Book Review: Fledgling by Octavia Butler by Kyle Phoenix

I'm biased on two areas with the work of Octavia Butler. One, I've read all of her work---short stories, novels, and interviews so I've really come to enjoy her overall thesis of art. Two, she passed away so this is one of the last full text from her which makes it bittersweet. It's wonderful to see her take a shot and twist at vampirism, much like Jewelle Gomez's work with an inversion of race and sexuality being at the heart of said twisting.

From Publishers Weekly: They need human blood to survive, but they don't kill unless they have to, and (given several hundred years) they'll eventually die peacefully of old age. They are Ina, and they've coexisted with humans for millennia, imparting robust health and narcotic bliss with every bite to their devoted human blood donors, aka "symbionts." Shori is a 53-year-old Ina (a juvenile) who wakes up in a cave, amnesiac and seriously wounded. As is later revealed, her family and their symbionts were murdered because they genetically engineered a generation of part-Ina, part-human children. Shori was their most successful experiment: she can stay conscious during daylight hours, and her black skin helps protect her from the sun. The lone survivor, Shori must rely on a few friendly (and tasty) people to help her warn other Ina families and rediscover herself. Butler, keeping tension high, reveals the mysteries of the Ina universe bit by tantalizing bit. Just as the Ina's collective honor and dignity starts to get a little dull, a gang of bigoted, black sheep Ina rolls into town for a species-wide confab-cum-smackdown. In the feisty Shori, Butler has created a new vampire paradigm—one that's more prone to sci-fi social commentary than gothic romance—and given a tired genre a much-needed shot in the arm.

It's hard for me to simply recommend this book alone because I think of her work in terms of the whole career arc and because she was working on starting this into a series of books similar to Parable of the Sower.  In many ways while powerful, her strong legacy highlights how incomplete this is.  Which makes it bittersweet, we're left with an anticipation for something that will never be fulfilled.  But we're also left with an incredible text.  In thinking about that, I forestalled reading this book for a year after her death because I wanted the last one to be really special.  It in no way disappoints.  I even took my time with reading this---I could've done it in a few hours but instead I took a chapter or two at a time and really spent time with the sparseness of the text.

What is most delightful in someone who has a level of mastery tackling a subject is you get to see the standard thought of vampires put through the gestalt of Butler's creativity.  Delving in Shori being not just a vampire but the benevolent potential inherent in such an intimate relationship makes us look at symbiosis.  Butler has always had a way of using a simple premise, a simple sci fi-ness to her plot or characters and exploiting that in amazing ways.  You won't be disappointed at what vampires can be and do when you look at them through the prism of mastery and race.  May of you will also see this as a homage to Jewelle Gomez's work, The Gilda Stories.  Take some time and go through all of Butler's work and then try out Gomez.  The trip into the light of fantastic mastery will dazzle you.

Thank you for reading,
Kyle Phoenix
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