Written by P.C. and Kristin Cast

First published in USA in 2007 by St Martin’s Press

Published in UK in 2009 by Atom

Character

Crow character_001First off, Zoey Redbird is your classic (and tiresome) girl with extraordinary powers who just wants to be normal. As if this cliche wasn’t tiresome enough, she makes it worse by moaning about it at least three times in the book, saying she just wants to be normal but giving her no good reason for this desire. As a result, she seems less conflicted and more bratty and ungrateful. While the author pelts us with her likes and dislikes in modern culture, she doesn’t do much in developing Zoey as a character and some of her views are downright inconsistent. At the beginning of the book, she doesn’t want to realise her destiny as a vampire (sorry, vampyre) because it will make her a freak but, once she’s at the House of Night, she can’t stop singing their praises. She shows no meaningful development, is far too overpowered and does merely what Nyx and the author expects her to.

Neferet, the High Priestess of the House of Night and Zoey’s mentor, starts out as a more promising character. She provides good counsel to Zoey and gives a particularly good speech to the students about the possibility of sudden death while undergoing the Change. She neither sugar-coats it nor scares them about the possibility and reassures them that there is no shame in it. An excellent moment which is overshadowed by two incidents. First, she drops the bombshell of her history of sexual abuse far too early. I may be wrong but people who tend to give away that sort of information on people they barely know are either looking for pity or lying. Second, her appearance when Aphrodite has done enough to lose her position is much too convenient. So, unless this is deliberate, this is poor characterisation.

Speaking of which, Aphrodite remains a cliche evil bitch right the way through the book. She spouts strawman views on humans, is the head of a powerful sorority, somehow gets away with bullying despite claims that you can’t lie to a vampyre and is aggressively possessive of a boy who no longer wants anything to do with her. The author tries to push in some character development with her visions of the future and her final scene but it’s too little, too late. That boy Aphrodite wants so badly is Erik, our hot vampyre love interest for this evening, and, thankfully, he proves himself a useful ally. He’s a promising character but, sadly, doesn’t develop much. Stevie-Rae, Zoey’s best fledgling friend, on the other hand, gets a nice though downplayed piece of development. She’s a fiercely loyal friend and her friendship with Zoey allows her to overcome her fear of the Dark Daughters to the point of putting herself in their line of fire. Zoey’s grandmother, too, provides a voice of support and her first stalwart ally. I would certainly love to be her grandchild but she just isn’t in the book enough to warrant a full analysis.

Zoey’s other friends and family are not worth mentioning. Erin and Shaunee are more annoying than interesting, Damien flirts with being a cliche gay and Heath is such a dumbass in distress that he needs to leave the novel series as quick as possible. As does the frankly offensive psycho-religious stepfather and all the many, many underdeveloped and one dimensional characters.

2 out of 10 drops

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Research

Crow character research_001As a direct contrast, it’s clear that the author has done a ton of research. The Cherokee elements are spot-on: the language is accurate, the herbs used in the smudge stick are correct and the purification is accurate with only a few additions that fit the purpose of the prayer. One can never have too many accurate displays of Native American culture in popular literature.

The vampyre religion closely follows pagan rituals and Greek mythology. In particular, the little-known Goddess of Night, Nyx, who did indeed have Erebus as a consort, mothered many other gods (though Eros isn’t one of them) and is hinted to be feared by even Zeus himself. I didn’t know any of this until I looked it up, nor had I heard of Nyx until I read this book. I love it when a book teaches me something I didn’t know.

There’s little mentioned on vampire lore, apart from avoiding some of the cliches (e.g. vampires hating garlic) and stating that Dracula is both inaccurate and insulting. They do seem to adhere to Bram Stoker’s notions however in the idea that sunlight only brings vampyres discomfort and weakness rather than any direct physical harm. Other elements of the lessons prove accurate as well. It emphasises the amount of dirty work needed to look after a horse and correctly points out that fencing does allow men and women to compete on equal terms. However, there are a few elements that either seem original or inaccurate that I couldn’t find any information about such as the origins of Lenobia’s name (which is claimed to be the name of a famous vampyre queen) and the once-mentioned Greek festival of Correia.

In short, it’s clear the author did her research on the topics mentioned. Perhaps, a little too much. She fell into the classic trap of showing off her research so much that the story is no longer a priority. Also, there’s clearly been little no research on actual vampire lore.

6 out of 10 drops.

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Originality

Crow character originality_001A school for monsters is by no means an original concept. It’s got its own entry on tvtropes.org, where it lists the House of Night alongside Monster High and Cross Academy. Still, I think this might be one of the few all-vampire schools in fiction and explains how vampires seem to be so talented by the fact that they learn at a proper finishing school. Much better than the reasoning that it happens naturally.

Zoey’s the biggest cliche of the lot. She’s chosen by the Goddess to be ridiculously overpowered and yet hates it because she just wants to be normal. I understand that the author is trying to emulate the main problem teenagers face in their lives but it just feels so forced and, whenever she wonders why she’s been given these powers, I have to restrain the urge to shout ‘because you’re the main character, that’s why’.

While the author does her best to separate vampyres from vampires by associating them with ancient cultures and magic, she still falls into the old tired cliches of bites being sexual, the main character falling in love with the hottest guy in school, the memory-wiping abilities (which I hate) and the presence of special powers assigned to characters at random. Still, there is a little sprinkling of original ideas. The way of vampyre making by being Marked rather than being bitten is an interesting one, as is the scientific explanation Zoey quotes at her psycho-religious stepfather (to no effect) at the beginning of the book. Connecting vampyrism with paganism and Native American cultures is interesting too as it’s the polar opposite of The Rest Falls Away’s notion of vampires being connected to the unnatural rather than nature.

