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Literature / Fledgling

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A little brown girl wakes up in a cave - hurt, confused, suffering from amnesia and literally starving out of her mind. She devours any living thing unlucky enough to be near her until she heals, and then she meets a human man named Wright. Neither of them understand what draws them so inescapably to each other, but they give in to it, realizing together that the girl is some kind of vampire. Together they fall into all that entails, searching for her lost family, trying to figure out just exactly what her needs and abilities are, and how Wright fits in that. Then her father shows up, and she sets out on a quest to discover her lost past and make a future life for herself.

Fledgling is a 2005 science fiction vampire novel by Octavia Butler, lauded as a fresh take on the genre. As per her signature style, Butler takes a close look at the problematic aspects of the relationship between the Ina, humans, and the little living revolution named Shori.

Note that the title Fledgling was also used for a 2009 Liaden Universe novel by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller.

Tropes contained in this novel include:

  • Ancient Astronauts: Some younger Ina believe this about their race, the end game being rediscovering interstellar travel and returning home.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Shori prefers to avoid unnecessary harm, but mess with her family and see what happens.
  • Blatant Lies: These get tossed around the Ina Council like hot potatoes. The guilty expect their friends to protect them from judgement.
  • Bookends: After waking from a serious injury, Shori very nearly eats someone just like she does in the beginning.
  • Dhampyr: Of a sort. Shori is genetically engineered with Black human DNA. The melanin allows her to withstand the sun and is why someone's trying to kill her and all her family.
  • Fantastic Racism: Many Ina consider humans lesser beings. The fact that Shori's human DNA not only doesn't dampen her Ina strength and agility, but her melanin makes her more resistant to the sun than any other Ina. One Ina even points out that among humans in America, Blacks get the short stick from Whites.
  • Friendly Neighborhood Vampire: Deconstructed. Ina in general are not the murderers humans in general assume vampires to be, but they're every bit as diverse as humans, so there are Manipulative Bastard world champs mixed in with the generally decent majority. Their physical and emotional codependency with their human symbionts also gets a hard look: several people acknowledge how scary it is that they know they can't not want to care for the Ina, obey them, and devote their lives to them.
  • Healing Factor: The Ina have this, such that losing limbs is a humiliating, painful, and relatively short-term punishment.
  • Hemo Erotic: To the extent that most if not all Ina, like Shori, can't be sexually satisfied without it.
  • Hungry Menace: Shori when she first wakes up. Ina normally feed harmlessly on blood, but require raw meat when healing from injury, and hers are severe.
  • I Do Not Drink Wine: Shori drinks water, but otherwise has zero desire or hunger for any food except human blood.
  • If It's You, It's Okay: After a few bites, sexual orientation stops being a factor.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Even the meanest, most bigoted Ina will instinctively protect their human symbionts. The staggering pain from loss of a symbiont is universal; some Ina even resent it. It would take an extreme act of will for an Ina to harm their own symbiont.
  • Kiss of the Vampire: Damn, it feels good - and the bites heal within a day with the Ina's attention. Several humans are described as moaning, writhing in pleasure, and After a few bites, humans become irreversibly addicted. Withdrawal is a terrifying ordeal and ends in death if other Ina cannot claim them in time.
  • Little Miss Badass: Shori isn't as strong as an adult Ina, but she's a hell of a lot stronger than you.
  • Living Lie Detector: Ina, instinctively, especially the older ones.
  • Manipulative Bastard: One Ina is infamous for teaching his symbionts to sow dissent among other humans wherever they go, even when he visits other Ina. He apparently gets off on it. Some Ina in general do not treat humans like people at all.
  • Older Than They Look: Ina age very slowly, reaching sexual maturity in their 60s, so 52-year-old Shori looks like a preteen. It's even more confusing to her since she has to relearn how to act like an Ina adult. Meanwhile, symbiont humans can live up to 200.
  • One-Word Title
  • Our Vampires Are Different: They carry a venom that is addicting to humans and each other, prefer a symbiotic relationship with humans as opposed to just killing them wholesale, and make their symbionts tougher, more resilient, and longer-lived. They're still incredibly fast and strong, and must eat flesh if badly injured, to the point they may go literally mad with hunger and fail to distinguish friend from food. Also, they are an entirely different species and thus cannot turn or mate with humans. But they can certainly make the sexy-time.
  • Polyamory: Each Ina keeps a small collection of humans as a family (and a food source) along with a mate so they can produce Ina offspring.
  • Really 700 Years Old: The Ina elderfathers and eldermothers can be over 500.
  • Super-Senses: Ina senses are much more acute than humans', especially their noses. Shori sniffs someone and identifies nineteen different people they'd contacted previously.
  • Super Supremacist: Some Ina have a more entitled attitude to their symbionts than others, and their biology requires them to keep a household of humans who become utterly devoted to them. One Ina family has an elderfather who sees the symbionts fundamentally as livestock and younger members who enslave dozens of humans to use as weapons.
  • The Symbiote: The human symbionts and Ina can have a mutualistic symbiosis — humans get longer lives and perfect health, and Ina sicken and die without the company of symbionts, so both groups usually sincerely care about each other, and the rest consider it worth Getting Smilies Painted on Your Soul about.
  • Technically-Living Vampire: They aren't undead, they're another species. They reproduce biologically, not by passing a contagion to humans, dead or otherwise.
  • Vampires Are Rich: The Ina have used their long lives, connections to ancient royalty, and symbionts to amass fortunes, though none of them seem to be particularly ambitious.
  • Vampires Are Sex Gods: Even the little ones. Centuries of youth, good health, pheromones, and a Hemo Erotic bite certainly help matters.
  • Vampire's Harem: The Ina's drive to build "families" of human symbionts is a variant. The Ina get a food source, the humans get longer lives and better health, and both get a strongly close-knit community — albeit one enforced by addictive venom that overrides the humans' original sexual orientations to be compatible with the Ina.
  • Weakened by the Light: The point of Shori's birth is to soften this in future generations. It's a huge breakthrough that she can function during the day and only blister after prolonged exposure to sunlight.