I just finished Ellen Schreiber's Vampireville, the third book in her YA Vampire Kisses series. I've requested the next book in the series, Dance With a Vampire, and I'm not exactly sure why. It's not that these books are very good - they're just short, fast reads. I guess part of the reason why I'm getting the next book is that there aren't enough reasons not to get it. They're free, since I'm getting them all from the library, they're each under 200 pages, and it's not like I'm lacking in time to read them.
Before I start talking about the books, I'm putting in a SPOILER ALERT. I'm not sure how much of what I'll be talking about will actually end up giving away important plots points, but, just in case, you are warned.
The main character is a girl named Raven, the only Goth in a town she refers to only as Dullsville. Raven is actually a bit of ditsy goth. She gets fan girl excited over anything others call dark and spooky. The books frequently reference band names, movie titles, and more, anything that the author thought a typical young Goth girl might like. During the first book, after some serious flirting with an arrogant jock character, a new boy named Alexander moves into town and Raven decides he is the guy of her dreams. He dresses like she does and acts in ways that make her think he's a vampire. The author tries to make it seem like Raven is wrong and Alexander is just a regular Goth guy who just happens to never be seen during the day, but fails miserably. It shouldn't be a surprise to anybody that he actually does turn out to be a vampire.
In the next couple books, Raven tries to track down Alexander, who leaves at the end of the first book, and then, when she finds him, help him stop a couple dangerous teen vampires. In order to keep the plot fast-paced, people conveniently leave and arrive at times that would be best for Raven and for the plot (either moving things along quickly or mucking things up in just the right way that it doesn't take too many pages to resolve the issues and still keep the ending from happening even quicker than it already does). For instance, when Raven goes to the travel agency where she was once forced to work and is denied information when she asks for it, she comes up with a lie about someone needing keys at another location. Without hardly batting an eyelash, the person at the travel agency leaves to bring that person their keys, allowing Raven to briefly watch out for the travel agency and conveniently giving her access to the information she was just told she could not have for confidentially reasons. Later on, there is never any mention made of this incident, despite the fact that the person who supposedly needed the keys would not have been there to receive them.
This sort of thing happens frequently and is one of the things that bugs me about this series. I know the series is probably intended either for students in junior high or early high school, but that's still doesn't excuse the sheer number of coincidences and the general stupidity/blindness of anyone not Raven or Alexander.
That doesn't mean the series doesn't have its good points, though. Here's a list:
- Romantic elements - The romance between Alexander and Raven is one of the main reasons I started the series. I do love vampire-human romance, and the romance in this book is the sweet, kisses-only kind.
- Fast pace - Whatever I might think about the way Schreiber achieves such a fast pace, the fact is, it really is a fast-paced series. This series might be perfect for anyone who is reluctant to start a book because it takes them forever to finish. With each book under 200 pages, they don't even look all that daunting.
- Mystery - Although the progress of Raven's investigations rely heavily on coincidences, she does do some investigating, and there are some readers who will probably enjoy following along while she tries to track down coffins or figure out the vampiric status of town newcomers.
- Goth main characters - I've never been a part of the Goth subculture, so I can't say for sure whether Raven and Alexander's behavior really fits in, or whether they would be sneered at by real-life Goths. However, there are probably plenty of people, especially high school and junior high kids, who could identify with Raven's feeling that she doesn't fit in.
- Coincidences - I already talked about the coincidences and denseness of just about all the characters besides Raven and Alexander.
- The romance is superficial - I read a lot of romance novels, and I love seeing how the relationships in those books develop. Every time I get started with a new book in this series, I hope that Schreiber will include more relationship development scenes between Raven and Alexander, and every time I get a little taste and then am left disappointed. Alexander is introduced fairly late in the first book, and, since then, Schreiber hasn't really revealed much more about him and his personality. He's shy, he likes to paint, he's a vampire, and he used to be betrothed but he broke it off. That's pretty much it. Rather than building on this and developing the emotions and relationship between him and Raven, Schreiber has the occasional "cuddling while watching a movie and eating popcorn" scene that shows that the two of them are getting along well and like the same kinds of entertainment, but which accomplishes nothing in the way of relationship development.
