Written by L.J.Smith
First published in USA in 1996 by Pocket Books
First published in UK in 1997 by Hodder Children’s Books
First off, a disclaimer. I am well aware that only 2 out of the 3 stories in this volume contain vampire characters. However, I’m still going to review all of them as the stories and creatures all coexist in the same fictional world.
One of the downsides of a collection like this is that there’s little opportunity to properly develop characters. However, the author has made a good effort to differentiate each narrative and, for the most part, succeeds.
I think I like Poppy from Secret Vampire best. Her ceaseless optimism makes her story a fun read but, unfortunately, she suffers from the same problems as Zoey Redbird. While she’s certainly not ungrateful to be rid of her cancer through vampirism, she still adopts difficult skills far too easily, she has a family that seems to exist just to get in the way (especially her brother) and she, of course, falls in love with our hot vampire boy of the evening. I’m sorry to say that James comes straight from the Edward-Cullen school of angsty nosferatu and not even a few tragic (and alarming) stories of how his parents tried to instil vampire values in him can stop him simply being there to be Poppy’s love interest and the means by which she can overcome her fatal illness.
Mary-Lynette from Daughters of Darkness has a much more scientific and inquisitive outlook and her determination to find rational explanation puts her at odds with the Night World for a time. Then, she was quite literally forced into a romance with Ash via soulmate connection and that spoils everything. Ash was the villain in the last story and the character development here feels rather forced unnatural. Mary-Lynette’s brother, Mark, is set up as a foil for his sister as he is much more open to conspiracy theories but that potential is wasted when he turns soppy at the sight of Jade, Ash’s runaway cousin. Jade provides a unique female vampire voice as she has been very sheltered and is very innocent, loving kittens more than men. Still, she doesn’t contribute much more to the book than this and, though it’s clear the author doesn’t want me to, I prefer her sister, Kestrel’s, ruthless pragmatism. The other sister, Rowan, serves as the leader and the much more pragmatic voice among the group but, sadly, she doesn’t get a lot of development.
This is in direct contrast to Thea from Enchantress who not only gets a good bit of character development but has the best romance of the lot with Eric. Yes, there’s a soulmate link (that’s fast becoming one of my pet peeves) but the romance between them feels much more genuine as they share a love of animals and are both kind, self-sacrificing and brave. Thea’s bravery develops as the story goes on, starting off as someone unable to get the courage to prevent Blaise’s schemes and ending as someone willing to sacrifice everything she’s ever known to save lives. Speaking of Blaise, she was the character who most annoyed me. She remains a stubbornly one-dimensional femme fatale throughout who delights in nothing but driving boys mad (quite literally). I found a lot of her ideas of how to solve problems very unsettling (i.e. killing Eric to rid Thea of the soulmate issue) and a few shows of protectiveness of Thea are not enough to make me warm to her.
Like so many characters in vampire fiction, nearly all of the characters start out promising only for it to be squandered through forced drama and a lack of development.
4 out of 10 drops
Wow, was a lot of fact-checking needed for this book but it was worth it as the author does seem to have done her homework.
First off: Poppy’s pancreatic cancer is accurately described. Sadly, even 20 years after this book was published, Stage 3 pancreatic cancer is still difficult to treat and its survival rates are some of the lowest of all cancers. The one criticism I have in that respect is that the test results came back too quickly but that was done to move the plot forward.
Secondly, nearly all of the constellations mentioned in Daughters of Darkness would be visible in the Northern Hemisphere at the time the story takes place. Good of the author to mention magnitudes in reference to stargazing too. You would need a telescope to see Saturn’s rings whereas Mary-Lynette seemed to be seeing it with the naked eye but that’s just a nitpick.
Thirdly, the fabled magical properties of the herbs in Enchantress are almost completely accurate but the properties of the gemstones are a bit hit and miss. For instance, Thea used carnelian to heal Eric and, while it is true it was used in Isis worship, it was not used to healing. Still, rattlesnake anti-venoms are widely available so, despite Mojave rattlesnakes being highly venomous, Eric wouldn’t have been in much danger.
