A little while ago, I bought a battered old vampire novel for £1.50 from a charity shop. Yet the moment I started posting that I was reading it on GoodReads?
‘RUN AWAY WHILE YOU CAN!’
‘THIS BOOK WAS AWFUL, YOUR EYEBALLS ARE GOING TO BLEED OUT OF YOUR SKULL!’
‘DROP IT RIGHT NOW. YOU’LL BE SO MUCH HAPPIER IF YOU NEVER READ THIS PIECE OF CRAP.’
‘YOU POOR THING, I’LL BE PRAYING FOR YOU EVERY NIGHT!’
…Or something akin to that.
And were my friends right?
YES. Yes they were. This book is absolutely atrocious. I haven’t come across something this bad since I struggled through the first one hundred pages of Fallen by Lauren Kate. I may be twenty years old, and this is a teen vampire novel, but that’s no excuse in my book. Teen media, just like children’s media, can be enjoyed by adults so long as you mix in the right ingredients: clever humour and references, likeable characters, and maybe even a story one can really get into. That has been a rule I have known for years.
Too bad P.C. and Kristin Cast never got this memo.
In the first two pages, we are introduced to Zoey and Kayla, these girls who rival puddles for shallowness. So far, so teen drama. After nattering incessantly about how hot this stupid jock is, Zoey gasps in horror as a vampire comes up to her. And she can tell he’s a vampire, not by his pale skin, but by the exotic-looking tattoo around his skull. (So vampires in this universe are just extras from A Midsummer Night’s Dream?) Anyway, this vampire then delivers the mother of all cheesy speeches:
“Zoey Montgomery! Night has chosen thee; thy death will be thy birth. Night calls to thee; hearken to Her sweet voice. Your destiny awaits you at the House of Night!”
Tell me if you wouldn’t burst out laughing if someone came up to you and said that. It sounds like something Harold Zidler from Moulin Rouge would say!
This vampire then points a finger at her and Zoey feels an explosion of pain in her forehead. She then mentally berates a ‘dork’ for gawping at what just happened, and realises she has been Marked. And she will become a vampire. Or die in the process. I really, really hoped it would be the latter. But no, the gods are indeed cruel and fickle beings.
Hold up here a moment. Just hold up one bloody moment. So, Zoey is just chatting outside her locker at high school, when a vampire comes up, goes: ‘Mwahaha’ and changes her? Um, okay. I’ve gleaned from the first few pages that vampires do indeed exist in this world, and like in the Sookie Stackhouse novels, they’ve ‘come out of the coffin’. Someone please tell me why this high school doesn’t just keep vampires away from the human populace, if vampires can just come in and pick somebody out like that.It’s the sensible thing to do!
So oh no, this completely unlikeable, whiny, judgmental little moron has been turned into a monster against her own will and is going to have to move to an exclusive academy for vampires. Remind me why I’m supposed to feel for her plight?
The Casts must have realised this, and so they shoehorn in that Zoey has FAMILY PROBLEMS. When I first heard she didn’t exactly enjoy her life at home, I thought: ‘Okay, maybe she’s a bitch because she doesn’t have a good family life. That in no way justifies her actions, and of course, not everybody from that background goes on to be a horrible person like Zoey, but still. Let’s see what the Casts have here.’
Zoey’s mother: Married a man who is extremely rich and a religious nut. Tries to reason with Zoey, but ends up getting bellowed at like she’s the worst person in the world.
Zoey’s stepfather: A religious nut who, gasp, tries to exert some authority in his new household. Upon learning that Zoey has been marked to become a vampire, he just calls the family psychiatrist and some members of his church to pray for her. It isn’t like he dragged her, kicking and screaming, to be exorcised or thrown in an institution.
Zoey’s sister: A PERFECT CHEERLEADER!
Zoey’s brother: A DORK WHO PLAYS VIDEO GAMES!1!!11!!
Zoey’s grandmother: A proud Cherokee woman who is the only person who understands and loves Zoey.
Okay, so the two main heads of the family are into religion. That hardly destroys the stability of the family unit. Call me back if your name is Anneliese Michel, or something. But other than that, Zoey, just what the heck are your problems? You rant and bitch and moan at your mother when she tries to talk to you, and you refuse to even give your stepfather a chance. Your brother is a dork and your sister is too pretty and perfect. Oh, woe betide you! You’re the middle child, caught between the perfectionism of your older sibling and the example you have to set for your younger sibling! Yeah, yeah. This isn’t exactly a deep character analysis. Your main character is shallower than an empty children’s paddling pool!
So anyway, after arguing about the science of vampirism with her stepfather, Zoey runs away before the shrink and the ‘fat women and their beady-eyed paedophile husbands’ (I am not joking) can arrive to psychologically analyse/pray for her.
