Saturday, March 13, 2010

Girl on Book Action: Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler

Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler
ISBN: 978-0-446-69616-6


Shori is a mystery. Found alone in the woods, she appears to be a little black girl with traumatic amnesia and near-fatal wounds. But Shori is a fifty-three-year-old vampire with a ravenous hunger for blood, the lost child of an ancient species of near-immortals who live in dark symbiosis with humanity. Genetically modified to be able to walk in daylight, Shori now becomes the target of a vast plot to destroy her and her kind. And in the final apocalyptic battle, her survival will depend on whether all humans are bigots – or all bigots are human…


Introduction: If you don't know yet, vampires are kind of my "thing." I'm currently in the early stages of writing my Masters thesis on vampires, so I have done some research and put some thought into the nature of the vampire myth and its portrayal in different movies and books. Basically, what I'm telling you here is that I'm on the brink of being an expert on the subject. Now, let me actually review this book.

My Thoughts:

Sometimes the back-cover blurbs are really misleading with regard to what a book is actually about. There is no apocalyptic battle in this novel, but there are plenty of other wonderful, terrible events, but I guess an “apocalyptic battle” sounds better.

As most of you know this book was chosen in last month’s reader’s choice poll and thus gets a bit of priority with getting read and posted (believe it or not I have a bit of a back-log built up!). Anyway…

This novel was a pleasant surprise in terms of vampire fiction. These vampires don’t kill people to feed and their reasons for doing so made sense and they had no such cute catch-phrases as “We’re vegetarians.” The history of the vampire-clans made sense and their culture was fascinating. When the book ended I really wanted to learn more about the Ina (which is what the vampires refer to themselves as) and their history and customs. The re-working of the myth made the vampires believable and added a level of realism. Overall, the story left me wanting more of everything – more of what happens to Shori, more of the Ina, more of the relationships between Shori and her symbionts, simply more. I wish more authors who decide to write about vampires would truly add a new element to the myth with their work and I don't mean making the vampires sparkle in the sun. I mean possible new levels of social criticism, which were addressed in parts of this book with regards to racism, genetic engineering and the legal system. But I would also settle for new levels of terror, because I still believe that if vampires are portrayed as evil in a book they should be scary (but that doesn’t apply to this book at all).

I have two complaints about this book – one related to the narrative and one that’s more of an editorial issue. Lets start with the latter: there were a lot of typos and yes, I know, this is a pet-peeve of mine, but when the word “that” is used instead of “than” enough times that I’m itching to get out a pencil to make corrections it’s a real problem.

The narrative problem is more difficult for me to pin down. It just felt like there was something missing and I’m not sure I know what. I enjoyed the characters, the story, the relationships, the mythology, but somehow it didn’t quite feel…complete to me. Maybe it was that mentally Shori is an adult, but physically she is a child and so all the moments that were meant to be sensual felt a little bit uncomfortable and creepy to me. Or maybe the first person narrative left too much out since the narrator, Shori, has amnesia. It might also just be that I didn’t want the book to end when it did and wanted to see what would happen next. All of those seem like valid possibilities, but I don’t know if it’s just one of those, or a combination of all of them that left me feeling like something was absent from the story.

So my overall point is that I enjoyed this novel and I think it does some really interesting things with the vampire myth. In the long run, this will be a novel that I will re-visit due to its originality and its sensitivity. And chances are I’ll be picking up other novels written by Octavia E. Butler in the future.

Postscript: I know some of you are probably expecting a new poll now that I've reviewed the previous poll's winner, but you won't find one this week. I'm going to be really busy in the next little while, so I'm postponing the next poll for a little while. Rest assured that there will be another poll in a few weeks when things have settled down again.

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