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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 Audible Audio Edition 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 Audible Audio Edition edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
In Butler's other fiction, she has often concerned herself with themes of prejudice and power and, just as often, transformation. In taking on the vampire theme, she certainly allows these interests full development. Obviously, she also takes some unexpected twists in her vampires, drawing on familiar images of the (sub) genre, but taking them in fresh and interesting directions.
Take, for example, themes of transformation. Typically, the vampire narrative concerns a protagonist going through "the change," embracing a new (un)life and letting go of his or her former humanity/mortality. Butler has certainly explored the theme of bodily transformation in other novels (e.g. Clay's Ark or the Xenogenesis series, to name a few). The vampires in Butler's novel, however, are a separate species on earth, co-evolved with humanity and full of their own laws and culture. Collectively, they call themselves "Ina."
While they live in a mutually symbiotic relationship with (some) humans, they cannot transform humans into Ina. The Ina have their own careful and intricate systems of reproduction, which shape and guide their culture. Transformation in this novel has more to do with the Ina's interest in genetics, a study some of them have been pursuing long before it interested humans. One group of Ina has successfully engineered a vampire who can stay awake during daylight hours and can endure measured amounts of sunshine. They do this by splicing some African genetic material to their own, creating Shori, a black Ina alone in a world of very pale and mostly blonde Ina. This genetic innovation is, of course, causing a difficult (and unwelcome to some) transformation to millenia of Ina traditions.
We meet Shori first as a nameless narrator coming to consciousness in a cave and discovering, as she heals, the burned out ruins of what she learns was recently her community. Shori suffers from a selective amnesia that allows her to recover language skills and the ability to recognize everyday objects as well as an innate understanding of her Ina abilities, but memories of her family and her past are lost to her. Her amnesia is a clever device that allows Butler to work through a structural necessity of nearly all vampire fiction: sorting through the various folklore of vampires to settle on her explanation of them, winnowing away "myth" from "truth." As Shori moves into other Ina communities, her transformation into vampire is more about rediscovery than the slow turning of human flesh into superhuman creature. However, to Butler's credit, Shori's amnesia plays essential roles in the plot in addition to serving as a device to do some bargain shopping at the vampire mythology store.
One point of criticism in an otherwise fascinating reworking of the vampire: The norm for the Ina is to be catatonic during the day and to burn in daylight. However, in her journey of self discovery, Shori offers little explanation for why vampires of folklore often appeared during the day. The image of sunlight physically destroying a vampire (a staple of the genre today) is actually an invention of early cinema that has been picked up in many subsequent vampire fictions. As most vampire officianados know, Dracula appears no less than three (actually more!) times during the day in Stoker's novel. Other Eastern European and Middle Eastern vampires of folklore often have frequent daylight appearances. If (in Shori's world) our vampire myths are based on Ina, it seems odd that the burn-in-sunlight aspect of the myth didn't develop until the early 20th century. A minor point, but worth mentioning given how much fun Butler has dismissing aspects of the folklore/pop culture in early chapters and generally demonstrating that she has done her homework about vampires.
Another theme that is very familiar from Butler's other works is the image of secret, minority communities living alongside the unknowing masses of humanity, usually in self-contained communes and family groups. I track this theme across the "Patternist" novels, including Clay's Ark. It is also central to the "Parable" novels, beginning with Lauren Olamina's ill-fated gated community in L.A. to the equally ill-fated refuge of Acorn. Arguably, this theme of communes also applies to the plantation in Kindred, although a different sort of commune for a different genre of fiction. One gets the feeling after reading several of Butler's novels that she either has lived on or wants to live on a commune.
Finally, Shori herself is a very familiar Butler heroine. She is a strong-willed diminuative female narrator who is black. She is a literary sister of Lauren Olamina of the Parable novels or even Dana of Kindred, narrating her experiences and perceptions with poetic bluntness. Shifting to third-person narrative, there also seems something similar here to heroines like Lilith Iapo of the Xenogenesis series and Anyanwu of Wild Seed. There is also something of Mary from the mixed point of view novel, Mind of My Mind. Certainly, these narrators' race and gender matter. But other commonalities are also striking. These are strong, practical women who may falter in their faith in themselves but always pick themselves up from the dust and fight tooth and nail (sometimes literally) for themselves and their loved ones. Many of them are somehow burdened with a flaw - amnesia
in Shori's case, a birth defect causing extreme empathy in Olamina's, cancer in Lilith's, etc. - but almost always a flaw that also has advantages. And, again, Butler has written another strong female protagonist who comes into her own before reaching adulthood - the twist here being that Shori is a juvenile vampire of 53 who appears to be an 11 year old human girl. A wise child; A child forced into adulthood. Sound familiar?
In the hands of a less talented writer, these similarities might seem hackish. But Butler makes them feel like important elements of her thought experiments, getting a fresh reworking in a different scene. As she would be first to point out, it's not as if too many other authors of science fiction or even the vampire (sub) genre are exhausting representations of this sort of character. I welcome Shori into Butler's pantheon of strong and interesting black heroines and eagerly hope there is more to come about her in the future.
I truly enjoyed this novel and recommend it to fans of vampire fiction. I need not recommend it to fans of Butler because they will, doubtless, consume it as happily as I have. Without giving too much away, the last third of the novel turns to a kind of courtroom drama, albeit a vampire court. In the process, we learn that the elder Inas' claims to be above such human concerns as racism turn out to not be exactly accurate. Similarly, claims that the Ina's Council of Judgement is nothing like "the silly sports of human law courts" also turn out not to be true, and the findings of the Council seem to drip with Butler's cynical critique of contemporary high-profile legal judgements. But then, Butler rarely uses the SF genre to propose better worlds or happier ways of being together. If anything, she seems to remind us that all life is struggle and no being (human or otherwise) is free of corruption...or far from grace.
The development of the characters is finely nuanced.
The story is very well developed for such a short book.
The beginning and the end leave much to the imagination and will be on my mind for a long time because of the mistery with which she has shrouded the entire book.