Words alone cannot describe how awesome this is. Why the hell isn't this woman churning out space opera by the bucketfuls? She's so GOOD at it. I'm goWords alone cannot describe how awesome this is. Why the hell isn't this woman churning out space opera by the bucketfuls? She's so GOOD at it. I'm going to cry now.
Reading this book was like reliving the summer after freshman year of high school. DEAD SEED was originally published as "Vampires Don't Exist" on Quizilla, a magical fairyland of badly written fanfiction and erotica that has since gone to the internet graveyard. To give you an idea of the quality of some of these fics, "waist" was frequently used interchangeably with "waste" and I distinctly recall one story where the anatomically-confused author seemed absurdly sure that rectal hymens existed.
Anyway, I read Vampires Don't Exist in its original form in 2004. Vampires were super popular back then, too, except instead of TWILIGHT fanfic, it was usually Lestat and Louis fanfic (or fanfic knock-offs), where the vampires were always French and had waist-length long hair and frilly shirts and called everyone "mon cherry" (sic). The heroine in these stories was always a virgin who shopped at Hot Topic and wasn't understood by the preps. She always had a terrible life until the day she was kidnapped by the immortal hero of these stories who would whisk her away to a life of opulently decorated mansions and dubious consent, which she would hate until the day she realized she loved this hero and inevitably developed immortality and/or supernatural powers of her own.
***WARNING: SPOILERS AND DESCRIPTIONS OF GRAPHIC CONTENT***
Vampires Don't Exist took this to the extreme with a hero who was so unabashedly psychotic that I still remembered him over ten years later. Oh, yes, Aimeric was like the Hannibal Lecter of vampires. He even had a room that he decided to upholster in human skin, and a torture room in his mansion's basement, where he would dismember people before the horrified heroine as a way to "punish" her. When I saw that this book was on Amazon, I was a little curious, because I had read the series as a young teenager and how often do we get the opportunity to reexperience the webfics of our youth? So many people inevitably end up pulling their creations and never republishing. There are countless online stories like these that I will never be able to revisit as an adult, and that makes me oddly sad....
Anyway, for $2.99 this seemed like a relatively inexpensive experiment, and I decided, "What the heck. In the immortal words of Darkwing Duck, Let's get dangerous."
Aralyn's mother and sister died in a car crash and her dad became an alcoholic after the accident and doesn't give two coin flips about her. One day, she decides to die by throwing herself over a cliff. She's rescued at the last minute - she thinks, by the human man who's standing nearby watching the sea. He's cute, and they end up kissing, but he's actually Norman Bates and after calling her a slut, starts cutting her with his knife while he attempts to rape her. She's rescued - again - and knocked out, and when she wakes up, it's in a vampire mansion...by her sister, Claire, who it turns out is a vampire.
Claire leaves and Aralyn meets two more vampires, Virgil and Morgan, who's basically Igor in vampire form. Then she meets Aimeric, the Hannibal Lecter vampire. He tries to rape her, she rebuffs him, he takes her to the torture dungeon and tortures a human (he keeps a steady supply in cages so they're always at the ready - ugh). Then he rapes her, and this pretty much happens for a while. Aralyn is defiant, people get tortured, she feels bad, and the cycle continues, with her getting tortured as well, including but not limiting waterboarding, sexual assault by him and others, and branding.
There's a subplot with another vampire called Orrin, who might want to help free Aralyn, but 3/4 of the way through the book, Aralyn decides she loves Aimeric, even after all that physical, sexual, and psychological torture, and she sees his special "room," and he impregnates her by ordering three humans to rape her while she he watches (since vampires can't get people pregnant, hence the title of this newly edited edition, DEAD SEED). As the reader works his or her way through this sadistic psychodrama of torture and misery, they can't help but wonder, will Aralyn ever manage to escape? Or will she stay with this madman of depthless depravity?
