower. Perhaps her declining health had some impact on her writing? I will give Butler another chance in the future, however, I do not see myself reading any more teenage-vampire dramas if I can possibly help it.

The Good:

Vampires in the book have mutually beneficial relationships with "symbionts" which I thought was *almost* kind of sweet at times, once you get past the age difference creepiness.

Shori's dark skin is the result of genetic modification to make her more resistant to daylight, which enables her to move about more freely than all of the other white-skinned vampires. This makes so much sense, I can't believe this isn't more common in vampire fiction.

Butler has an economy of words that can be elegantly simple and precise.

The Bad:

Simple prose, combined with a persistently amnesiac narrator, invoked frustration, mild irritation, and a YA-type feel.

The book started out decently enough: I was intrigued, and drawn in. As the book continued, it felt like watching a train wreck. The last 1/3 was painful ... ly dull, with a bunch of new (unnecessary) characters thrown in at the end which diluted the plot.

The court case. The last chunk of the book was a chore to get through. Vampire court proceedings— because vampires have rules too. It reminded me of one of the Twilight movies (I didn't read the books), but minus the action. Lots of talking, rules, and vampire history. Snooze fest.

Read it if you're interested. I didn't hate this book, but I also can't see myself recommending it to anyone.
Profile Image for Rachel (TheShadesofOrange).
2,084 reviews2,946 followers
September 30, 2021
4.0 Stars
This was my first time Octavia Butler book and it did not disappoint.I loved her unique science fiction twist on the traditional vampire story. Within a story of blood-sucking creatures, Butler skillfully wove an insightful social commentary on racial prejudice. Her writing style was sparse, easy to read and suited me well. Even though the plot was slower paced, the world building kept me pulled into the story. I was fascinated by the animalistic nature of the vampires and their symbiotic relationships with their multiple human companions. I loved particularly loved reading from the perspective of the main vampire who was a strong, female protagonist.
Profile Image for [Name Redacted].
789 reviews394 followers
July 4, 2017
Time to give Butler another chance! Will she manage to avoid the Manichaean "Male = Bad. Female = Good." dynamic of Wild Seed? Only time will tell! But this stand-alone novel is about vampires and fits in perfectly with my goal for October.


Well, a remarkable dearth of misandry! In its place was a really, really, really creepy story about how healthy and natural pedophilia can be. In context it makes sense, and technically the pre-pubescent girl was a 50 year-old member of an entirely different species. But even so, I couldn't fight the "ick" feeling throughout, especially when they talked about how she lacked breasts and pubic hair and described all the sex she was having with adults -- likewise, she may have been 50 years-old, but she was also pre-pubescent by the standards of her own species. No matter what, that's...it's just...yeurgh.

It wasn't helped by the fact that this book was 90% exposition and 9% action, with 1% sensory information; it was dry, lifeless, devoid of sensuality and aesthetic consideration, and Butler shied away from all the most intriguing and emotionally-charged topics she introduced early in the story. The aforementioned pedophilia could have been an interesting jumping off point (cf. Let the Right One In), but it's ignored after the first couple chapters. I suspect she had intended to write more about these vampire-esque creatures and was using this book to set up a lot, but it wound up feeling clumsy and rushed, and left me shrugging my shoulders in ambivalence. The finale was especially abrupt, and given that she died shortly after publishing "Fledgling", there's no possibility of pay-off.

Overall, while it lacked the misandry and pan-African idealization of Wild Seed, it also lacked that book's lyricism and attention to detail. That book was a work of art marred by heavy-handed ideological underpinnings -- this book is just a book. Not bad. Not good. Just a book.
99 reviews3 followers
September 27, 2008
Octavia Butler is dead (in 2006, actually), long live Octavia Butler. There are few authors who have taught me more about what it means to be human.

Her stories don't teach with luxurious literary language or complex psychological portraits. The earlier novels are a little bit wooden, with characters that sometimes seem like cardboard cut-outs. But rarely have I found stories so LOADED down with ideas that there's barely time to explore one before the next one bursts upon me. Her stories teach through the ancient arts of analogy, metaphor and parable.

