**spoiler alert** L.J. Smith is such a guilty pleasure of mine. I discovered her in sixth grade and have never really given her up. I didn't stumble u...more**spoiler alert** L.J. Smith is such a guilty pleasure of mine. I discovered her in sixth grade and have never really given her up. I didn't stumble upon this trilogy until three years ago or so, when I was living at home, marginally employed, and mildly depressed - so, hey, just about as miserable as I was in sixth grade! - and the brain-numbing cheesiness combined with just enough creativity and genuinely intriguing characters was just as soothing then as it was in middle school.
The first and third books of Forbidden Game are my favorites, just because of the framework they use. In book one, the titular game is a paper house that becomes real, that sucks Our Heroes into its alternate reality, and makes them face their worst nightmares. I don't care how cheesy the rest of it is; that's cool.
Our Heroine is, as always, irritatingly perfect, though I find Jenny to come by her "perfection" a little more honestly than some of the other L.J. Smith heroines. Our Hero is even more irritating than normal, moving from starts out looking like a creepy, almost emotionally abusive and controlling relationship with Jenny to an I'm-not-worthy-must-hide-myself-from-your-perfection thing by the end of this book. (And it just gets weirder and worse as the books go on.)
Then, of course, there is Our Villain, who is almost always more interesting, more complex, and not villainy enough to counterbalance how much nicer he is to Our Heroine than Our Hero is. Julian remains one of Smith's kickass villains. He loves Jenny, yes he does, and there's a good reason why it's her and no other. He is descended from a race of monsters, but there's a (okay, less good, but still plausible) reason why he is less monstery. He's got just enough zazz in him to make you think he might actually harm the rest of The Gang, but you never (I never) really believe he's going to harm Jenny. It's an interesting set-up.
Plus, these books get total props for a) actually killing people and 2) even the people who end up not dead, you actually think are dead for a good long while. Horror movies are so much more thrilling when people might actually get knocked off. (less)
**spoiler alert** So there is absolutely nothing earthshattering about this book. First person POV, a teenage girl who's new in town, who falls in lov...more**spoiler alert** So there is absolutely nothing earthshattering about this book. First person POV, a teenage girl who's new in town, who falls in love with the mysterious boy in the back of the classroom, who turns out to be a good vampire, who is terrified he's going to kill her, and she cares not a whit, because she! is! in! love! C'mon. You know you've read this novel before.
I mean, I picked this book up half a hundred times because it looked awesome, and then I would read the back. "About three things I was absolutely positive. First, Edward was a vampire. Second, there was a part of him - and I didn't know how dominant that part might be - that thirsted for my blood. And third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him."
PAIN, y'all. PHYSICAL PAIN. Why would I want to read about this seventeen year old who is convinced, like all good seventeen year olds, that she is MADLY and IRREVOCABLY in love with someone on LITTLE TO NO ACQUAINTANCE. Apparently I am lacking certain romantic genes, because that does not say "tru luv 4eva" to me; that says "raging hormones bound to end horribly."
But I slipped and fell and found myself with a copy of the book in my hand, and I couldn't resist. Large print, lots of pages, large bottle of wine by my side - hey, it could happen to you, too. And I found myself thoroughly engaged. Bella, the narrator, suffers from many of the egregious Mary Sue qualities (funny eyes/hair/skin that she thinks is/are weird that everyone else mysteriously finds attractive, nickname, everyone immediately loves her, etc.), but underneath all that was, for at least the first half of the book, a real and engaging teenager.
She's just decided to move in with her dad because her recently-remarried mom has stayed home with her while her new husband travels with his minor league ball team, and Bella can see how hard that is on her mom and makes a decision to fix it. She and her dad have a slightly awkward relationship. She does not bask in her newfound male attention but genuinely seems awkward and nervous and uncomfortable. She's got a little more flesh on her, textually speaking, than an L.J. Smith or Christopher Pike heroine.