The gods and goddesses mentioned in Enchantress are also genuine deities from many religions, even the Blue Monkey-Headed God of Inquisitiveness (which is from the Tibetan Book of the Dead). The only inaccurate one is Eileithyia, who though a Greek goddess is the goddess of childbirth, not beasts. While we’re on the subject of beasts, it turns out that guinea pigs are susceptible to scurvy as they can’t synthesise or store Vitamin C so they’ll need supplements. The one thing that Enchantress gets wrong, however, is the vengeful spirit’s backstory. It claims that, in life, the witch and her family had been tortured by witch-hunters in the 1600s but the 1600s was when torture was dying out, as was burning people at the stake.
The black flowers used to secretly signal members of the Night World are interesting choices. Irises, used to denote vampires, are associated with a goddess that led souls to heaven and its dried root (Orris root) is a common herbal remedy, connecting with the nature of vampirism destroying all sickness and transcending mortality. Foxgloves, the symbol of werewolves, mean insincerity in floriography, which is appropriate for the one werewolf in the stories. Dahlias, the witch symbol, are strangely appropriate to Thea as, in general, they can symbolise a lasting bond, inner strength and staying graceful under pressure, all virtues belonging to her. However, a black dahlia is a warning of betrayal, which can’t be attributed to this story. One thing all of these plants share is that they’re poisonous (though the iris is only dangerous in large amounts), which is probably why the author chose them.
But, vampires are what we’re here to focus on. Like Marked, Secret Vampire offers a scientific explanation as to why vampires need human blood: vampirism destroys haemoglobin and, to get oxygenated cells around their body, vampires need human blood supplements. An explanation which sounds somewhat feasible to someone who only did a GCSE in Biology but it still sounds evolutionarily unviable but, then again, vampires do seem to be very rare. Secret Vampire also introduces the idea of born vampire as well as made ones. The name given to the former is lamia, which comes from Greek mythology. Lamia was originally a half-woman-half snake monster (another mess caused by Zeus) and then evolved into a vampire myth over time. Nice to use one of the more obscure myths. Nearly all of the other classic vampire attributes are not present or downplayed apart from the stake-through-the-heart as a means of slaying. The author puts a new spin on it by turning it into a vulnerability to wood in general.
In summary, while not all of it was accurate, it’s clear a lot of research went into this.
7 out of 10 drops
These stories are set up as stories about those who broke the two main Night World rules, especially the ones about falling in love with humans. They ran the risk of becoming formulaic and they almost did. It looked for a moment as if Mary-Lynette was going to turn vampire like Poppy but that storyline went nowhere. However, in terms of romantic plotlines, the stories all fall into the same pattern, right along with the same soulmate connection between the ‘lovers’, which just feels like a cheat to me. The only one that got romance really right was Enchantress. Secret Vampire’s was rushed and Daughters of Darkness’ felt painfully forced.
In the Night World, you can find vampires, werewolves, witches and shapeshifters. Werewolves and shapeshifters were not fully developed in this book but it was established that vampires and werewolves don’t get along and that the former look down on the latter. I’m sure you can name at least one book off the top of your head that uses that cliché.
This book shows originality in introducing born vampires as well as made vampires and both had very distinct differences. Born vampires grow up just like humans if they choose, which throws you off James’ scent for a bit when the story mentions Poppy first meeting him when they were children. As well as a semi-credible scientific theory on why vampires need blood, a very specific transformation process and how vampirism turning works, we are also told how it can go wrong. Wrongly-turned vampires becoming mindless zombies has been seen in other stories but it didn’t stop this one’s account being very unsettling.
Lastly, yes, this story does contain my most hated cliche: the memory spell. However, it is adapted a little and limits are drawn regarding its capabilities so I don’t hate is as much here.
The stories are not original nor are the romances but there’s enough new material to draw interest.