She has given me so many images of human-ness, refracted through her prism of fantasy and science fiction. Here are a few that I still ponder, years after reading them:

That adolescence is a life-threatening "transition," and not all beings survive the intensity of the transformation. All need, though not all receive, the intense, focused, physical presence and mentoring of an adult who has successfully navigated the change, and still remembers how hard it was.

In Fledgling, the heroine, Shori, is a black, female, amnesiac, child-sized vampire with some human DNA, as well--how many more levels outside the "norm" could she be? Her journey to learn who she is and what she believes in is a beautiful analogy for each of our search to define ourselves, what we can tolerate, who our tribe is, and how we can stand up against injustice.

Speaking of heroines, Butler has left us a gallery of fascinating, powerful-yet-disempowered female beings, all of whom have to live with enormous physical danger, as well as profound social inequality. Every time I read her stories I learn more about how it feels to live as the victim of social injustice and racism, and also what it means to cleave to your own values and vision. So many of our contemporary myths are manufactured by white, male-dominated Hollywood.

Here's a glimpse of Butler's gallery of heroes:

a vampire with the ability to sustain a web of complex, interdependent symbiotic relationships that include multiple mates (polyamory) and inter-species love;

a super-hero whose gift is an almost unimaginable level of--get ready now--not strength, not speed, not the power to destroy, but--empathy.

a nurturing, insect-like creature with multiple arms that serves as a gestational pod for humans

In The Parable of the Sower and The Parable of The Talents, Butler suggests that the only way to keep the human race from destroying itself through tribal warfare is to find a vision--a narrative--big enough to harness everyone's energy and turn it outwards. Butler proposed a "space race" as an example of an expansive-enough vision to provide that focus. I wonder if saving this planet could serve the same purpose, and provide more obvious and immediate rewards: like survival.

It was also in the Parables that she painted a portrait of a society in which only the ultra-rich could afford the gasoline and bodyguards necessary to drive (are we there yet?)--everyone else used the super-highways as enormous sidewalks, where the strong preyed on the weak and no one was safe.

What will I do now that I've read all her books? It's simple: Start re-reading them.

Profile Image for aPriL does feral sometimes .
1,889 reviews428 followers
July 18, 2016
I could not get over the 1. Child sex with adults, and 2. 'Beneficial' enslavement despite lack of free will or any impartiality being possible once enslaved. I finished this because I respect the author so much. She could not have written this to be her effort at writing pornography for deviants. It left a disgusting impression on me, though, and I won't read it ever again. I read it a couple of years ago, and I keep wavering between giving it one star because of my repugnance and five stars because I suspect it's a literary 'tour de force', to be cliched about it.

Butler's vampire story is all very plausible and makes sense fictionally. It's original, well-written and interesting. It's worth reading, if you can get past the more absolutely repulsive, situational morality in the plot angles. The lack of sexual boundaries in the book isn't the usual conversation of late we are having in the real world, meaning that of consenting adults. The vampire has the body of a little girl, and she goes around having beneficial sex with human adults while enslaving them with the power of enzymes, basically. There is a vampire war and battle strategizing, and a mystery of identity and deceit.

I guess I'd call this a horror thriller, with intensely disturbing scenarios and protagonists. It's a bit like reading graphic deviant porn that the literary world considers award winning, but when YOU read it you might be left thinking, WTF?

It's a very twisted book with disturbing horrors. After I decided to push on because I knew Butler must have created this sick 'romance' for reasons that weren't simply prurient, gradually the book appeared to me to be like an inverted, upside-down, inside-out nightmare dream world using actual printed White slaveowners' opinions regarding how beneficial slavery was for slaves before the American Civil War as a starting point. I really don't know if that's what Butler WAS doing, but if it was, she made her point, as far as I'm concerned. This is not satire, though, but a bitter bitter forced feeding of poisonous ideas disguised as something wonderfully uplifting and good for both races because of mutual symbiotic back scratching enabled by the wonders of scientific exploration. As a matter of fact, many proto-scientists of the 19th century put forward outrageous racial theories, many of which supposedly justified slavery because the enslaved were assumed to be not human or intelligent, so had to be taken care of by the superior human race by virtue of duty. These actual historical documents are so jaw-dropping horrifyingly stupid, that it made me realize the capacity of the human brain to engage in faulty logic to absolve itself of wrong doing truly has no boundaries.

