Book 2 in Cannonball Read 2
So many people have recommended Octavia Butler to me, so I finally picked up one of her books at the library. As it turns out, I probably should have asked for specific book recommendations, as Fledgling is pretty mediocre, and none of the folks who recommended Butler had heard of this book, let alone read it.
Fledgling starts with an intriguing premise: a young woman, Shoreh, wakes up wounded and starving in the woods, and cannot remember anything before she woke up. She slowly heals, then explores the woods to find a small community that is burned to the ground - a community that seems familiar to her. When a stranger picks her up by the side of the road - she appears to be only twelve or thirteen years old - she drinks some of his blood, but the act binds them to one another, and the two of them start to piece together what has happened to her through bits of her memory coming back, folklore about vampires, and newspaper accounts.
The book remained interesting while Shoreh was learning the basics of survival (these vampires live in groups, each with a handful of humans who live with them, and they feed off of them and become deeply emotionally bonded to them) and trying to figure out what has happened to her and her community. She has no one to teach her even the most basic survival techniques until she meets her father, and then he is pretty quickly dispatched by the same folks who tried to kill Shoreh. Oops, spoiler. After that, she’s on her own again, with a few humans in tow that can help her out a bit, but also depend on her. Butler does a good job of crafting the narrative in these early scenes, as Shoreh uses her intuition and common sense to figure out how to survive, and is helped or hindered, depending on the situation, by her child-like appearance.
The book really starts to drag in the last third, when some vampire family that is helping Shoreh calls a vampire council. This leads to a lot of descriptions of various vampire families and their alliances to one another, which is not only incredibly boring, but contains many characters who are one-dimensional helpers or villains.
I think the biggest disappointment for me in this book is that I have heard so much about Butler as a storyteller who also engages in social criticism within her fantasy/scifi work, and this book itself proclaims that it is about testing the limits of tolerance and community. But the entire conflict is about really racist vampires who want to destroy Shoreh and call her a ‘mongrel bitch’. That’s not really the kind of social criticism I enjoy - it’s as subtle as a two-by-four over the head. Having everyone be either completely supportive of Shoreh, or a murderous racist who hates her, is not exactly a nuanced depiction, and does not bear any relation to the world that most of us inhabit where there are shades of gray.
The last criticism I have may seem like a petty gripe, but here goes. This was the worst editing I have ever seen in a book. There were words constantly misspelled (’he’, ’she’, and ‘the’ were interchangeable), quotation marks in the wrong place or completely missing, and sentences that started immediately following the period at the end of the last one, with no space in between. I tend to notice these things a lot, so I let a certain amount go, but this book was ridiculous. It got worse as it went on, like the copy editor started the book with a bottle of whiskey in hand and plowed through both the book and the bottle a little too quickly.
I am still somewhat interested in checking out Butler’s other books, such as Kindred and The Parable of the Sower, but she’s not too high on my list after Fledgling. There are some creative ideas in this book, and it unfolds in an interesting way through the first half of the book, but ultimately it became too much talk and vampire councils.
If you’ve read this book and/or Butler’s other works, please let me know what you think in the comments.