Then. Of course. She falls in love. Oh, it starts out well enough and in line with everything else - this guy treats her like she's plague-ridden, so she's pissed. She doesn't even know him and he's decided she's gross? Oooh, snap. The transition from dislike to tentative friendship/early stages of flirtation/infatuation is really well handled, I think.
It's just when she decides she's "unconditionally, irrevocably in love" that the spoonful of sugar starts sticking in my throat. I fully believe that Bella really, really means it when she goes on her undying love declarations. I just have a harder time when I'm also supposed to believe in that undying love. She's seventeen, goes from arguing with him to thinking he smells nice to thinking he is the greatest thing since Thin Mints in, like, two and a half weeks, and I'm supposed to believe that they are MFEO truluv4eva for reals, y'all? I'm sorry, no. I need some sort of fabulous soul bond/mystical union/supernatural matchmaking device in order to accept that.
What I can't decide is if the author is deliberately omitting the SMD (supernatural matchmaking device) and making this a case of hormones ringing true, or if the SMD is coming in future books (dude, I'd even accept some sort of prophecy or destiny or something), or if what weak justification she's already provided (they...smell really good to each other, and in Edward's case, she smells really, really delicious to him. when tasty snack started =ing MFEO, I was not informed, or maybe hormones are telling them they're MFEO, except hormones are pronounced "pheromones"), or if I'm horribly wrong and the author really does take it all desperately seriously, as seriously as Bella does.
I mean, she explicitly makes the comparison to Romeo and Juliet and how Bella thinks that Romeo is the most romantic guy, like, ever. I just can't tell if the author is taking the piss with that (Edward does object to R+J's most perfect romance, like, ever, given Romeo's fickleness and rash decisions to go around whacking Juliet's kinsmen right after the wedding, which just makes me like him even more), or if she really does think R+J is the romanticest thing ever.
Because oy. Bella's already on to Edward to get him to turn her into a "good" vampire so they can be together forever, and he's dead set (no pun intended) that she live a "normal" life, but she's terrified of being old, and I really start to think that the author might be serious.
It was exactly the fear I had when I first picked up the book, but really, the first establishing bit of Bella as a character, combined with the story for the vampire family saves it, and I'm desperate to get my hands on the next two books currently sitting at home in an amazon box.
Because, see, they're interesting. Yes, they're a little broad-brush right now, and yes, they hit several of your traditional young adult horror vampirey tropes, but I feel like there's more there. Edward is the oldest of the "children" of the family, having been turned during the flu epidemic of 1918 by their "father," who was accidentally turned in the 1600s. They've got a family of Lenores, who don't drink human blood, and they set up homes through the years (as opposed to their nomadic, human-drinking brethren), sometimes as adults, sometimes as parents with adopted kids. I think the author does a pretty decent job of making Edward (Our Hero) actually seem almost a hundred years old in his seventeen year old form and not just a seventeen year old trapped in a seventeen year old's body.
Still, though, the rest of the family is fascinating to me - the priest/doctor who decided to be an ethical vampire, the girl with visions of the future who has no memory of being human, the eternally devoted couple who sometimes are married, sometimes just high schoolers dating, the family who plays baseball together but only during thunderstorms, because they hit the ball hard enough to sound like thunder. I guess the best way I know how to describe them is a group of characters I would love to read individual stories about.
Yes, it's silly. Bella keeps losing her brain, and the author freely admits to being inspired by the idea of a girl in a meadow with a vampire who sparkled in sunlight (I could not make this up if I tried), but they're a delightful kind of escapism, and I'm eager to read the next one. Though I do dread the whole "why won't you turn me into a vampire? I wanna!" plotline. Oy.(less)
**spoiler alert** I am painfully, painfully addicted. Not entirely in spite of the trashiness (because a small part of me finds the constant detailed...more**spoiler alert** I am painfully, painfully addicted. Not entirely in spite of the trashiness (because a small part of me finds the constant detailed descriptions of everyone's outfit deeply entertaining - hi, Laurell K Hamilton for the Gossip Girl set!), but if you dig beyond the uneven pacing, the telling instead of showing, and the constant! references! to everyone's! extreme! wealth!, there is some very, very interesting mythology being crafted here, with some deeply twisted and intriguing relationships as a result.
