Wednesday, March 27, 2013

When your rage is choking you, it is best to say nothing

Finding Octavia Butler novels is far more difficult than it should be. I mean, it's not THAT hard (cos, you know, the internet helps) but they aren't readily available in bookstores and even digital copies are rare. Which is lame because she's AMAZING and places need to stock more of her. Of course, that will only happen when demand...well demands it. So please start demanding her.

OK, now that I got that out of the way, I should start talking about her book Fledgling, which was finally available on the Kindle one day. I'd heard very good things about it so I was excited to give this one a try. Especially because I'm nearing the end of the Butler bibliography, which sucks.

Fledgling is the story of a young Ina/vampire named Shori. Shori wakes up one day badly injured and burned, with no memory of who she is or how she got there. Slowly it's revealed that Shori's family was wiped out, most likely by fellow vampires who were unhappy her family was experimenting with genetic mutations in order to produce offspring who can stay awake for the day and have better protection from the sun.

I know Twilight cast a shadow over vampire books, whether you like that series or not. Both books actually came out a month apart from one another (Butler's in September, Meyers in October of 2005) so clearly the two books are in no way related, inspired, or anything with one another. As with most of Butler's novels, Fledgling deals with race. In this case Shori is the genetic experiment. Instead of having the very pale skin of her Ina ancestors, Shori has dark brown skin that doesn't burn so quickly in the sunlight. She's described by some of the vampire as a mongrel and less than Ina because her DNA has been mixed with human DNA.

When Butler is dealing with race the novel really comes to life. Unfortunately, this isn't really the main focus of the story. Or it is, but a LOT of the story takes place with Shori learning about Ina ways and especially about her symbiots.

See, in order to live, the vampires need to drink blood. As they do. And while technically they should be able to survive by just casually grazing (as they call it), the Ina whither away unless they bond with a human symbiot. This is more than just having someone around to regularly feed on, but it's an emotional connection with their people. The bond is so strong that if an Ina dies, their symbiots will likely die as well. If the vampire isn't in regular physical contact with their symbiots, regardless of if they feed on them, they will also die. Symbiots live unusually long lives (200+ years), free from health problems and derive extreme pleasure whenever their Ina feed from them. There are a lot more details about the relationship between Ina and their symbiots and had Butler lived longer, I feel like she probably would have written a few more novels about them, even if she does say Fledgling was just a lark.

There's one thing though that I had trouble getting past. Shori is a young vampire, but vampires live a very long time (500 or so years). Shori's around 53 years old, which should make whatever she does with her adult symbiots fine. Except Shori LOOKS like an 11-12 year old. And she has sexy time with her adult symbiots (in addition to just feeding from them). And that was awkward. And happened a lot, especially in early parts of the novel. Later when she's dealing with finding out what happened to her family, this happens less often and I found I enjoyed the story more. (Also this is when we're dealing more with the race thing, where Butler really shines.) I tried not to think about it too much, cos thinking about it made me think I'm going to be put on a list for reading this book. Though at least nothing is TOO explicit.

The other thing that I was sort of disappointed in was Shori's personality. Butler is great at writing strong female characters (which I've mentioned before) and Shori belongs in that group but near the bottom. She's stoic to the point of being monotone. She's lost everything and knows she can't even properly mourn her family because she doesn't remember them enough, but Shori hardly displayed any emotion. At times she would get angry and others would comment on her temper, but it never really came across to me. All of the female characters (at least those I've read) have been strong and somewhat stoic, but they still felt like real people and that they had real emotions behind their tough exterior. Shori didn't feel this way, which meant I didn't connect with her as much as the others.

Overall, I enjoyed Fledgling although not as much as the other Butler I've read. It's still a good one, and I'm still glad I read it, but if you're looking for some Butler to start with, might I recommend Kindred. Again. Because seriously, you need to read that one. It is superb.

Title quote from location 3242

Butler, Octavia E. Fledgling. Seven Stories Press, 2005. Kindle edition.