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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

'Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side' by Beth FANTASKEY


Received from the publisher

From the BLURB:

Marrying a vampire definitely doesn't fit into Jessica Packwood's senior year "get-a-life" plan. But then a bizarre (and incredibly hot) new exchange student named Lucius Vladescu shows up, claiming that Jessica is a Romanian vampire princess by birth - and he's her long-lost fiancé. Armed with newfound confidence and a copy of Growing Up Undead: A Teen Vampire's Guide to Dating, Health, and Emotions, Jessica makes a dramatic transition from average American teenager to glam European vampire princess.
But when a devious cheerleader sets her sights on Lucius, Jess finds herself fighting to win back her wayward prince, stop a global vampire war - and save Lucius's soul from eternal destruction

The undead can really screw up your senior year . . .

I have to admit that if I hadn’t received this book from the publisher to review, I probably would have never read it. I had seen it floating around; sitting on the shelf at Borders and on the blogosphere. But I never had the impulse to read it, mainly because I was thrown by the cover-art and title. The cover image of (what looks to me to be) a 13-year-old girl just screamed ‘tween’ rather than ‘teen’, and did not appeal.

That’s why I was pleasantly surprised (okay, ‘shocked’) that I liked this book so much. I was also surprised at how mature it was, especially because I had it pegged as appealing to an 8 – 14 age bracket (based purely on title and cover-art). In fact ‘Jessica’s Guide’ is a book that harks back to a truer vampire mythology – including the more dark and vicious blood sucking nature of a supernatural element that’s been glossed over by squeaky-clean tween romances in recent years.

This novel works so well on so many levels, not least of all because Beth Fantaskey is very aware of her audience. She’s writing this in the aftermath of ‘Twilight’, so she doesn’t get bogged down in vampiric mythology and explanation; because she knows that her audience is cluey enough already.
I also think she was very clever in not ‘talking down’ to her YA readers. At this point ‘Twihards’ have figured out the deeper meaning behind Edward refusing to bite Bella (until they’re married, of course). Fantaskey tackles this issue head-on, while still respecting the boundaries of the YA genre. She writes some quite poignant and heated conversations between Jessica and Lucius that address the vampiric bite metaphor, rather than dance around it;

A smile flitted across his lips. “Intercourse is a fleeting pleasure, indeed. Undeniably an intimate act. Not to be dismissed – or missed, for that matter. Indeed, crucial for procreation, beyond its other obvious virtues.”
The smiled faded. “But sharing one’s blood with another: exposing one’s most vulnerable place, where the pulse beats just below the skin, and trusting your partner to satisfy without subduing… It makes sex seem almost insignificant by comparison. An unequal act – male to female. But blood… blood can be shared as true equals.”

I started reading this book thinking that Beth Fantaskey had set a very hard task for herself, writing a YA vampire book when ‘Twilight’ and Richelle Mead’s ‘Vampire Academy’ are dominating the market. But Fantaskey’s novel holds its own in the sub-genre. For one thing, she has written a very strong voice in Lucius Valdescu - he definitely leaves Edward Cullen for dead! Lucius is a quite dark and sinister character, and coupled with a tormented childhood and sharp wit, he becomes utterly charming and intriguing. I laughed out loud at some of Lucius’s wry observations of American teen life (“The word ‘like’ has become completely unlikable”). His sarcastic and droll humor is best expressed in his letters home to his tutor and uncle, Vasile;

I have sampled eternity in Miss Campbell’s fifth period ‘social studies’ class. Three days on the concept of ‘manifest destiny’, Vasile. THREE DAYS. I yearned to stand up, rip her lecture notes from her pallid hands, and scream, “Yes, America expanded westward! Is that not logical, given than Europeans settled on the eastern shore? What else were they to do? Advance vainly into the sea?”

I loved Lucius! And I especially loved his evolving relationship and courtship with Jessica. There’s a rather big element of ‘will they or won’t they?’ to the couple, as well as opposites attracting. It’s a slow burn romance; equal parts sweetness and angst, and completely entertaining.

I’m no stranger to the YA vampire novel. I’ve read ‘Twilight’, love ‘Vampire Academy’ and salivate over Rachel Caine’s ‘Morganville Vampires’. At this point I feel like a connoisseur of the sub-genre, and as such I have no hesitation in adding Fantaskey’s ‘Jessica’s Guide’ to that list of teen-vamp heavyweights.
The novel is a bit of a contrast – at once dark and gothic, but with a tender romance at its centre. The characters are vivid and wonderful, spouting witticisms while dealing with a heavy load of pertinent teen issues (and a few supernatural ones).

I loved this book, and I didn’t think I would. If you can get past the schmaltzy ‘tween’ cover-art and title, you’ll discover that ‘Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side’ has a lot to offer. Sinister villains, a charming hero, down-to-earth heroine and a rather mature romance which readers can sink their teeth into.

5/5


4 comments:

  1. awesome review hon! =) I gotta get this book LOL =)))

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  2. sounds like a book I should give a try

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  3. What happened to my comment?!? I would have passed up this book based on the cover/title but your review has me putting it on my TBR!

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