So, the book is either a literary work of genius turning the racial issues of the Civil War into a brilliant, scathingly mocking horror story, or it's a disgusting deviant porn novel disguised as a vampire genre romance.
Profile Image for Howard.
1,176 reviews73 followers
November 16, 2021
4 Stars for Fledgling (audiobook) by Octavia E. Butler read by Tracey Leigh.

I think this is a interesting take on the vampire story. Unfortunately it seemed like it was more world building than action oriented. This is my first book by the author and I’ll have to see what else she has written. The narrator did a good job too.
Profile Image for Sara.
36 reviews5 followers
February 2, 2009
I just barely made myself finish this. I thought the writing style was fairly dull, the social observations not nearly as interesting or original as the reviews I read had suggested, and at least the edition I read was really poorly edited for typos and punctuation. I did a lot of eye rolling at this one.
Profile Image for David.
Author 18 books336 followers
May 25, 2012
Octavia Butler was a genius who died far too young. In her too-short oeuvre are many classics of science fiction, Hugo and Nebula winners, all of them dealing with race and power and oppression in some way. Fledgling was (I think) her last book, or one of the last, and it's a fairly straightforward vampire story, except that as Butler handles it, the narrative is as deep and complicated as the story is simple.

Butler was not one of those writers who spent a lot of time crafting words, or if she did, she spent it on making them as readable as possible. Her style is sparse and simple, without any narrative flourishes. Sometimes, particularly in this book, where the POV character is a (sort of) child with amnesia, you could be mistaken for thinking you are reading a YA book, the writing is so unembellished, the vocabulary so unchallenging. Until you actually read the words.

But before he could reach me, before I could taste his blood, two of his sons and one of his brothers leaped up from the front row, grabbed him, and dragged him down. They held him while he struggled beneath them, screaming. At first, it seemed that he wasn't making words. He was only looking at me, screaming. Then I began to recognize words: "Murdering black mongrel bitch..." and "What will she give us all? Fur? Tails?"

Shori Matthews is a vampire. Or, as she learns once she finally meets some of her own people, an Ina, a race of long-lived beings who have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with humans since before recorded history. Ina have many of the powers and disabilities of classic vampires, though these are explained scientifically. The Ina also have their own culture and language, their own history, even their own myths and religions. They have adapted to living with humans in the modern world in secret societies with large numbers of human retinues (or "symbionts"); the relationship is generally beneficial for both sides, but when an Ina bites someone, their saliva effectively holds that person in thrall. Even though they feel as if they want to be with the Ina, may even feel love and affection for her, it's hard to tell how much free will any of the symbionts have. Likewise, Ina culture dictates treating humans kindly and respectfully, but the Ina are no less prone than humans to violating their own mores.

All of these issues are more than thought experiments since, in the first few chapters of the book, we learn that Shori is physically a pre-pubescent girl, and the first human she meets, a grown man, takes her home and has sex with her. No one ever questions this or feels guilty about it - there is only some acknowledgment that other humans would not approve if they found out.

Not many authors can pull this off. Butler does, but she never makes it comfortable for the reader. Shori is physiologically about ten, but she is actually 53 years old. Which still makes her a child by Ina standards. And when she wakes up, she has total amnesia thanks to a devastating fire and what turns out to have been an attempt to kill her and wipe out her entire family, Ina and humans alike, which only succeeded in doing the latter.

So, you've got this prepubescent semi-immortal vampire with the mind of a memory-impaired adult and the life experience of a child running around making "voluntary" servants out of humans and having sex with them, male and female alike. Does this squick you out? I was surprised at how normal it became in the story, except now and then Butler would bring up another squicky little facet of this relationship, like, she wants you to sympathize with Shori and her symbionts and Ina in general, but she doesn't want you to get comfortable with them. Everyone in the story (except the villains) is quite likable and rational and they talk things out in a very straightforward manner, oh, except there are these grown men (and women) having sex with a ten-year-old girl. (Who's not really ten, or a girl, but...)

