47 pages 1 hour read

Octavia E. Butler


Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2005

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Summary and Study Guide


Fledgling (2005) is a science-fiction novel by Black American author Octavia E. Butler. The novel tells the story of Shori Matthews, a young Black vampire who awakens injured and alone with no memory. Shori must decipher clues about who and what she is in order to stop the people who are trying to kill her. Eventually, she learns that her pursuers’ reasons for wanting her dead may have more to do with her race than her species. Butler is also the award-winning author of science-fiction novels Kindred (1979) and Parable of the Sower (1993).

Content Warning: Fledgling contains sensitive material such as sexual content, racism, and violence.

Plot Summary

Fledgling opens with the protagonist, Shori Matthews, waking up with amnesia in a dark cave somewhere outside Seattle. She is blind, injured, and starving, so she kills and eats a nearby animal. She heals quickly and hunts deer to survive for a few days. Eventually, Shori stumbles upon burned ruins that she feels she should remember. She makes her way down a nearby road when a young man, Wright Hamlin, pulls up in a car beside her. He tries to help her, confusing her small stature and confusion for those of a lost child. Shori is afraid and instinctively bites him. She is surprised to find she enjoys the taste of human blood. Wright is also confused because he finds pleasure in the bite. He lets her drink from him and expresses his desire to keep her. He suspects Shori may be a vampire, and she asks him to help her figure out exactly what she is.

Wright takes Shori to his cabin to get cleaned up. Shori slowly starts to remember the names and purposes of common things, as well as instinctual behavior from her past. She tells Wright that they can have sex, so they do. When he falls asleep, she ventures out to find more humans to drink from. She finds an older woman named Theodora and feeds from her. Theodora is afraid at first but quickly grows attached to Shori and wishes for her to return.

Back at the cabin, Shori realizes that the animal she killed in the cave was actually a human, and she feels remorseful. She also remembers being the product of a genetic experiment meant to help “her people” withstand the sun; her dark skin provides protection from sunlight. She searches the internet for more clues about vampires.

The next week, Shori and Wright return to the ruins to investigate further. They find a golden bird necklace that Shori claims and wears. Suddenly, a gunman appears and shoots Shori while she tries to protect Wright. She hides in the ruins and hunts deer while she recovers; eating meat helps her heal more quickly. Days later, she finds the gunman’s home by scent and learns that another vampire compelled the man to protect the ruins. Shori gives the gunman a message to relay to the other vampire—to meet her in a week.

The next week, Shori and Wright return to the ruins to meet the other vampire; he is Iosif Petrescu, Shori’s father. Iosif tells Shori about her previous life and family, explaining that their species is called the Ina. The ruins were once the homes of Shori’s murdered mothers and sisters. When Iosif takes Shori and Wright to his home, she meets his symbionts, humans with a “bite bond” who live symbiotically with Ina. Iosif makes plans for Shori and Wright to live with him until his daughter comes of age, as she is considered prepubescent for their species.

A week later, when Iosif fails to show up for a meeting, Shori discovers that the males of her family have been burned alive. Two of the family’s symbionts who survived, Brook and Celia, leave with Shori and Wright to one of Iosif’s other houses. Shori claims the women as her own symbionts. However, the new house is attacked by gunmen, and Shori and the others narrowly escape. They decide to make their way to California after Brook remembers the Gordons, another Ina family who lives there. The Gordons were Shori’s former prospective mates.

The Gordons are initially suspicious of Shori but eventually welcome her into their community and help her learn more about being Ina. When the Gordons’ compound is attacked by gunmen, Shori and the Gordons question one of them and discover that the Silks, another Ina family, are behind the murders. Theodora eventually joins Shori at the compound. One of the Gordons’ symbiont’s sons, Joel, also joins Shori’s growing symbiont family. There is tension between Wright and Joel, but Shori has faith that they will get along.

The Gordons call a Council of Judgment, an Ina form of trial to judge the Silks’ crimes—which they deny committing. Several Ina families arrive at the compound to attend the trial. During the proceedings, the Silks display racist behavior. They despise Shori because she is Black and has a mixture of human and Ina DNA. Later, one of the Silks’ friends, Katharine Dahlman, has Theodora murdered to undermine Shori.

Eventually, the Council finds the Silks guilty; their family is dissolved and their reputation destroyed. Katharine is sentenced to limb amputation but rejects her sentence. When she tries to kill Shori, the latter retaliates and is shot. Katharine is then executed by the Gordons. After she recovers, Shori plans to live with the Braithwaites, female family friends who will teach her more about being Ina until she comes of age. Ultimately, Shori is hopeful about expanding and protecting her new family despite her losses.

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