A book by L.J. Smith.< read all 4 reviews
At first glance, this book appeared daunting because of its sheer length, 729 pages, and the fact that it's comprised of three novels in one. Once I started reading "Secret Vampire," I discovered that this was going to be a quick and rather boring read. It was similar to Twilight, although it should be noted that the original printing predated Meyer's series. The characters were flat and undeveloped making it difficult to relate to them. The plots of each story were rushed and relationships magically happened. They were simply explained away by the idea of "love at first sight" or the fact that everyone was pairing up with their soul mates. The only writing technique that stood out was the connections Smith made to the characters throughout all three stories. Coincidentally enough, they shared familiar blood ties. I couldn't tell if this was employed to transition between the three novels, or if Smith was planning to create a new version of the Night World adapted and changed by this specific family. I guess I will have to read the rest of the series to discover this "mystery," but that will probably not happen since I was so disappointed with the first book. There was no "wow" factor to keep me engaged, especially considering all the hype built around the never ending battle of Smith versus Meyer. I'm still considering The Awakening, which I hear is a better reflection of Smith's talents, to give the author another chance. For now, I'm happy to regale eager readers with specific criticisms on each novel before concluding with some final remarks. I have also included separate ratings next to each story to indicate its individual score. The rating attached to this review is for the entire collection of three novels in one book read back to back.
SECRET VAMPIRE: -4 RATING
"Secret Vampire" is about your everyday family who receives some horrible news--daughter Poppy (also affectionately called Poppet, can't stand either name!) is sick with an incurable cancer (pancreatic). She only has a few days to live, and the news has devastated her family, comprised of Mom, Cliff (step-dad), and twin brother Phillip. The biological father doesn't play a role in the book until the very end.
Since this isn't reality, we can pretend that someone can escape cancer by suddenly embracing the vampire lifestyle. She's able to make this decision thanks to the "secret;" her best friend James has been hiding it from her since they were little kids (yes, vampires can age in the Night World). Shock! Gasp! No! He's a vampire! Yeah, the title gave that away, right? The rest of the book is about her decision to become a vampire (everything she will leave behind), the transition, and the complications that arise. Amidst all this is the realization that (gasp--another surprise!) James is her soul mate! But can they still love each other despite the strict rules of the Night World?
Despite all my sarcasm, James was a more intriguing male character than Edward from Twilight, but admittedly the standard was set really low if you're comparing a male to Edward. The background information that Poppy and James as childhood friends was useful; there's a cute story where Poppy defends James against some bullies. Aw, the vampire needed human protection! The fact that they haven fallen in love makes the most sense than the relationships in the latter stories because of this additional background detail. I also liked the way James handles speaking with his parents, they are not on good terms, Poppy's brother Phillip, who always seems to get in the way, and his cousin, Ash, introduced at the end of the story as a villain. Incidentally enough, Ash is the lead protagonist for the second story, "Daughters of Darkness." Ash also introduces Poppy to some witches who are the main characters in the third story "Spellbinder."
My main complaints with this story is its simplistic nature. It was predictable and "too cute" for a "dark," paranormal, vampire story. The reason behind Poppy's transformation, the fact that she was sick with cancer, also angered me. Cancer is not something that should be taken lightly, which it was in this case. It was glossed over and simply used as a reason for her to "switch to the dark side." Phillip's character was also weakly developed. He's against the transformation from a moral standpoint, but he quickly changes his tune when faced with the real-life consequence: Poppy's death. It's better that she lives as a "monster" than dies as a human. His own struggle to accept the new reality is glossed over in lieu of Poppy's and James' romance.
The strengths of this story are their love (I'm not always against the cute stuff), some of the descriptions of the Night World, which will be analyzed in depth on my Lunch reviewing site, and Ash, who is truly the sole redeeming character in this story and the entire collection. In fact, he is the reason I enjoyed the second story the best, especially the unique and different ending. If you are going to read this book, read it because of Ash in "Daughters of Darkness."
DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS: +3 RATING
This novel starts out with the names of new characters, three vampire sisters Rowan, Kestrel, and Jade (oldest to youngest). Side note: I love their names! Two humans (sister and brother Mary-Lynnette and Mark) are talking about the sisters impending arrival to stay with their Aunt Burdock. Like all the paranormal characters in this book, they are desperately seeking an escape from the restrictive Night World, which incidentally enough doesn't believe in feminism because the girls are expected to agree to arranged marriages and listen to their male elders. Come on! I thought this was a 20th century novel, so why would the Night World have such archaic rules, especially if they consider themselves to be light years beyond human development? As can be expected from the rushed quality of this book, it's glossed over and ignored as a detail that needs no explanation. So, the story is about the women escaping male oppression while their very masculine and chauvinistic brother, who happens to be Ash from "Secret Vampire," is left with the difficult task of convincing them to come home where they belong. Since Mary-Lynette is a feminist, she gets into skirmishes with Ash, some of which are quite physical. In the end, this story had similar themes as the first one: 1) soul mate principal 2) vampire reveals 3) death 4) destruction 5) a little bit of a mystery 6) and...believe it or not...a werewolf. The only thing missing was the kitchen sink.
The weaknesses of this book singles on the idea of the soul mate principle, which is just another way of saying "love at first sight." My main contention is that the love is not described accurately enough for the relationships to feel believable. Romeo and Juliet fell in love at first sight and are star-crossed lovers. They are believable. Most of the relationships in this collection of stories are too pedantic. Specifically in "Daughters of Darkness," there are two characters who get together (not who you are probably thinking of) that are a constant annoyance throughout the entire tale. It feels more like puppy love and less like true love. It was nauseating, and I wanted to skip the pages that contained their interactions.
This novel actually had quite a few strengths, and it is the shining star of the collection. If you are going to read this book, do it purely because of this story. The interactions between the females and the males are priceless, like a children's or young adult's take on "feminism." I enjoyed that the story focused around women, but that there were quirky male presences to offer good character interaction and conflict. The mystery was surprising and actually difficult to fathom despite some of the clues. Best of all, the ending was a complete surprise. I really love endings with a deeper meaning; this one was about not compromising who you are, not even for love. Though I started the book loving Ash (and still ended it loving him), the characters that are the real heroes and who stand out the most are the female ones.
SPELLBINDER: +2 RATING
The final story, "Spellbinder," was my second favorite one purely because the ending was a bit surprising, at least more so than "Secret Vampire." It's about two very different witches, one "light" and one "dark," loosing these terms lightly (concept idea reminds me of Something Wicked This Way Comes). Thea is the "good" witch while her cousin Blaise is the "bad" witch; we were introduced to them by Ash in "Secret Vampire." The girls have just been expelled from high school again, thanks to Blaise and her "bad magic." They are now banished to live with Gran, who is one of the most powerful witches and teachers in the area. If they get expelled again, well, the punishment is being locked in a convent with Aunt Ursula, a fate worse than death itself. The rest of the story is about Blaise's shenanigans as an attention starved witch. She must be noticed by men. She must use them. She's all about sexual prowess. She's used to getting her way and enjoys the thrill of breaking the men she "dates." In fact, it sounds like she might have gotten some boys killed in the past. She's not upset about this fact because she sees humans as vermin. Their only purpose is to serve those in the Night World, and sometimes you lose servants.
Obviously, Thea disagrees with her cousin, or else there wouldn't be much of a story. She believes all life is cherished and special. She's a healer. She can speak with animals, and she is about to meet her soul mate. Can you guess whether he will be a human or someone from the Night World? Ding, ding, ding! You are correct, dear reader! Needless to say, once Blaise realizes that Thea wants a man, well, she gets jealous and tries everything she can to steal him away. So, this book is about two women fighting over one man. It's a little sickening and trite, especially because Thea is such a pushover. I was very frustrated by her character because she constantly lets her cousin get away with anything and takes the blame right purely because they are like sisters (they were raised together from a young age). It's not until the end of the story that Thea begins to fight back and fight dirty; of course it all goes haywire and causes more problems rather than fixing any.