Yeah, you could spend quite a while unpacking that.

The plot is basically Shori finding out who wants to kill her and why. The "why" is answered fairly early: Shori, unlike most Ina (who are generally tall and thin and pale and burn like thermal paper in the sun) is dark-skinned. In fact, she's the product of Ina genetic experimentation, a human/Ina cross-breed. Her father was an Ina, her mother was a black human woman. Because of this, she can walk in the sun and remain active during daylight hours. Some Ina see her as deliverance from one of their greatest weaknesses, but not everyone likes the idea of future generations of Ina being part human.

This was a really good story, and one of the best modern treatments of vampires-as-protagonists you will find. And like all Butler stories, it raises lots of uncomfortable questions without answering any.

Much as I wanted to give Fledgling 5 stars, because I really enjoyed it, I had to knock one off because I felt the themes were not quite as well developed as Butler's Parable series. Also, the motives of the villains seemed a bit thin in the end, their prejudices a bit cardboard, and the resolution was anti-climactic since by the time we get there it had already been made clear that there was little doubt about the outcome. But still, a great book for anyone who likes a bit of socially-aware SF with a serious treatment of vampires to disguise the more nebulous themes of consent and bigotry.
Profile Image for Lois .
1,757 reviews466 followers
June 13, 2021
2021 Reread:
Butler is my favorite author and I reread her novels frequently, much more so than I include on my Goodreads account, but never this book.
I read this when it was released, liked it enough to hope it was the beginning of a trilogy or new series but at the same time found many of the opening scenes deeply disturbing. When Shori/Renee is described as appearing like a 10 yr old child her early interactions with Wayne are disturbing. As the story grows everything makes sense. None the less the initial unease has kept me from rereading this story.
I decided to read Butlers novels in the order in which they were released which I've never done, with that perspective I feel differently about this.
Of course I like her take on the vampire story and it is absorbing with her characteristic world building. I see elements of Anyanwu from Wild Seed, Lauren from Parable novels, Dana from Kindred, Lilith and Jodahs from the Xenogenesis series. The unique family structure similar to the Oankali.
Butler has a limited prose that conveys much in few words and I felt like this over explains.
None the less, a treasure and far superior to the usual fare in this genre.

Previous review:
This is very well written but I find parts of the story very disturbing and have never reread this novel.
Profile Image for Zanna.
676 reviews945 followers
July 13, 2018
In this book, the themes around power, love, intimacy, family and interdependence that were so captivatingly worked in the Xenogenesis stories are explored again, this time drawing ingeniously on vampire mythology and critiquing USian racism.

The insinuations about Shori's "impairment" in the face of her obviously advanced abilities, extralegal attacks on her, and even the insistence of benevolent parties that "race means nothing to us" are all too familiar...

As usual with Butler, I couldn't put the book down and finished it far too quickly...
Profile Image for Johanna.
220 reviews24 followers
October 6, 2007
The sad thing about this book is that it is very clearly supposed to be one in a series; unfortunately, Butler died after writing this book. That makes it hard to read because you immediately become attached to Shori, much like the people in the book become attached to her. This book is AMAZING. It introduces the Ina and by doing so, Butler created a new branch of vampire lore--vampires who are not evil, do not kill to feed, who live with families of several humans they feed on and who they love. I swallowed this book whole, I could not get enough of it. It is my favorite Butler. I read Parable of the Sower and I HATED the main character, but I loved the book and how it was written. The fact that I hated the character made it hard to read the sequel, because I could not stand reading about such a cold, impersonable person. In Fledgling, Butler creates a character who had a hard edge but was intensely lovable and that made the book that much more engaging. What a beautiful book.

