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Review: Fledgling, Octavia Butler

A young, dark-skinned girl awakens in the woods, unsure of who or what she is, burned across the huge majority of her skin, with massive head injuries. Shori slowly begins to understand the world around her and recall knowledge, but her past is lost to her. Though she has the appearance of a ten or eleven-year-old girl, Shori is actually fifty-three years old, a vampire, and needs blood to survive. Genetically modified to survive in the sunlight and stay awake during the day, Shori is anathema to some of her kind, and her very nature makes her a target and a threat to all she holds dear.

When Aarti proposed this week’s A More Diverse Universe blog tour, I knew immediately that I wanted to read something by Octavia Butler. I have for some time now, and this gave me the perfect excuse to finally get one of her books – the bookstore near me never seem to have them in stock – and actually find out what her writing style was like. I was rewarded with a vampire book that genuinely made me think about racism, with a few telling moments, but which also provided a story that I found compelling and interesting.

The main thread of the story focuses on the fact that someone is trying to kill Shori and the quest to find out who it is and bring them to justice. She doesn’t necessarily realize this at first, as she’s forgotten everything that happened to her. But slowly it becomes obvious that she is the target. Whether it’s because she has dark skin amidst pale, blond vampires, because she’s human, or because she’s genetically engineered, Shori must face up front people’s bigotry and dislike of her based on factors that she can’t control and that have nothing to do with who she is.

The fact that Shori has lost her memory gives the story a perfect way to impart this information to us, and there was indeed a considerable amount of detail on the Ina societies and how they sustain themselves. Despite the fact that Shori’s life is under threat, this isn’t really a book with a lot of action; some of the final scenes take place in a courtroom of sorts, rather than with violence. I found all of the detail really interesting and the way the society was fleshed out held my interest throughout. It was a short book, so I didn’t feel it was moving slowly at all in this respect.

The one aspect that made me vaguely uncomfortable was Shori’s age appearance. Picturing her as a ten year old sleeping with a twenty-five year old man really wasn’t a pleasant mental image. It’s easy to understand that their lure is incredibly strong, but it still put me off when scenes of that nature occurred.

The real attraction of the book, anyway, is how Butler questions the racism of the people around Shori. It could be any number of reasons why, and she experiences several of them to a certain degree. For example, on questioning a human who has just tried to kill her, Shori is presented with the strange dichotomy of a racist who can love a black person that he is related to, but is still racist against all black people. After he calls her filthy names, he continues saying:

I didn’t mean to call you … what I called you. My sister, she married a Dominican guy. Her kids are darker than you, and they’re my blood, too. I would kick the crap out of anyone who called them what I called you.

And indeed Shori faces this problem several times – a person can know and love someone who appears different from him or herself, but remain racist against others just like them.

All in all, Fledgling is a very thoughtful book, vastly different from most out there featuring vampires, and definitely recommended.

For more blogs on the tour and to view the great range of reviews already, visit the tour schedule. Huge thanks to Aarti for organizing this fantastic week!

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