Monday, June 7, 2010

Review: The House of Night series - first four parts

P. C. Cast, Kristin Cast: The House of Night series, the first four parts: „Marked”, „Betrayed”,„Chosen”, „Untamed”.
Synopsis (without major spoilers, I hope).

Have you ever read or watched any coming-of-age story? If so, the beginning of this series won’t be a big surprise because all such books and movies are bound to start in a similar fashion. Our main heroine is a sixteen-year-old high school student, Zoey Montgomery. One day she meets unexpectedly her fate in the form of a tattooed vampyre (sic! “y” no “i” – that’s the official version in the books) Tracker – he marks her as a new vampyre fledgling and, as a result, a Mark in the form of a sapphire Crescent tattoo appears between her eyebrows. From now on she faces just one alternative – either she joins other chosen girls and boys in the House of Night, a kind of a finishing school- cum- hatchery for adolescent vampyre fledglings, or she dies. The choice is simple, isn’t it?
Zoey’s parents are less than happy with her daughter. Her mother remarried three years ago and she chose a man who is clearly a Christian fundamentalist and belongs to a group called “People of Faith”. Although the name of the group is fictional you can recognize his type immediately: he is very pious in an ostentatious manner, knows everything best and wants to control everybody and everything around. Small wonder Zoey hates her step-father’s guts and even more she hates the fact that after the marriage her mom bent totally to her husband’s will and doesn’t really care about her and her siblings any more. The only solace is Zoey’s Cherokee maternal grandmother who understands the girl and helps her as much as she can. 
The House of Night proves to be a perfect opportunity to escape such a household. The school is really nicely located and the profs are as hot as you want a vampyre to be (think Edward Cullen and his family) – Zoey feels she found a new, better home and her place in life. She befriends many other fledglings, finding a boyfriend and some enemies too. There’s just one catch – at this school either you graduate or you die. Literally. Averagely one out of ten fledglings falls ill and bleeds to death as their body rejects the Change and apparently there is no cure or a second chance. Will Zoey and her friends make it? Nobody can guarantee that .Zoey is not an ordinary prospective vampyre, though – Nyx, the goddess of Night, has given her some awesome powers. That’s why Zoey’s Mark became coloured-in even before she starts her new school. Also she gets magically her own sapphire tattoos very soon and, as they characterize only a fully-grown vampyre, people start to treat her differently than other fledglings. She is immediately pronounced the school’s rising star but fame comes always at a cost - to get the drift think about Harry Potter and how he was sometimes annoyed by his tell-tale scar.
The headmistress of this school is called Neferet – she is also the High Priestess of Nyx and from the very beginning she takes poor Zoey under her wings. Neferet seems to be an epitome of a woman of success, a clever vampyre and a cool but caring mother; Zoey wishes several times her real mom was like her. After some time, though, she is forced to change her mind about a lot of things at school and also about Neferet herself. Of course evil never sleeps and even if it does, some power-crazy but intelligent creatures always find a way to awake it. It is one part of the fun, after all. Zoey, her friends and her enemies too, will soon have to decide what side they want to support and they have a lot at stake – more than some of them realize.

What I liked:

The plot is well-though-out and there are some twists and turns which can surprise even an experienced reader. The narration keeps you interested – as soon as you finish one part you want to start the next. Zoey the vampire-fledgling is still very close to Zoey the teen girl so I suppose many young readers will identify with her problems and dilemmas, especially concerning her love life. Zoey’s circle of friends provides a lot of comic relief and they are really a colourful bunch, including a cute gay boy and two girls which think and act the same although they are not and could not be siblings. The vampyre society is a nice example of matriarchy – let’s women rule, I like it even if it is only a fiction. What’s makes it better, not all good people are beautiful and not all baddies are ugly – it is a much-welcome change, defying plenty of clichés met even in those supposedly more ambitious books (think “Lord of the Rings”). The use of Cherokee mythology, not so widely known as the Greek or Roman equivalent, refreshes the plot and the two authoresses teach a great lesson on tolerance, exposing the hypocrisy of some so-called Christians (but the good and the evil sides are nicely balanced so nobody should complain I suppose).

What I didn’t like:

I would like to be given a more detailed description of how exactly the House of Night is organized. I am one of these nerds – I love to know how the things are done even in a fictional world full of fantastic creatures. After all, in every circumstances it is important who cleans the place, who cooks, who shops for food, who keeps the greenery in perfect order and so on. I lack such details here - we have been shown beautiful rooms and some tasty food but only one measly vampyre waiter so far…where’s the rest of the staff? An enquiring mind wants to know more.
There’s one more thing: I haven’t read the other books of the series (there are three more parts available as far as I know – “Hunted”, “Tempted” and “Burned”) but I’m afraid the outcome seems to be very predictable – Zoey and her friends are simply doomed to succeed. All of them. Of course following their struggles is one part of fun but still…I wish I was less certain about the end of the story and somehow I can’t. Perhaps Zoey has been made too powerful and too successful too soon? True, the girl is far from perfect and she does make mistakes - even rather huge mistakes, especially when it comes to her personal life –somehow, however, it doesn’t make the reader less sure about the outcome of the final evil vs. good fight. On the other hand, though, maybe such a certainty is the right thing in a series like this one.

The final verdict:

Nice recreational reading for the summer – neither too ambitious nor too shallow and trite. As a bonus you might catch some original vocabulary!

2 shout outs:

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