Gothic Vampire Tradition Meets Sci-Fi in Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler


I started reading Fledgling by Octavia Butler for Readathon last Saturday. I intentionally didn’t make a plan for what to read for this 24-hour reading event. On Friday I started looking through the books languishing on my e-reader and my eyes stopped on Fledgling.

Earlier this year I read and enjoyed Butler’s Kindred, a novel about a contemporary African American woman who accidentally and wholly unintentionally time travels back to Maryland during slavery. I was curious about Fledgling, her vampire novel. I was also in the mood for a vampire story because the weather here in Connecticut has finally caught up with the calendar. The leaves are changing and it’s getting chilly. There was even a light frost on the grass the other morning. Fall is here and Halloween is just around the corner.

Fledgling immediately hooked me. It opens with a creature curled up in excruciating pain, attempting to heal from catastrophic injuries. It heals and starts to move about in the world only to find its home has been destroyed. I don’t want to say much more because the unfolding of this character is a pleasure to read.

The first part of the novel is one of the strongest, most original vampire novels I’ve read. It deals with race, sexuality, and ageism in creative ways that both appealed to me and also challenged my comfort zones. I was all in.

At about the 1/3 mark I wrote on Goodreads that Fledgling was, “Quickly becoming one of my favorite vampire novels.” That enthusiasm was somewhat shortlived.

Sadly, the book started to drag shortly after the halfway mark. Toward the end, it got predictable and, at times, downright boring. Still, I read on and finished the novel because I wanted to know what would happen. I was also hoping it would surprise me with some interesting twists, but no such luck.

Here’s the publisher’s blurb:

Fledgling, Octavia Butler’s last novel, is the story of an apparently young, amnesiac girl whose alarmingly un-human needs and abilities lead her to a startling conclusion: she is in fact a genetically modified, 53-year-old vampire. Forced to discover what she can about her stolen former life, she must at the same time learn who wanted—and still wants—to destroy her and those she cares for, and how she can save herself. Fledgling is a captivating novel that tests the limits of “otherness” and questions what it means to be truly human.

It sounds exciting, right? And it is, for the most part.

If you like books about race, sexuality, power, and family you might want to check out this novel because these issues are explored in interesting and unusual ways. The pacing of the second half is just off, or at least very different from the first (it involves a court case and those often make me glaze over). If you’re someone who is really into vampire novels you’ll want to read Fledgling for the inventive vampire world Butler creates. However, if you’re the type who reads one vampire novel a year and are looking for a novel that’ll scare you and keep you reading deep into the night, you’ll probably want to pass on this one.

Fledgling was published on September 8, 2005.

Learn more about Octavia Butler on her website.

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