I'm not going to spoil the ending for you, because I know I have friends who are just as morbidly curious as I am and I'm 99% sure that this review will encourage them to pick up the title for themselves and see if it's really that bad (yes). Let's just say that the ending gives literal meaning to the term "deus ex machina" and if you have any suspension of disbelief left by the time you get to that point, it will be gone and you will just be like, WTF. And keep in mind that this is after the heroine discovers that vampire transformations will have her looking like a Hot Topic commercial, replete with blue streaks in her hair. Because hair extensions come with the package, I guess.
It's been so long since I read the original that I'm not sure I can really do a fair comparison between the two works. I remember the original being more graphic and messed up, and I'm not sure whether that's because I was younger and just more easily traumatized, or if the author actually cleaned up the work for publication and censored out some of the more graphic parts. I was looking at some of the other reviews for DEAD SEED and other readers have made similar claims that this book felt "toned down", so maybe it was. It's still pretty gross, though. Honestly, what was most amusing to me was how this is just such a perfect snapshot of this type of fiction of this particular time, and the "emo" culture embedded in the prose was just perfect. I could almost envision those Livejournal 100x100 web icons that we used to collect and display on our Xanga pages. It was just...SO NOSTALGIC. She even links to a MySpace page in the back as a way of contacting her. I almost cried. It was wonderful.
That said, it's pretty obvious that this is a self-published work. Characterization is inconsistent, and there are a couple of pretty glaring errors and editor could have fixed. Honestly, if someone went over this with a fine-toothed comb and tightened the characterization, this would be like a modern-day bodice ripper, only with vampires instead of pirates or what have you. I would love that, but I know a lot of people won't, and if dark fiction, rape, torture, and poorly executed Stockholm syndrome plots make you see red, steer clear. If you have time to kill, though, and want to see what the 2004 version of "new adult" fiction looks like, drop the $2.99 and indulge in some over the top craziness that was self-published before self-publishing was cool.
Don't be fooled by the pretty cover sparklies; THE JEWEL is actually pretty messed-up. Violet lives in a dystopian city that's organized like the nine circles of hell, with the Marsh, or the slums, on the outer rings; and then Farm, the agricultural; Smoke, the industrial; Bank, the financial; and in the very heart of the city is Jewel, where are the filthy rich members of royalty reside.
Violet was born in the Marsh but has been raised in relative luxury since puberty because she has the power of "Auguries," or magical abilities which mean her womb is perfect for breeding more members of royalty in the Jewel. This is called being a "Surrogate." When the Surrogates come of age, they are auctioned off in 200 lots, with the last ten being the most desirable of all. Violet is #197, because her magical abilities are so potent.
With her new owner, the Duchess of the Lake, Violet now resides in the upper crust of society, receiving expensive gifts, pretty dresses, and fancy feasts - but of course it all comes at a cost. She's treated as an object, paraded around on a leash, and artificially inseminated against her will multiple times, because she's essentially a bejeweled incubator, and not an actual human being. Since this is a YA dystopian, obviously there's a forbidden romance subplot and obviously she is the chosen one who will save humanity of themselves while making out and dressing up and getting into catfights with rivals.
THE JEWEL really made some of my friends angry, which, ironically, made me want to read it even more. I can see why, to be honest. The concept of surrogacy in a YA series is so odd, and it was done so badly in this world because the world-building leaves so much to be desired. Is this our world, or a completely different one? Why can they do magic? Why do they have nosebleeds and headache when they do magic? Why can't the rich people conceive? If the rich people can't conceive, why do they need specially trained people to teach them how to have sex and make out? Oh, yes, this book has teen escorts, called "companions" who basically teach the young royals how to seduce and be desirable, with the understanding that they sleep with the older members of the household. What.
Furthermore, what are they inseminating the Surrogates with? Is it just the women who are infertile? Why not the men? And if the men are too, where are they getting the sperm from? Are there male donors who are similarly imprisoned? Why don't we see them? And also, what does Surrogate training consist of, because Violet seems remarkably uninformed about sex and pregnancy.