It’s around about here where I should mention that Zoey almost never shuts up about having Cherokee features. On page 10 she looks at her new ridiculous forehead tattoo and says that it blends perfectly with her Cherokee features and makes her look fierce. And on the same page, the ‘blood of her grandmother’s people’ rejoices within her when she gives herself over to the early signs of her vampirism.
Now, being British, I’ve never learned very much about Native American culture. I know some tribe names, but that’s about it. But let’s see what we can learn about Cherokee culture through our completely vapid main character and the emotional rock that is her Cherokee grandmother! So what will we learn?
The Cherokee tribe are very wise medicine-people who are mystical and magical and connected with the land.
That’s it. Seriously. Ah, the good old ‘mystical native’ trope. You will never go away, will you?
Zoey then has a spiritual experience and winds up at the House of Night, a large vampire boarding school… under the tutelage of the High Priestess Neferet. Why the High Priestess? Because she senses something special in Zoey. The Goddess even says so.
Oh, by the way, did I mention that the vampires in this world all follow a pseudo-Wiccan religion? Yup! They worship a goddess, use pentagrams in their worship, call upon air, water, fire, earth, and spirit to cast their circles with athames (ceremonial knives), burn sage and other herbs and oils for their spiritual properties, and the whole religion is very matrifocal. A Wiccan friend of mine said that it wasn’t a bad interpretation of her religion, and certain aspects have been embellished for entertainment purposes, the way they are in Buffy or Charmed. The religion becomes quite important in the second and third acts of the book, as it’s discovered that Zoey is SPECIAL and has an AFFINITY FOR ALL FIVE ELEMENTS which means she’s going to be the most powerful High Priestess the vampires have ever seen, and then all of a sudden she discovers she has power over a never before seen SIXTH ELEMENT… oh goodness, I can’t believe it’s actually supposed to get worse over the next eight or so books.
Zoey Redbird, thy middle name is Mary Sue. She failed every Mary Sue litmus test online I logged her into. She’s also a really judgmental, horrible person, which becomes really hard to read after a while. She’s one of those narrators who adds in very snarky asides as she’s describing a situation. In fact, during a scene in which marijuana incense is being burned for ritual, Zoey cries that it’s illegal (it isn’t), and that she doesn’t understand pot smokers – after all, why would you want to take a drug that makes you scarf down junk food and get fat? Hm… well, there are medicinal reasons for taking marijuana, as well as religious.
They were talking quietly and acting like the totally illegal marijuana incense was no big deal. (Pot heads.)
This made me laugh like crazy. It’s incense, you stupid girl! Not the actual drug!
I also wanted to snap Zoey’s neck around page 51.
Her body was, well, perfect. She wasn’t thin like the freak girls who puked and starved themselves into what they thought was Paris Hilton chic. (‘That’s hott.’ Yeah, okay, whatever, Paris.)
Yes, if you have any kind of eating disorder, it’s because you want to look like Paris Hilton. As much as I am not a fan of Paris’, I don’t think she ever promoted eating disorders. Having more money than sense, and being completely vapid, perhaps. But never eating disorders. This extract was so hideously offensive I remember punching the page. Eating disorders are complex conditions that, contrary to what the media tells you, are not always controlled by girls looking at celebrities and desperately wanting to have their figure.
Let’s look away from eating disorders and come to another moment where I wanted to punch Zoey… The constant slut-shaming. You know that police officer in Canada who got into a lot of trouble for saying that he couldn’t exactly sympathise with women who went out in very little clothing and ended up getting assaulted? Which triggered the first Slut-Walk? Yeah, Zoey is just like that officer.
Actually, instead of being afraid, it was more like I was an observer, as if none of this could really touch me. (Kinda like those girls who have sex with everyone and think that they’re not going to get pregnant or get a really nasty STD that eats your brains and stuff. Well, we’ll see in ten years, won’t we?)
I doubt there’s a teenager alive today who isn’t aware that most of the adult public think we’re giving guys blow jobs like they used to give guys gum. That’s bullshit, and it’s always made me mad. There are girls who think it’s ‘cool’ to give guys head. Uh, they’re wrong. Those of us with functioning brains know that it’s not cool to be used like that.
A woman is more than her body, family Cast. Repeat after me. A woman is more than her body. If a woman has a lot of sex, it’s her own damn business. She’s not being ‘used’. If a woman chooses to go out with very little clothing, she shouldn’t have to worry about getting raped. It’s nothing shameful. What is shameful is that two women wrote this.
And here’s the final example of Zoey being judgmental… Zoey meets a rag tag group of fledgling vampires at the House of Night. We’re going to focus on a gay guy called Damien, and a black girl called Shaunee. First things first, in almost every scene featuring Shaunee, or any other black person for that matter, they are described as ‘coffee-coloured’, or that they look like ‘African princesses’. But let’s get on to Damien, since he’s featured a bit more.
“And this is the token guy in our group, Damien. But he’s gay, so I don’t think he really counts as a guy.”
Instead of getting pissed, Damien looked unruffled. “Actually, since I’m gay I think I should count for two guys instead of one. I mean, with me you get the male point of view AND you don’t have to worry about me wanting to touch your boobies.”
(So, lesbians of the world – did you know that you don’t count as women, according to the little sense that this quote makes?)
Actually, Damien was cute. Not in the overly girly way so many teenage guys are when they decide to come out and tell everyone what everyone already knew (well, everyone except their typically clueless and/or in-denial parents). Damien wasn’t a swishy girly-guy; just a cute kid with a likeable smile.
Okay, so Damien functions a bit like the Sassy Gay Friend of the group. The guy you can take clothes shopping and talk about girls with, and he’ll dispense sassy advice. Hey, Casts? Did you know that if you tried that with any of my gay friends, they wouldn’t exactly be very happy with you? What I also love about Zoey is that she’s perfectly fine with gay people… so long as gay men stay manly, it seems. Ugh.
Also, for a vampire novel, there is very little in the way of blood-drinking. I counted only two instances, and three instances of bloodlust (following which is the requisite “I’M A MONSTER!” speech). This didn’t really need to be a vampire novel. That vampire who points at Zoey and ‘turns’ her in the first five pages of the book could have easily been, say, an acolyte of the vampire goddess. It may have taken a few more pages to convince Zoey to come to the school, but the entire turning into a vampire thing was treated awfully.
So, after Zoey makes her friends, she discovers she has power over all of the elements, and stages a coup to get rid of Aphrodite, the current leader of the Dark Daughters – a clique whose current leader is the favourite of High Priestess Neferet to take over her position. Zoey also has run-ins with the mysterious Erik Night (sorry, but I can’t help but imagine him as a really bad Phantom of the Opera fanfic OC), a male vampire who’s caught between her and Aphrodite.
Also, Zoey’s human friends show up but are quickly taken care of after Zoey refers to them as alcoholics, potheads and sluts, simply because they came to the House of Night from a party. God, can you imagine partying with the Casts? If they write Zoey like that, I imagine that pouring a mere glass of wine or lighting a cigarette at their house results in a lecture about how bad alcohol is for you. And how only losers smoke.
Zoey takes classes she just so happens to be very good at and… okay, let’s stop for a second. Neferet just so happens to teach Vampire Sociology. In this class, you learn about the vampires through history and their impact on the humans. That’s not the sociology I swotted up on for my college exams. At all. Where’s the vampire equivalent of Durkheim? Marx? What about all the different schools of thought, such as Functionalism, Feminism, Marxism, Neo-Marxism, New Right, Christian New Right, Psychological Theory, Biological Theory, Phenomenology and Symbolic Interactionism? Are the Casts confusing Sociology for Social Studies/Modern History? It’s a little nitpick, I know, but all the same, it was stupid.
I particularly liked all the mention of vampire celebrities throughout history. Did you know, for example, that Shakespeare was a bloodsucker? And country music stars such as Shania Twain, Garth Brooks and Kenny Chesney are vampires because they’re so pretty and talented? (Depending on what you think about country music, this may slide all the puzzle pieces into place… or be absolutely hilarious. I’m of the latter opinion.) So, if vampires dominate the entertainment sectors and the upper echelons of society because they’re just ‘better’ than humans, shouldn’t this society be expanded upon a bit more? Instead, all we get is that humans sit in their cosy little enclaves, mostly preaching religious diatribe against vampires. Or being bitchy, stupid high school kids.
There’s this great moment where Neferet tells Zoey that Bram Stoker did nothing but cause bad blood (pardon the pun) between vampires and humans when he wrote Dracula. Oh really? A Victorian horror novel which is pretty much about seduction and sexual liberation in a time of repression? What about those Eastern European folktales where vampires actually came from?
This novel’s world makes no sense. It’s as if the Casts wanted to get into writing about the vampire world as fast as possible. Okay, so the vampires don’t drink human blood, but they do feed off each other, they practice a kind of Wiccan religion, and apparently all the greatest people the world has ever known were vampires. More about the humans, please? Other than the fact that most of them are resentful, religious types? And no, I am not reading the next books in the series to find out.
Marked ends with all the panache of a children’s cartoon. The big bad villain is defeated, our main character is congratulated and she walks off arm in arm with her friends. There was nothing that made me want to read the second book, and I was so glad to get out of the head of someone as vapid, judgmental and stupid as Zoey. Ugh. To hell with this book, and the series. The writing is awful, I could not stand the main character in the least, the human society is not expanded upon properly, and the drama between the characters that the Casts used to create their plot was paper thin. In all, this really was one of the worst books I have read this year. 1/5.