Not every written word ages well. Every author has something in their catalog that gives readers of the future the ick. Sometimes it’s the whole catalog. If they’re lucky, it’s just one book or part of a book.
Octavia Butler got lucky.
Fledgling has been called Butler’s vampire novel, and that’s not wrong. The book is about vampires, but stays pretty far away from the usual cliches. Instead of an impossibly sexy and immoral huntress, our title vampire is Shori, a compassionate 53-year-old vampire with amnesia trying to solve a mystery. Someone has been trying to kill her and her family, and they’ve nearly succeeded. Shori is the only one left, and her life depends on relearning her people’s ways and figuring out who wants her dead, and why.
Of course, she is a vampire, which means she has to build a community of human blood donors who are sexually and emotionally connected to her. Some of the best scenes in the book are the little life vignettes that Shori shares with her young human harem. Butler wrote diverse communities well, and this book is no exception.
All in all, this sounds like a good story, right?
But what if I tell you that despite being 53 and not human, Shori resembles a 10-year-old Black girl?
I’ve had some awkward conversations about this book focused on either pedophilia or hypersexualization of Black girls. TBH, I think both of those takes are getting it wrong. Shori’s story is not about her appearance. It’s about alienation, of waking up powerful but not knowing why, of being in danger for reasons you can’t remember that shouldn’t matter. It’s a story where racism is so strong that other taboos are ignored in favor of false purity. It’s about being more than you seem, but still being seen as less than you are. It’s about the fear of Black bodies, and how to some people, they are never acceptable, right or wrong. It is not about pedophilia or hypersexuality.
The Grande Dame of science fiction could never be so basic.
Still, if you’re a reader with an intense visual imagination, there are probably some scenes you’ll want to skim past.
Four stars to Fledgling
(To be honest, fellow readers, one of the things I appreciate most about La Butler is that her imagination was so expansive and unfettered that it didn’t really matter that not everything she wrote was a slam dunk, but was completely unlike everything else in the library. To read more of her work, check out my Butlerian booklist. To support this site and help me buy more books and write more reviews, check out the Equal Opportunity Bookshop(now in Black!) For legal reasons I have to tell you that we have affiliate relationships with Bookshop and if you purchase anything from them via a link you find on this site, we’ll earn a commission. It keeps our creative juices flowing and is always appreciated. Peace!)