Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler

book cover of Fledgling

It’s been a long time since I last properly read a book. Alexandra Wolfe posted recently about the OctTBR challenge(external link), which seemed as good an excuse as any to finally get back into it. But then I was like, “Hey, who says I have to wait until October?” and I decided to restart my reading habit right away. Working my way through the “learn Occidental by the natural method” book Salute, Jonathan! (which is based on Dracula) had given me a hankering to read a good vampire story, and when I checked what I’d left at the top of my “to read” queue, this book was first on the list! So, that settled it. I began to read Fledgling.

I am a sucker for a good vampire story. Not like Twilight (is that finally so many years ago that there’s no longer a need to clarify, “not like Twilight”?) but in the vein of gothic horror. Vampires that are sexy but sinister, and stories that deal with submission and resistance, coercion and persuasion, pleasure and compulsion… all that kind of stuff.

The book follows Shori, who awakens badly injured in a cave at the start of the story, knowing nothing about anything that happened before. She is able to recover, fuelling her body by hunting and eating the raw meat, and gets picked up at the side of the road by a young man called Wright. She ends up discovering that she’s a vampire – among themselves they’re called Ina – and that her entire family has been murdered. The story follows her pursuit for justice in an Ina society that she has to relearn about from scratch.

I was a bit disconcerted early on by the sexual relationship between Wright (an adult man!) and Shori, who “looks” only 10 or 11 despite being 53, but I trusted Octavia Butler with this kind of “fake pedo” situation more than I would’ve trusted some unknown author. In the end, Shori isn’t written like a 10 or 11 year old girl, and since there are no illustrations it’s easy to forget how young she’s supposed to look. She’s written like a young adult, which in Ina terms she is, so it didn’t feel squicky to me. I highlight it though because YMMV.

Overall, though, this was exactly the kind of book I was hoping to read. Butler presents us with a version of vampirism that is absolutely sexy – the process by which a vampire takes blood from a human is described as pleasurable for both parties, and when done repeatedly creates a kind of biological bond between them similar to addiction, at which point the human becomes the vampire’s “symbiont”. The Ina, at least the ones we see much of, are described as honourable in the main. Humans are given the opportunity to decline an Ina’s invitation to be bound to them for life, if they want (although the addictive pleasure of being fed from means most of them accept). The “good” Ina do their utmost to make sure their symbionts have happy, fulfilling lives, and don’t try to isolate them from their families or friends (although part of being a symbiont means having a longer lifespan than most humans, so in the end it becomes awkward to explain to their families why they’re not aging). The “evil” Ina don’t so much, but then, that’s part of why they’re villains.

Fledgling wasn’t supposed to be a standalone book – Butler had written drafts for follow-ups, but because she died only a year after this book was published, those drafts weren’t polished into books. The ending to this book, while not unsatisfying by itself, does feel like an ending that sets the stage for a sequel. The family that killed Shori’s family is punished with dispersement, and the Ina that had Theodora murdered is killed herself, but it feels like there are still Ina out there – not least the dispersed family – who hold a grudge. Plus, there are hints that Shori’s first symbiont, Wright, may not be happy that he made a lifetime commitment to Shori without knowing what he was getting into in advance. Given the themes of Butler’s previous books, I feel like there was room for more exploration of the power dynamics between Ina and their symbionts. No sequel was ever completed, though, and that’s life 🙂


a cartoony avatar of Jessica Smith is a socialist and a feminist who loves animals, books, gaming, and cooking; she’s also interested in linguistics, history, technology and society.