Capsule Reviews: Fledgling and The Meaning of Night

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve finished reading two books on Teresa’s recommendation. She wrote such excellent reviews of them that I don’t want to duplicate her work — merely add a few thoughts of my own to what she had to say. So for plot summaries and some marvelous musings on these works, please make use of the links I provide to Teresa’s reviews!

fledglingOctavia Butler’s Fledgling (about a species that provides the source of our myths about vampires) was some of the most interesting speculative fiction I’ve read in a long time. As Teresa mentioned, the parallels of the Ina-symbiont relationship to a master-slave relationship were subtle but fascinating. Does it make it better, or worse, if the symbiont is happy in the relationship? If freedom is absent, can a relationship ever be healthy? Butler excelled at making Shori a sympathetic character, but viewed objectively, the notion was terrifying. 

The other thing I kept thinking about was how transgressive the book was. At first, as I was reading, I kept thinking, “Why hasn’t this ever been made into a film? It’s exciting, and vampires are cool right now, so…?” But then I realized that it crosses every line imaginable. Extreme violence, transgressive sexuality (interracial, bisexual, and with a girl who is apparently only ten or eleven years old, among other things), iffy consensuality — this book has it all. You’d have to change a lot before you could make this into a mainstream movie. One thing this really affects is the power relationships in the book. Shori is black, female, and young (though not as young as she appears). She is also suffering from the loss of her community and her memory. This should make her totally disempowered, yet it’s clear in all of her relationships that she is the dominant force. The interplay of power in this book is fascinating. I think this stems from the fact that Octavia Butler wrote as a woman of color in a genre that is hugely dominated by white male authors. She isn’t mainstream, and she’s able to explore questions in a voice and in a way that comes right out of left field. It was mind-blowing, and I loved it.

meaningI am so sorry to have to preface my review of The Meaning of Night (a Victorian pastiche, a mystery, and a convoluted confession of murder) with my sadness about the death of the author, Michael Cox. I knew that his illness had spurred him to write the novels he had only been playing with for many years, and I knew that the cancer had taken his sight. I hope that through his illness, it was a satisfaction to him to know that his work, so lately undertaken, was so good.

I’m afraid that in general I am rather severe on pastiches and even on most historical fiction. It’s a very, very difficult task to enter the past and see it through their eyes; after all, the past is a foreign country, and they do things differently there. But Cox, with very few missteps, accomplished that task. I could see the London he showed me, and beautiful Evenwood. I felt the suspense, and the sympathy even for a man I knew was a murderer. And he kept the thrill all the way to the end of the 700 pages of the novel — unlike some similar works I could name (The Historian, I’m looking at you.) 

I did have a few quibbles here and there. Edward Glyver, the narrator, was perhaps a bit too progressive in his ideas about women’s roles to be a real Victorian male, despite his authoress mother. And I also thought the book was too long. If I’d been the editor, I’d have cut it about 150 pages. But it didn’t suffer too much from its prolixity (also unlike certain works I could name.) Digressions, after all, are fairly Victorian! I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and look forward to reading The Glass of Time, even though I’m profoundly sorry that there won’t be any more of Michael Cox’s work to look forward to after that trip to the foreign country of the past.

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9 Responses to Capsule Reviews: Fledgling and The Meaning of Night

  1. Nymeth says:

    How had Fledgling completely escaped my notice? It sounds like something I can’t miss. I clicked over to Teresa’s review and loved it as well.

  2. Steph says:

    I’ve never heard of Fledgling before (it sounds dark and complicated, not to mention awesome!), but I’ve seen The Meaning of Night a few times when I’ve been out book browsing. I actually had it in my cart on my last used bookstore binge trip, but I decided in the end to put it back as I hadn’t heard very much about it and wasn’t sure if it was any good. Now I thoroughly regret that decision; I hope it will be there when I get back!

    (Also, I completely agree about The Historian… The first 250 pages were rife with suspense and wonderfully paced, and then it nosedived into something that was positively soporific for the next 400 pages. So disappointing.)

  3. Teresa says:

    So glad you liked these. They were two of my favorites of last year. I’m definitely reading more Butler, and I’m heart-broken that there won’t be more from Cox (although I do have the volume of M.R. James stories that he edited).

    On The Meaning of Night, I think you’re right that Glyver was a little too enlightened for a true Victorian man, but, gosh, everything else was so just right, and at least a reason was given for his progressive attitudes. And I don’t know that I would have wanted it any shorter–I was so hungry for more when I finished–any digression prolonged the bliss as far as I was concerned :-)

    And I’m with you and Steph on The Historian. I was riveted with it at first, then a little restless, then completely bored.

  4. Priscilla says:

    The Meaning of Night sounds interesting…and I must jump on The Historian bandwagon! But maybe it was supposed to be like an encounter with a vampire–exciting at first, but then it sucks the life right out of you. Ha!

  5. Jenny says:

    Nymeth — I really loved Fledgling. I’ve also read Kindred by Butler, and so far she writes amazing stuff. I’m on to her Lilith’s Brood trilogy next.

    Steph — Fledgling is dark and complicated, but the world-building is so skilfully done that it’s pure pleasure. Highly recommended. And I would say that The Meaning of Night is indeed a can’t-miss.

    Teresa — Really, I was just quibbling. The minor flaws didn’t interrupt my enjoyment of the book. It’s just fun to point out the little things. :)

    And about The Historian — Priscilla, that made me laugh out loud — what a disappointment! All that mystery and terror, kidnappings, generations of fear, and you wind up with “I vant you to catalogue my library”? Oh Vlad, Vlad…

  6. serena says:

    Fledgling sounds like a great book for me to read even in spite of the graphic nature of the narrative. Thanks for the review.

  7. Tara says:

    Having just read The Meaning of Night, I was also saddened to hear of Michaed Cox’s death. It is too bad we will not have more from this author. I do agree with you, the book could have been edited more…it was a bit too long.

  8. Jenny says:

    Serena — it is a bit graphic, but not explicit. I think the ideas disturbed me more than the graphic-ness, if that makes sense, and that’s the sign of a good book, to my mind.

    Tara — I often think books could be edited down, but I’m fond of spare prose. I ADORED Michael Chabon’s Kavalier and Clay, for instance, and I thought that was too long, too. But I sympathize with the editor! Where do you start?

  9. Pingback: Recent Acquisitions | Paperback Reader

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