Book Review: Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor
Ode to Running

Book Review: Fledgling by Octavia Butler

Remember back when the Twilight novels were popular, and everyone was talking about vampires? If you talked to me back then about those books, I’d likely give you an earful about all the things I disliked about them. Bella’s easy rejection of her mother, for example, and the way that Meyer broke the rules of her own universe (which, sure, you’re a writer so you get to make the rules, and decide when to break them, but Edward’s century-old undying semen was just too much), and the creepy-possessive tone of Bella and Edward’s relationship.

But one of the things that made me the most annoyed is the one that seems super-obvious to me. Not just about the Twilight series, but all vampire novels. Edward might look like a teenage boy, but his mind is old. He is a 100-year-old man dating a 16-year-old girl.

That’s called pedophilia, folks.

(And yet all the Mormon moms loved the books.)

FledglingI wanted to read something spooky and atmospheric in October, and I decided that Octavia Butler would be a good choice. Kindred was checked out, so I went with Fledgling, which is a novel that reimagines the vampire story in some unusual ways, looking at it through a lens of racism. I was leery—is there really a vampire novel I can enjoy without picking it to pieces?—but Butler is such a good writer I decided to go with it.

And really: I shouldn’t have worried. Octavia Butler is not Stephenie Meyer (the opposite is also true). She almost immediately addresses that objection I have to vampire novels in general: A body might look a certain age, but the mind can be far older, so where does normality end and creepiness begin? She addresses it by shoving us readers into an uncomfortable experience almost immediately: the main character, who looks like a 10- or 11-year-old child, has sex with a 20-something man. She wants to; this isn’t a rape (and it isn’t explicitly described, either), but the man she is having sex with—who becomes her first symbiont—is also uncomfortable.

Which tells you immediately that this isn’t like other vampire novels.

I'm leaving the summary fairly vague because I enjoyed watching the plot unfold so much, but the basic idea is this: A person who awakes starving and injured in a cave gradually comes to realize that she is a vampire. Her injuries have cost her her memory, though, so as she learns about what that means, we do as well. Butler creates an alternate society out of the vampire legends. They aren’t really blood-sucking murders, but creatures who developed alongside humans. Who actually need humans to survive. Yes, they bite and feed, but not to kill. Instead it is a symbiotic relationship; the humans feed the Ina (the vampires’ name for themselves) while chemicals in the Inas’ saliva help the humans live longer, healthier lives.

It was still creepy though. I feel like part of the novel's purpose was to force you to look at things that make you feel uncomfortable, so as to better understand how it feels to be "other." For me, reading the story as an LDS person who struggles with our polygamous heritage, the discomfort it made me look at is this question: can we love (romantically) more than one person? How does that even work? (It didn't bring me any closer to understanding it with any real-world application.) The way the Ina live, with several different symbionts who they love in different ways, made me think about my great grandmother who was a second wife, and wonder again how she coped. I wish she (and all of them, second and third and fifth wives, even first wives) could have whatever is in the Ina saliva that made it easier for the symbionts to live together in such a relationship. In fact, while I would imagine many Mormons would not see this as one of the “best books” we could be reading, it actually gave me a little bit of insight into how that kind of relationship might work.

(Not enough for my polygamous heritage to not feel like a horror story.)

Fledgling was Octavia Butler’s last book, and I am not sure, but to me it felt like there could’ve been a sequel. The world was so fully created and peopled, and Shori (the main character, who looks like a child but is not, in fact, a child) so compelling—she would say, I believe, interesting—that I definitely wanted more.

I wish there could be.


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