- Anytown, USA - The place where Raven lives and any place she visits all come across as cardboard cutouts of actual places. This might be a plus for some, but there are times when it would be nice to get a fuller, less black-and-white picture of the setting (not to mention the characters, most of whom also also seem to be cardboard stereotypes). Although it's implied that the town actually has a real name, Raven always refers to it by the nickname Dullsville.
- Cardboard cutout characters - I figured I'd give this an actual bullet point. So far, very few characters have shown any signs of having any interesting grays in their otherwise black-and-white personalities. Because Schreiber has so far refused to reveal much about Alexander and what makes him the Gothic vampire of Raven's dreams, besides a few basic personality traits, a hobby, and a sliver of his past, he is actually a pretty boring character in comparison with Trevor, Raven's nemesis and possibly the guy she might have ended up with if Alexander had not shown up. Although he frequently acts like a jerk, he's shown the potential to break out of the Dullsville herd mentality enough to look at Raven and not have the knee-jerk "she's a freak" reaction. Although Becky is both Raven's friend and a "normal" girl, due to her not being a Goth, she doesn't count as a non-cardboard character because their friendship was mostly born out of a mutual outcast status - Raven has always been looked down on for what she likes and the way she dresses, and Becky was picked on when she was younger.
- The endings - The ending for the third book wasn't really that bad, with a cliffhanger that makes it pretty obvious what the main threat in the next book is going to be. However, the endings for the first two books were awful. I think I already mentioned that Alexander leaves at the end of the first book. He leaves, without any warning, right after his and Raven's relationship is set right again. It was way too sudden and didn't make any sense. True, it's explained in the next book, but that's not really the point. It's one thing to have a cliffhanger. It's another to smack your reader in the face with something upsetting, disappointing and confusing during the last few pages. The second book ends with a showdown that...ends, right in the middle of tension and danger. This makes it seem like Schreiber couldn't come up with an interesting ending, so she figured ending before a tense scene had actually finished would be good enough.
- Got Fangs? by Katie Maxwell - Francesca can read minds when she touches someone, so it seems like she fits in pretty well when she joins the psychic fair in Hungary that her mother is part of. While there, she meets Benedikt, a vampire, who is convinced that she is his Beloved and that they are meant to be together for all eternity. Although I also wish this book (and series) would pay a little more attention to developing the relationship between the girl and her vampire, there is still more romantic development here than in any of the Vampire Kisses books. Francesca and Benedikt never do more than kiss, although Francesca does start thinking about how she feels about sex, at least in the next book in the series. The mystery elements are interesting and rely on coincidences much less than the Vampires Kisses books. I should also add that Katie Maxwell has written more books in this series as Katie MacAlister. They feature different characters and are intended for adults, so there's some explicit sex scenes.
- Chibi Vampire series by Yuna Kagesaki - Okay, so this is a manga series, and that's not for everybody, but it's still a ton of fun. Karin is a misfit in a family of vampires - rather than taking blood, she must give it (she really has to or she gets the most horrifying nosebleeds of all time), and she is unable to mind-wipe humans, can go out in the sun, and can tolerate garlic. A new boy named Kenta comes to her school and suddenly Karin's body is reacting to him, producing blood much faster than normal - what's going on? It's a funny series with the occasional dark moment. Readers who wanted more romance than what they found in the Vampire Kisses series may enjoy the developing romance between Kenta and Karin. Also, once you get the hang of the right-to-left reading format (the series has not been flipped for Western readers, so the pages must be read in the original Japanese right-to-left way), these are really quick reads.
- Night World series by L. J. Smith - The first book in this series is Secret Vampire, but I prefer the next book, Daughters of Darkness. In Secret Vampire, a terminally ill teen is turned into a vampire by her friend, the boy she's had a crush on for years. In Daughters of Darkness, three vampire sisters go to a small town to get away from their highly patriarchal vampire family. They are pursued by Ash (a cousin of theirs), who ends up discovering his soulmate, a human girl named Mary-Lynnette who believes in science and wants nothing to do with the world of the supernatural. In any of the books in this series that have relationships between a human and a member of the Night World (a sort of supernatural society that includes vampires, shapeshifters, witches, etc.), there's always a sense of danger, because humans who find out about the Night World tend to get killed. Also, each book has a fairly major romantic storyline, and each book is pretty short. Unfortunately, I don't believe the series was ever finished. This is disappointing, since there were several things that were never resolved (the major climax the series was building towards, for instance), but most of the books are enjoyable despite this.