The weaknesses of this story are the premise (age old story of two girls fighting over one man), the truly despicable and almost unredeemable character of Blaise (you should see what she did to Randy Marik!), and the rather docile character of Thea, who doesn't get any spunk until the last couple of chapters when she's trying to right all the wrongs she's caused.
Strengths of the story include Rosamund, or Roz, the spunky, feminist younger sister of love interest Eric. She's simply fascinating because she is such an extreme and unlikely feminist. At one point she tries to change her identity to "Fred" because she believes the world is unfair to women. That's when Thea tells an interesting story about a girl called Hellewise (modeled from Thea's character) and a vampire called Maya (modeled from Blaise's character). The entire exchange is the most fascinating part of the story, and it will be explored in more depth on my Lunch reviewing site. The final engaging portion is the ending, some of which was guessed and other parts which are a surprise, especially the shift in Blaise's character. It was a nice reminder that no person or creature is ever truly evil in this world, maybe misguided or blind to the truth but not evil.
GENERAL OVERVIEW CONTINUED
Overall, these three stories rate higher than the portions I've read from Stephenie Meyer purely because of the emphasis on strong female roles and feminist themes. In two of these three stories, the women don't need to be rescued by the male characters. They are capable of fighting their own battles, and in fact, help the men out. There are situations where they fight as equals, such as in "Spellbinder," or cases where the females dominate the action, as in "Daughters of Darkness." There was also more development of the interconnectedness of the paranormal universe of the Night World, especially the story about Hellewise and Maya, which explains the birth of vampires and the history of witches.
The most disappointing aspects that colored my reading of the volume were the promises that were never delivered. On the very first teaser page, it's stated that "The Night World...love has never been so dangerous." Love was not very dangerous in these stories. In fact, it was the magic that was dangerous. Later on in this teaser description, it states: "The laws of the Night World are very clear: humans must never learn that Night World exists. And members of Night World must never fall in love with a human. Violate the laws and the consequences are terrifying." Liar! There were no terrifying consequences. In fact, in two of the stories, the elders never learned that the younger members of the Night World were breaking this forbidden law. So, there are no consequences. It's all about teens getting away with their hooligan activities. In "Spellbinder," where the adults discover that the Night World rule has been broken, they condone the engagement, to some degree, and encourage the member of the Night World to break free from the constrictive older traditions. Only then can she create a Night World where humans can participate and learn about their cultures, especially if they are in love with said member of the Night World. Talk about a cope out! The adults are too lazy to create this version of a better and more equal society, so they throw it on the young and unprepared teenager? I guess they want to stay under the radar or leave the work to the next generation. It's never explained why more members of the Night World won't join in this endeavor.
If you are a parent wondering if this book is suitable for your youngster, I would say it depends on their age and what type of message you want to send to your child. I do think that anyone could read this book because the writing is simplistic enough to follow. However, I suggest older teens read the last story "Spellbinder" because of Blaise's actions toward men. "Secret Vampire" and "Daughters of Darkness" are suitable for a middle school audience.
Personally, if you are torn between reading this book or not, I recommend passing it up. I'm sure there are better books out there with similar themes. If you are still intrigued enough or want to make a comparison with Stephenie Meyer, I recommend reading either "Daughters of Darkness" or "Spellbinder." The "Secret Vampire" is really a waste of valuable reading time.
What did you think of this review?
Vampires, werewolves, witches, shapeshifters -- they live among us without our knowledge. Night World is their secret society, a secret society with very strict rules. And falling in love breaks all the laws of the Night World.
In Secret Vampire, Poppy thought the summer would last forever. Then she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Now Poppy's only hope for survival is James, her friend and secret love. A vampire in the Night World, James can make Poppy immortal. But first they both must risk everything to go against the laws of Night World.
Fugitives from Night World, three vampire sisters leave their isolated home to live among humans in Daughters of Darkness. Their brother, Ash, is sent to bring the girls back, but he falls in love with their beautiful friend.
Two witch cousins fight over their high school crush. It's a battle between black magic and white magic in Spellbinder.