Fledgling has one of the best opening chapters I’ve read in years. I was hooked on the spot as the mysterious narrator tried to figure out what had been done to her. And why. From her descriptions of her injuries (a smushy head with the skull shattered), I knew immediately someone had tried to kill her. I also wondered how she’d survived such a thing, but I chalked that up to the willing suspension of disbelief required of a reader.
But then things got seriously weird.
Given the mystery of who had tried to kill her, I was suddenly confronted with the even deeper, richer mystery of who this mysterious narrator was. And what she was. Because she definitely wasn’t human. I knew that at once from the injuries. When she ran down and killed a deer with her bare hands and ate it raw, I was even more convinced.
Besides having a killer opening, Fledgling also serves to open a whole new world of vampirism that readers will truly never get to see the rest of. As it turns out, the novel was award-winning science fiction writer Octavia Butler’s last book before her death.
Butler was the author of several science fiction books that focused on the relationships humans might have with alien cultures. Her world-building skills were sharp and keenly directed at the social problems that might crop up, as well as the individual’s struggle to remain alive against desperate odds.
Fledgling maintained Butler’s story interests as she explored the world of vampires she created. Obviously from all the backstory she included in the novel, there were plenty of other stories to tell.
Shori Matthews, the first-person narrator of the book, is a stand-out character. Her voice rings true from the first page to last. One of Butler’s gifts as an author was the ability to focus entirely on the character and bring the world to life through that character’s eyes. She did that again with Shori.
However, Butler obviously chose to be extremely provocative in her choice of characters. Shori is physically a twelve-year old child. Meaning that she is the same build and size as a human pre-teen. In actual years, she’s 53, they even then she’s counted as being young among the vampire culture.
I struggled with some of the graphic sex scenes that were written in the book. Although Butler dismissed the age and size difference between Shori and her human lover, I found I could not for a time. It just jarred too much, and felt wrong. Gradually, I distanced myself from that feeling and concentrated on the mystery and the threat that surrounded Shori and the vampire culture that was at risk.
Butler’s tendency was to acknowledge that the events she was writing about were world-shaking, but she always seems to choose to reveal that story on a small stage rather than a large one. Fledgling could have been epic in scope, sweeping from Shori to several other characters that were involved in different actions. A choice of multiple narrators to tell all the story instead of just Shori’s piece of it would have been welcome. I would have liked to have seen more of the worldview. However, Shori’s story is immediately compelling and draws the reader in almost effortlessly.
The book was a fast read despite the number of pages involved. Shori is one of those characters readers can identify with almost immediately. There are some rough edges – regarding the age issue and a few other things – but Shori feels human and real.
Butler’s fans will have to take this one to complete their collection, and vampire junkies will definitely want another, fresher look at their favorite species.