5 out of 10 drops
The Night World is a fascinating place but the author has a terrible tendency for info dumps, especially in Daughters of Darkness where a whole chapter is devoted to exposition. What we can gather is that the Night World is not only full of interesting creatures but some rather complicated politics. It’s clear that the different monsters live almost individually with the freedom to enforce their own laws, though some temporary alliances and peaceful negotiations can be made.
Though Secret Vampire establishes that making vampires is illegal, it seems to have been a recent law as we see several made vampires acknowledged and even tolerated. However, the born vampires are the vampires who have the most power within their society and, just like with other forms of nobility, continuing the family line is top priority. For that purpose, the larger part of the lamia live on an isolated island, feeding on kidnapped sedated humans and arranged into advantageous marriages. This is never seen but described by Rowan, Kestrel and Jade as a place to escape from.
However, not all lamia live in isolation, nor does the rest of the Night World. James’ parents have integrated into society and work in well-paid jobs that give them easy access to prey and different members of the Night World can socialise in clubs. The use of differing black flowers to alert each other to what they really are is a good idea as I don’t think ordinary humans would notice or even be suspicious. Despite so many people integrating into human society, everyone seems to think that all humans are lower beings apart from the lawbreakers who fall in love with humans. This feels rather sloppy and I would have appreciated more variations of opinion.
Witch society also seems divided between Circle Midnight, Circle Twilight and Circle Daybreak. We know that Circle Daybreak is more tolerant of humans than the others (and witch laws are much more protective of humans than vampire ones) but not much else about them. We do however meet the Inner Circle of witches which include three women that are named after the pagan triple goddess: the maiden, the mother and the crone. We also know that witches are supposed to choose a specialty in e.g. chanting, gemstones, herbs, e.t.c, which is one of the many issues Thea has to deal with. We even get a creation story in Enchantress that covers both the first great witch and the first lamia vampire, who started out as sisters but separated because of differing views on humans. A rather cliché idea but a well-told one. I rather think that the witch world is a lot more interesting than the vampire one.
As for the human society, that barely gets much description at all. There’s a great scattering of pop culture references all over the stories but most of them went straight over my head. It was written 20 years ago, after all. Not much thought was given to the ‘real world’ and that’s fair enough. It’s the Night World we want to see.
In short, though it’s sometimes done clumsily, there’s a good amount of world-building, though I’d like to see a bit more on the vampire side.
7 out of 10 drops
This is where the stories really fall down. Each story started with promising characters and a good premise but it was ruined by cliche storylines and a dragging pace. In Secret Vampire, too much time was taken up with Poppy’s turning and, so, the threat of Ash wasn’t given time to build up and, so, when Ash lures Poppy away, the ensuing drama feels very contrived.
So did the romances in Daughters of Darkness. The soulmate connection was badly used to bring Ash and Mary-Lynette together and it was clear that not even they were keen on it. As a contrast, Jade and Mark were far too keen. Some of the purple prose between the two of them sent me reaching for the sick bucket. The mystery in the story wasn’t very well described either, despite the author trying to incorporate red herrings, dead ends and all the other ingredients of a mystery. Despite the horrible deaths, there was no real feeling of dread throughout and the big plot twist could have been done so much better, as could the killer’s motive.
The only good romance was between Thea and Eric in Enchantress but, then again, the story didn’t build up the threat of the vengeful ghost enough and instead focused on the threat Blaise posed to Thea’s school career, which really could have been left out without affecting the story much.
The biggest problem that afflicted all three stories is that the endings were too happy. Secret Vampire ended with an anticlimax, Daughters of Darkness with a too convenient resolution and Enchantress with a total cop-out. Happy endings do tend to get boring in high quantities.
Yet again, great potential was wasted by bad writing.
3 out of 10 drops
The Night World is a fascinating place and, though the vampires play a big part in this book, I feel that they’re not quite as well developed as they could be. Only one out of three romances were well written, the characters were hit and miss and the storylines suffered from the old cliches.
26 drops = O Negative