spoilers for both this book and Masquerade, the sequel
Let's see - rotating 3rd person POV between three main female characters - Schuyler, our old-money-but-now-broke semi-orphan outcast at Extremely Posh School; Mimi, our old-money-and-new-money-and-unbelievably-rich popular girl who is The Queen Bee everywhere and not just at EPS; and Blair, old-money-with-a-new-money-stepmother recent transplant to EPS from Texas who is absorbed into Mimi's social circle but feels an outsider. We've got the three different ends of the EPS social spectrum, but really? EPS is almost irrelevant to this story.
Yes, they're all vampires. Yes, fifteen to twenty-one is when they come into their vampirehood. Yes, being a vampire makes them fast, strong, beautiful, etc etc etc, and they're not allergic to sun. Blah blah standard vampirecakes blah blah.
Here's where the mythology gets interesting. Initially, it's just that vampires are souls that exist beyond the mortal shell, and the Turning Age is when the vampires first start remembering their past lives (and incidentally needing to drink blood, but whatever, that is, like, sooooo irrelevant). So, like, really Old Money. The current crop of characters came over on the Mayflower.
That's all well enough, certainly an interesting twist, but what I like about it even more is that de la Cruz takes it one step further: the vampires' original souls? Angels. Cast down to the mortal sphere, not hell, when they followed Lucifer. So layer on all sorts of Biblically-inspired angel/demon stuff, too.
So vampires (Blue Bloods, literally, hur hur) drink Red Blood and absorb some of the Red Blood's soul. The Uber Bad Guys are Silver Bloods, who drink Blue Bloods' blood and absorb all of that vampire's previous lives, in addition to the individual lives of the Red Bloods the Blue Blood has drunk, making them v. powerful and v. crazy. Lucifer, of course, is the ultimate Silver Blood.
See? Intriguing. More than your normal teen vampire book. What make it even more deliciously awesome is the bonds and relationships that de la Cruz has set up among the angels/vampires/teens all inhabiting one body.
Mimi is soul-bonded to Jack, who in this lifetime is her twin brother. You start to realize something hinky is up when Mimi starts having memories of Jack as her groom at various weddings throughout the ages. And the way it's played, I think you're kind of supposed to root for Mimi and Jack to get together. Yes, Jack is also drawn to Schuyler, our ostensible heroine, and it turns out that he's been drawn to other women (notably Schuyler's mother) throughout the ages, but he keeps coming back to Mimi. He is Mimi's one - I was going to say "humanizing point," but that's not quite right - saving grace, and the only times Mimi is not being almost entirely repulsive is when she's thinking about how much she loves Jack.
Schuyler's mother is soul-bonded to Jack and Mimi's father, who in this instance is her brother, and the reason there has been this great schism between them is because Schuyler's mom left Charles for a human and had the affront to not only marry a human but get knocked up by one (i.e. Schuyler). And then! In the closing pages of Masquerade, somewhere in all that, she may have had time to get knocked up by Blair's dad, producing Blair!
Because, see, Schuyler's mom is Gabriel(le), and Jack and Mimi's dad is Michael, and they are the only two Untainted, or whatever - angels who voluntarily fell in order to stay with their parents, an angel I'm not familiar with and the Metatron! (Now I picture Schuyler's grandfather as Alan Rickman. This is not a bad thing.)
And then, of course, there's the Red Blood/Blue Blood relationship thing. The metaphor of drinking blood = sex is a little heavy-handed (Mimi is precocious, starts drinking early, and drinks around a lot), but the mythology is set up so that it's a meaningful thing, that Blue Bloods are bonded to those from whom they drink, and it is forbidden (not to mention in extremely poor taste) to drain one dry to the point of death.