The best new idea of the lot is that a fledgling may die during the change from human to vampyre. Happening seemingly at random, a fledgling’s body will reject the Change and they will die horribly and painfully. A scary prospect to hang over the heads of all vampyres in training. It’s a pity that it’s so clear from the get-go that Zoey will never be at risk of rejecting the Change. The change in her Mark makes that too obvious.

So, a nice sprinkling of good ideas but, in my opinion, the author’s trying too hard to introduce new elements to the genre. If it weren’t for a few blood drinking scenes, it would be easy to forget that the characters are indeed vampyres.

5 out of 10 drops

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World-Building

Crow world building_001As with the research, there is a lot crammed into this book and, again, there’s perhaps a little too much. For a start, the building is described in far too much detail to start with. It’s a building worth stopping to look at but the history is really not needed at this stage. Neither are the too-detailed account of the classes that badly need streamlining. Still, it’s almost forgivable as the classes are fascinating.

The world outside the House of Night is briefly painted and thank God it’s only brief. Zoey’s family and ordinary life is skimmed over, lingering only long enough to focus on the People of the Faith. That’s the flanderised version of Christianity that the author went out of her way to write in a negative light by denying science, hating vampyres and disapproving of everything different, especially other religions. It could not be more obvious that the author wants us to hate them unquestioningly, which is a very poor writing strategy.

The vampyres themselves seem firmly established in society with celebrities and historical figures named as such, including country singers and William Shakespeare. There’s not many hints at a history of secrecy so we can assume that, though they are not completely accepted all the time, vampyres are at least an acknowledged presence and a tolerated one so long as they’re kept separate from humans. They are also connected with ancient cultures such as Greek and Native American and that does fit as vampyres are so long-lived. Not to mention, the spelling of ‘vampyre’ in this book fits with a time before spelling was standardised.

The atmosphere of the House of Night itself is very like a good school. The subjects are similar to a regular finishing schools with an extra focus on matriarchal societies and equality. Even cats are allowed on the campus, which again connects the vampyres to paganism and witchcraft. Still, despite it seeming too good to be true at first, the author makes an effort to show it isn’t perfect. She adds a sorority (as a Brit, I’m very unfamiliar with the concept) called the Dark Daughters, led by a student that abuses her power. Still, it’s not a very good effort and I would like it if at least one subject was boring or, at least, one Zoey didn’t love.

As for the religious ceremonies and spells, they’re some of my favourite parts of the book. There is a firm structure to them with the five elements and a prayer to the deities, as well as rules for the spellcaster’s safety (e.g. sage in the smudge stick to keep negative energy away). The way they’re described really makes me want to be a part of it. In fact, I definitely want to be a student at the House of Night and I’ve no idea what Zoey was complaining about. I do wish a little of the world-building hadn’t been a part of an info dump, though.

7 out of 10 drops

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Story

Crow story_001Let me come right to the point: Zoey Redbird, our main character, makes a very annoying narrator. Before the story starts, the author told us she relied on her teenage daughter to tell her how teenagers talk and, boy, does it show.  Not only is it a painful caricature of teenage speech but it forces the reader to view the world in monochrome. Everything is either fantastic or awful with no middle ground or opportunity for the readers to draw their own conclusions. It doesn’t help that the narrator goes out of her way to make us hate something or someone when it pleases her, including the above mentioned People of the Faith, the Dark Daughters, Zoey’s best human friend and the House of Night. Perhaps, the author was trying to show Zoey’s youth by possessing this black-and-white of the world but, at sixteen, I’m sure most girls are able to see some shades of grey. The worst parts are Zoey’s criticisms of Aphrodite and other promiscuous girls. There is way too much slut-shaming and, in reference to cigarette and drugs, it feels more like an uncomfortably preachy author disguised as Zoey is talking.

The story really isn’t anything new. Girl gains incredible new powers beyond all others her age but doesn’t want them. Girl finds a bully at her new school and decides to bring her down. Not to say that this couldn’t be a good story. With a better, braver writer, it could be but Zoey has far too much of an easy time of it and succeeds far too much. It’s hard for authors but they need to make their characters get things wrong and face the consequences. Zoey doesn’t do anything wrong and manages to find the right solution to every problem. It gets very tedious very quickly.

The story, though it has potential, is weighed down to a ridiculous degree by pop culture references that run the risk of aging the book like milk in the sun, unnecessary details that don’t have any weight on the plot and far too much purple prose. The plot is slowed down to a crawl and, more than once, I was tempted to skip ahead if I could be sure I’d find a good scene later on.

Most of the book is a lot of ‘admiring the scenery’ and cliche storylines (e.g. Zoey feeling conflicted over drinking blood), making the plot very slow and bitty with a climax that really feels too small to warrant such a term. This book isn’t really a novel in its own right. It’s just a prologue for the rest of the series, which is a dangerous trap for writers who write series. The first book in the series is supposed to build up the world, certainly, but the story always needs to come first and every book should be able to stand on its own. In this case, it certainly doesn’t.

I feel that, if a good editor has been on board, the book could have easily been shortened to a third its current length and could be incorporated into later books. Indeed, if the book had a better writer, it could include a better crisis, challenges and characters. At least, there’s a semi-varied cast of female vampires. They even try to include a gay vampire but only the one and not a very interesting one.

3 out of 10 drops

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Overall

It’s a familiar trend in vampire fiction. There are a lot of good ideas ruined by clunky writing, cliche conflicts, too-perfect characters and a childish morality standard. I do feel that a quote in the mentioned monologue (Always Ridiculous by Jose Echegaray) in Zoey’s first Drama class is appropriate for this book: ‘how tedious this novel is’.

23 drops = B Positive

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