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Fledgling Paperback – January 2, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. The much-lauded Butler creates vampires in her 12th novel (her first in seven years) that have about as much to do with Bram Stoker's Dracula as HBO's Deadwood does with High Noon. 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. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
*Starred Review* Renowned sf author Butler's first novel since Parable of the Talents (1998) delves deeply into the world of vampires. Shori, a 53-year-old vampire who appears to be a prepubescent girl, awakes alone in a forest, badly burned and scarred, with no memory of what has happened to her. She wanders to a road, from where she is picked up by young Wright Hamlin, whom she bites once she realizes she is a vampire. Wright shelters her, and the two begin a relationship, but Shori is drawn to the site of the fire that burned her. When she and Wright are attacked at the site, she learns of an older vampire, Iosif, who may have the answers she seeks. But when she meets Iosif, she learns that he is her father and that he, too, is in the dark as to who burned the enclave in which Shori and her mothers and sisters were living. When Iosif's enclave meets a similar fate, Shori and Wright flee, determined to track down the people responsible for destroying Shori's family. Butler has a reputation as a master for good reason, and her narrative flows quickly and seamlessly along as Shori seeks those who would destroy her. Gripping and memorable, Butler's latest is a welcome return performance. Kristine Huntley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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Instead . . . hooo boy, where to begin?
A ten-year-old black girl with amnesia wakes up in a forest near a collection of burned-out ruins. She has horrific burns and gunshot injuries, which means she should be dead. Although she has no memory it is obvious she is not human: she chases down and kills animals, consuming their raw flesh. When she finally encounters a human being, she drinks his blood. He immediately recognizes her as a vampire, although he also observes that she doesn't remotely fit the image he had had of vampires. It turns out, however, that what the world thinks of as "vampires" is actually a second intelligent race that has evolved alongside humanity, living in secret but surfacing only enough to contribute to the legends found in various human cultures of demonic undead entities who feast on the blood of the living.
Despite the intriguing premise, however, the whole thing fell flat. To begin with, Butler's prose failed to impress me, especially coming from such a renown author who's won both the Hugo and Nebula awards. Her writing was very bare-bones, but not as though she had made the stylistic choice of minimalism. Instead, it just felt amateurish, like someone who had an idea for a story but didn't know how to add in all those extras that make stories great: description, shading, subtlety, word play, thoughtful ruminations, flights of poetic fancy. It's hard to explain, though, because Butler is technically proficient and avoids a lot of the more obvious blunders made by other writers, such as Stephenie Meyer's thesaurus abuse. (If anything, Butler's prose was all the better for that.)
The narrative also didn't flow well. Like "Twilight," it felt like the whole book was written in about two days with no outline. There was no mystery in regard to who killed Shori's family - we find out too quickly and too easily, without any build-up or other development. From there it's just stagnant. We know who the guilty party is. What else is there to do?
But there was one issue which, above all, really bothered the heck outta me. More accurately: it royally *squicked me out.* Yes, I know Shori is really 53, not 10, but . . . she has sex, multiple times, with a hairy guy in his 20s. Then she meets another guy the same age, who tells her that he was attracted to her the minute he saw her. They do not have sex but it is very highly strongly implied that they soon WILL.
Oh no. No no no no.
Even worse is that Shori's memory loss only emphasizes her childlike qualities. (Before she recovers her name, Hairy Guy even calls her Renee because it means "reborn.") And then the reader is treated to several pages of strongly implied lesbianism between Shori and several adult women. Again, no, just . . . no.
Sorry folks. I just couldn't bring myself to enjoy this one. "Fledgling" is certainly a *fast* read that took me only a day and a half, so I guess that's something in its favor. But, alas.
Wright drives by, sees this young battered girl alone, stops and offers her a ride, which she accepts along with feeding from him. He stays at her side feeling compelled to do so as Shori meets other Ina almost like her and learns that humans like Wright are symbionts providing their nourishment. However, she also finds out how unique she is even amongst the vampiric Ina as she is the result of a genetic experiment using African-American human DNA that enables her to withstand sunlight, why her family was murdered and that a predator seeks to finish the job by killing her and her new symbiont. Survival is her only objective.
FLEDGLING is a reprint of a terrific vampire tale that provides a deep look at family, race relationships, and sexuality yet is loaded with action. Shori holds the tale together as she learns who she is and why someone wants her dead. Though some readers might have issue with a fifty-three years old female who looks like she is ten or eleven years old (Ina age slower and live longer) having adult relationships, Octavia E. Butler writes a thought provoking character driven relationship allegory.
I have to really hate something to stop reading it or give it 1 star. "Fledgling" is just such a work. A friend of mine whose opinion I usually value highly recommended this; I can only guess she was off her meds when she read it. Likewise, the number of 4 and 5-star reviews bewilders me. This is easily one of the worst things I've read in a long while. The plot is hum-drum (at least as much as I got through in 75 pages) and the writing style is nothing but amateurish. *Maybe* the story gets better, but I can safely assume the prose won't. I don't mind a boring story if it is well written--and vice versa--but this has nothing going for it.
This book comes across as a juvenile rough draft. The writing style is starchy and stilted, especially in terms of dialogue. There are enough typos--things like missing spaces between sentences that a simple spell-check would have caught--that I wonder if this even went before an editor.
I've never read Butler before, so I don't know how this compares to her other works; since she's an established, award-winning author, I can only hope for her fans' sake that Fledgling was an off-day. Another reviewer mentioned that Butler wrote this as "a lark." It shows. This is un-polished, un-professional, and un-interesting.
Obviously, with the high volume of glowing reviews, a lot of people liked it. I'm truly at a loss to understand why, except to guess that Butler fans must have a very high threshold for low performance. If you do read this, you have at least been warned what to expect.