SPOILER - For those who are easily squicked out, I would not recommend this book. Shori is a 53 year old vampire but she is a child in body. She has sex with people in the book and this grosses people out. They cannot get over that. They are missing out on reading an amazing book. I think Butler was very much playing with that idea on purpose, and she kinda wanted to squick people out with it. I like the discomfort she created in me because it is not often I feel that way about a book. I frequently had to block out the image the book left in my head during those scenes but I soldiered on and LOVED the book.
Profile Image for RB.
185 reviews152 followers
May 14, 2012
For a long time I have been wanting to read a novel by Octavia E. Butler. Her last book, Fledgling, somehow seemed to be the right first choice for me, as I've always had a thing for vampire-stories.

I ordered the book from a local book store and waited for days in eager anticipation for it's arrival. The book arrived and I read it. The first few pages seemed promising, for its premise was different than most other vampire books that I have read. The book quickly became a disappointment to me (to put it mildly), as it touched on a subject that I find both disgusting and distracting.

The main character, Shori, is a 53-year old female vampire that suffers from amnesia. Shori is however not like other vampires, she is black (which for me is pointless as I have always been racially unbiased - she could have been purple for all that I cared), she is not "undead" or some fantastical strange mutation. She belongs to a different species that developed side by side with the humans. She does not look like other vampires of her species, for she physically looks like a 9-11 year old human child, although she certainly doesn't act like one. I can accept that, for who's to say that the physical development of a vampire child follows that of a human? Shori has several symbionts that she shares her life with and whom she feeds from, for her species is not a merciless bloodthirsty killer.

What I could not accept, enjoy or even tolerate, was the fact that Shori is a sexually active child. She is not sexually active with children of her own species (that, to a certain extend I could have "understood"), but she has sex with adult men and women of the human species, with individuals who seemingly have no qualms and troubles of having sex with what (appears to be) a human child. It's bizarre at best, utterly disgusting and perverted at worst. I don't get the point of this pseudo-paedophilia, I really don't see where Butler wants to go with this.

Because I enjoyed other aspects of this book I continued reading; I had an expectation that Butler had a larger plan with this pseudo-paedophilia, that there was some point that she was trying to make, but frankly I never saw it. IF there even was a point with it, for Butler herself has been known to have said that this book was meant as a lark, a joke. But sex with children, even if consensual, is no joke: it's just plain wrong. Frankly, I am amazed how any publisher would chose to publish it in the form that it is today.

I hope that her other works are better than this.
Profile Image for Ashley Daviau.
1,757 reviews754 followers
November 26, 2021
This right here is what vampire stories are supposed to be. Dark and sinister with the evil lurking in the night around every corner. I honestly can’t believe I haven’t read this before now and I’m kind of kicking myself because it’s bloody brilliant and I couldn’t have possibly loved it more! I’ve read many a vampire story and this is by far one of my very favourite ones. Honestly, it’s probably really only rivalled by Dracula itself. It is so spectacularly written, you can feel the mounting dread and horror just seep into your bones and it is such a delicious feeling. It’s also one of the most original vampire stories I’ve read, the whole concept was just SO unique and interesting. I was absolutely fascinated and totally enthralled the whole way through. On top of all that, the way Butler weaves in and talks about race and racism is just flawless and powerful and absolutely stunning. Some parts and passages just had my gut absolutely twisting and my heart hurting because it was just all too real. This book has truly spoiled all other vampire stories for me because none will ever be as fantastic and powerful as this one.
Profile Image for Mark Oshiro.
Author 53 books1,112 followers
May 17, 2014
perhaps one of the best books I've EVER read. a stunning and haunting examination of race, gender, mental disability, and identity, it entirely re-invents vampire lore in a way that makes everything pale in comparison. there are a number of scenes that are downright terrifying. but what i loved about Fledgling the most was Butler's insistence on forcing our gaze onto many uncomfortable aspects of traditional vampire mythology – the sexualization of underage bodies, the paleness of all vampires ever, the lack of consent – and then refusing to let us look away. this is deeply uncomfortable in a way that makes us re-examine the whole genre. brilliant, thrilling, and an absolute necessity.
Profile Image for da AL.
366 reviews365 followers
December 9, 2019
At 53, she's just a baby vampire! How does one be a vampire? She finds out. Humor, wit, & wisdom -- & great narrator.
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