Then there are the, I can't remember what they're called, but essentially they're Watchers. Families trained to serve as "left-hand men" (I'm not sure if that was a deliberate fumble on de la Cruz's part or not) of the Blue Bloods, and of course Schuyler has a (male) Red Blood Watcher who has been trained since birth to serve her, who's been her best friend forever, and who she's now noticing is pretty cute, as well as tasty-looking. (Naturally, Oliver, her Watcher, comes from a filthily rich family.) You're not supposed to drink from your Watcher, but exigent circumstances (sort of) demand that Schuyler drink from Oliver, which completely changes their relationship, as well as being kind of forbidden and naughty.
(Are you getting the blood=sex thing yet? Are you? Because if not, Blair drinks from some guy on a photo shoot in the Caribbean and tells Schuyler not to share the [insert random Latin term here for bloodsuckin', much like "languisement" in the Jacqueline Carey books really just means "blowjob":] with any random person, because it really does mean something, and she shouldn't do it lightly.)
What photo shoot? Ah, yes, the slightly ridiculous subplot of Schuyler and Blair getting chosen to be models for this one fashion company owned by a fellow Blue Blood ('cause they're all rich and gorgeous, see, and wildly successful), which makes Mimi violently jealous, because she's the It Girl and the only one allowed to have a semi-naked billboard in Times Square, gosh.
Yes. It is that ridiculous. Mimi loves nothing better than to deny people pleasure, to let them know that they are excluded from something to which she is included. She likes it that people hate her.
So there's the Mimi-Jack-Schuyler-Oliver love...rhombus going on, plus you add in the fact that Schuyler has some of her mother in her, who previously tempted Jack and is Jack's father's sister/soul bond, and many of these kids are older souls than their parents and they're just starting to remember this, and there's questions of divinity and all sorts of delicious, juicy mythology to delve into, and it's an addictive combination. For those reasons, I highly recommend these books.
It's this ornate, gothic world with hits of shiny modernity wrapped up in this whole divine trapping, and I love that. I want to know more about the savior who has been prophecized; I want to know more about the horribly messy relationships that are swirling around; I want to know who Schuyler's human father was; I want to know more about this sprawling, baroque society with all its rules and history and social strictures than bind this community of four hundred souls being reborn over and over and over.
I just really, really wish we'd stop getting a brand list of every. single. outfit. and room. for every. single. character. The Gossip Girl-y bits, the constant harping on everyone's wealth, the constant heavy-handed classicism (which is interesting and would be even more so if it weren't constantly played as merely a vehicle for these characters to be able to advance the plot, like fly to Venice on short notice, or as a way to show off the author's knowledge of what's hot and What The Rich People Like) - these are the parts that grate.
Mostly it feels like a writer's weakness, an inability to manage the different parts of her story, to blend them into a seamless whole. (Isn't the point of Old Money that you don't actually talk about Money?) It feels like the author trying to show off what she knows about Rich And/Or Famous People, rather than develop the characters in any meaningful way. A little name-dropping or a little coy lack-of-name-dropping would have gone a long way towards sketching the characters, but instead it comes off a little self-aggrandizing and trying too hard. (Not unlike Blair’s tacky stepmother…)
There is a strong weakness of telling and not showing; a lot of action happens offscreen or is so impenetrable that it really does take Captain Exposition showing up two scenes later to let you know what it is that just happened. This is a much stronger failing in Blue Bloods than in Masquerade, and I have even higher hopes for the next book. The characters start out as pure caricature, and maybe I’m projecting too much onto them, but I really think they grow by Masquerade into something much more believable and much less pastiche.
There are some kickass world-building and relationships set up here, accompanied by weak storytelling and often shoddy character development. It wants to be so much more than it is, and I believe that de la Cruz has the raw creativity to make it happen, but she keeps getting held back by lack of craft (which I think could be remedied by more practice and a really hand-holdy editor) and the tendency to rely on tropes of all the teen books about rich, bitchy girls and their fabulous, empty lives, etc. that have taken over the teen aisle at Target. These characters are interesting because they’re not empty, that they have a larger purpose and a larger life beyond who’s carrying what handbag, so when de la Cruz resorts to the style of character-development-through-accessories, it’s a huge letdown. (less)