Also, the names in this book are ridiculous. Violet's siblings are named Ocher and Hazel. Her friend is named Raven and she has a twin brother named Crow. The members of royalty have names like Sailor Moon villains, like Beryl (an actual Sailor Moon villain fyi), Carnelian, Garnet, and Sapphire.
I feel like there was a lot of potential in this book to be great, but considering the subject matter revolves around prostitution, eugenics, lobotomies, and reproductive rights, the tone feels deceptively - almost insultingly - light with all the descriptions of pretty dresses and luxury items, and the weird and totally unconvincing romance between Violet and Ash. It is compulsively readable and reasonably well-written, but I felt like it really glossed over the serious issues and that was not good. HUNGER GAMES and HANDMAID'S TALE were good because they had fully developed worlds (for the most part) and didn't shy away from the grievous consequences of insurrection. THE JEWEL tries, but the emotional disconnect and lack of atmosphere really put a damper on the horror factor.
My library has a copy of book two, THE WHITE ROSE, so I'm going to read that and see if this book develops more in the sequel. So far, I probably wouldn't recommend this to anyone unless they enjoy costume dys-trope-ian YA fiction like THE SELECTION that revolves more around romance and boys than social commentary.
The best question to ask yourself before picking up this novel is: "Did I enjoy Daphne du Maurier's REBECCA?" MENFREYA is REBECCA redux; a romance about a young, insecure woman who doesn't feel as if she deserves the man who whisks her away to the magnificent house of her dreams - and also a mystery, involving death, murder, secrets, and an insidious other woman.
Honestly, it's magnificent how so many of Victoria Holt's (or Jean Plaidy's or Philippa Carr's - they're all the same novels) are good, considering how quickly she churned them out. Granted, there are some rather glaring misses on her repertoire, but the bijous outweigh the blights. I keep coming back to her again and again, which says something because quite often there's no sex, and often no romance even until the very end. I come for the atmosphere, and the layers of mystery and strange events, with the Eyresque heroine at the focal point of it all, steadfastly navigating through the oddities & terrors.
Harriet Delvaney is an interesting and sympathetic character because unlike so many other gothic heroines, she isn't beautiful; she's plain with good but unremarkable features, and a limp. Her father resents her, since her mother died in childbirth, and at one point she actually attempts to run away...to Menfreya, where she's friends with the Menfreys, especially their children Bevil and Gwennan. (Those names, though - omg.) The Menfrey's are everything she wishes she was: beautiful, mysterious, with a rich, epic family history that is both dark and romantic and doomed.
As Harriet grows older, she becomes clever, sarcastic, and bitter. She's in love with Bevil, but his ease with women makes her heartbroken and insecure. Various people around her die in unpleasant ways, diminishing the already small circle of people who care about her at all. She gets more and more involved with the Menfreys, and her fascination with them continues even when they tumble off their respective pedestals to reveal the flaws in their seeming perfection. And even when she does finally marry, it isn't what she expects: her marriage is plagued with insecurities and suspicions that her husband only married her for her fortune, that he's seeing other women on the side, and, toward the end, that someone might actually be trying to murder her to steal her husband!
MENFREYA is probably one of my favorite Holt novels to date. There's a lot of emotion in this book, and passion too. Harriet is a great heroine, who is selfish but also smart, and whose insecurities actually feel relatable. Bevil is a more typical gothic hero, in the sense that you're never 100% sure whether he's hero or villain until the end. The difference, I think, is that Bevil's sinister attributes were more realistic, like his cold anger and tendency towards mockery (and there's a rape/forced seduction scene in here, that's of the blink-and-you'll-miss-it variety). The atmosphere of this book, which is set in Cornwall, is so gloomy and dramatic, but romantic and a little fanciful. Honestly, it's like you took Dodie Smith's I CAPTURE THE CASTLE and du Maurier's REBECCA and mashed them up to glorious effect. A must-read - especially if you're a fan of Holt already, like me.
Here's a picture of the lovely hard cover I had with my fancy Pokemon card bookmark: