Bianca’s parents have taken jobs teaching at Evernight Academy, a very rich and very exclusive boarding school that most teenagers couldn’t even hope to attend. They think it’s a great opportunity for her to come along with them. But she hates it–the campus is miles away from civilization, the buildings are old and creepy, and the students are rich, glamorous, and a little too perfect. Bianca, who has always been shy, feels like she’ll never fit in. Then she meets Lucas, a hot-but-not-the-Evernight-type-of-hot loner who seems determined to make trouble. As their romance starts to blossom, hints appear that Things Are Not As They Seem.
You probably think you know where this book is going, and yes, you’re right. There are vampires. (I don’t consider this a spoiler, since the word turns up on the first page of the flash-forward prologue.) You’ve probably guessed a number of the other plot points as well. But there are also some genuinely surprising twists. One of them was so important and so well-hidden that I thought Grey cheated on it, and I would count that as a major flaw in the book. But I still enjoyed the discovery.
In fact, I enjoyed this book a whole lot more than I expected. Bianca is likable and convincingly shy. I don’t find the way that she overcomes her shyness entirely convincing, but the shyness itself is pretty well done–there’s a scene where she’s at a party and can’t decide what to do with her hands, and it rang so true for me. Lucas is likable and hot and a-little-dangerous-but-a-good-egg-really, which is about all I ask for in a hero. Their relationship progresses way too fast from “we have just met, what is this strange feeling of connection?” to “we are in True Love Forever, now watch the author try to come up with new and lyrical ways to describe our kisses”–but I liked them enough that I was willing to handwave it.
And the vampires . . . are sexy, glamorous vampires, which is normally a trope that I hate with a burning passion. I didn’t completely hate it here, and I’m not sure why, because Grey plays it pretty straight (complete with vampire bites as a delicious and sexy thrill for both parties–of which more later). In fact, the vampires are so sexy and so glamorous–and so free of the traditional drawbacks to their lifestyle–that I was left wondering why anyone in this world would want to be a human. One vampire does make some comment about how humans are lucky because they can change and vampires can’t–but the idea isn’t explored at all, so it doesn’t really make a difference. In fact, thinking about it as I type, I am getting furious at the trope all over again.
But I still enjoyed the book. Perhaps it’s because the one vampire who really acts as a predator is portrayed not as a dangerously alluring lord of the night, but as a sick, twisted freak who enjoys inflicting pain. Perhaps it’s because there’s a small but convincing degree of ambiguity in the vampires. Somebody argues that vampires are, on the whole, morally neutral. Somebody argues that they aren’t. They both have pretty good reasons. Grey leaves the question open, and since this is the first book in a series, I’m okay with that. Frustratingly, she keeps the idea of vampires being allergic to certain holy symbols, but her characters resolutely refuse to consider that this fact might have any implications. Because clearly, feeling pain when you walk into a church suggests nothing about your moral status or the metaphysical structure of the universe.
Also–I’m not sure how to put this without too many spoilers–some vampires who are generally portrayed as sympathetic have a disturbing lack of respect for human life in some circumstances. I suppose this is not surprising for a vampire, and there are plot reasons for why those issues aren’t discussed–but it’s still morally disturbing.
Speaking of morality, it is time to speak of sex. Of which there is technically none, but there is a lot of heavy making-out, described in soft-focus, lyrical prose. This book is not for the little ones! There is also a pervasive assumption, shared by all the characters, that teenagers having sex is totally healthy and normal. So the book definitely loses points on that account.
But much more disturbing, to my mind, is the glamorization of vampire biting. The “biting = sex!” idea has been around for quite a while, and it’s become part of the standard vampire package. What’s disturbing here is that Grey portrays it as a completely healthy and fun expression of affection. Excuse me? I can certainly see how the desire to devour someone as food could be a parallel for the desire to devour someone sexually. What I can’t see is how it could ever symbolize a healthy, mutual love. To quite Steven Greydanus in his essay “Twilight Appeal: The cult of Edward Cullen and Vampire Love“:
Vampirism makes a sickly, twisted metaphor for sexuality. Nothing like mutual complementarity can exist between humans and vampires — at least, not without completely rewriting vampire nature somehow. Vampires have nothing to give and everything to take; humans have everything to lose and nothing to gain. Humans may complete vampires, but vampires don’t complete humans, any more than a lion completes an impala.
Grey does change the nature of vampires a little, such that if the vampire doesn’t drain the human, the bitten human receives a few side-benefits. But it’s still a relationship of predator and prey, where the vampire derives sustenance from the human and the human only survives because the vampire doesn’t drink as much as he wants. I’m going to get all Catholic and say that drinking the blood of your human lover totally violates the language of the body. Any teenage Catholic vampires reading this, please take note! . . . And any teenage Protestant vampires, please take note as well, because you don’t have to be Catholic to notice that something’s seriously wrong here. We know from the Song of Songs and the epistles of St. Paul that romantic love is supposed to be a relationship of mutual self-giving, an image of Christ’s love for the Church. And Christ does not devour His Church! He does say that we must eat His flesh and drink His blood to gain eternal life, but no matter what your interpretation of John 6, I think we can all agree it’s not a kind of eating or drinking where He might keel over and die if we go too far.
Content: I think there might have been some bad language, but as you can tell, the main issue is the kinky vampire lovin’. Do not give this book to any teenagers struggling with the temptation of the hot vampire next door! Though if you have a hot vampire next door, you should probably stop reading YA and start sharpening your weapons. (If your teenager is the hot vampire next door . . . I can’t help you there.)