Friday, October 30, 2009

Betrayed (book) by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast

[This series recently became a great discussion topic at the library I work at, when area newspapers revealed that the entire series has been banned at a local middle school library. Same goes for Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy series, which, if it weren't already on my TBR list, would now be added. Wholesale book banning always makes me curious.]

This is the second book in the House of Night series, and I was less than enthused. My problem is that, even though this is only the second book, the series seems to rapidly be going the way of the Anita Blake series and so many others - the heroine, Zoey Redbird, is suddenly finding herself with a surplus of men (males, boys, whatever) and a complete inability to decide between them. Of course, she wants to have her cake and eat it too. Probably my only consolation will be that this series is intended for young adults and will therefore (hopefully) not descend to the realm of frequent and graphic sex scenes loosely held together by story (I'm looking at you, LKH). It's not that I don't like sexy male characters. I do. It's just that I have problems being ok with heroines who won't choose between them. Plus, it feels a bit like laziness on the author's part, since the author is getting out of having to choose as well.

I haven't given up on the series, but I'm wary. Here's hoping that Zoey's Loren/Erik/Heath thing won't get even more annoying (or, worse, become Loren/Erik/Heath/etc.) in the next book.

Synopsis:

Zoey is now leader of the Dark Daughters and wants badly not to blow it. She knows that the Dark Daughters need to be overhauled - membership has to be based on behavior, not popularity.

Even as she tries to think up ideas for the new incarnation of the Dark Daughters, she has to deal with the horrible awkwardness of parent visitation. Her parents show up and are horrible, but at least her grandma is there too. Zoey also discovers, via some mostly accidental eavesdropping, that Aphrodite's parents are fairly awful as well. Aphrodite's father is the mayor of Tulsa. Aphrodite had been keeping her visions to herself, not because she hated humans, as Zoey had previously believed, but because her parents told her to keep them to herself. Her parents believe that Aphrodite's visions are her key to gaining power. They are coldly disappointed with her for losing her position as leader of the Dark Daughters and tell her that she needs to somehow get Zoey out of the way so that she can get her old position back.

This gives Zoey a lot to mull over - Aphrodite may not be quite so bad after all. While Zoey is in the library researching ways she might change the Dark Daughters, she has a...moment with Loren Blake, the Vampyre Poet Laureate. Loren is in his early 20s (maybe 21? I can't remember...), good with words (he's a poet, after all), and very sexy. Zoey's teenage heart races with excitement while she's around him, although she figures that anything she thinks happened between the two of them was really all just in her head. Still, it's nice to imagine, even if she's already got a boyfriend. Well, almost-boyfriend. At this point, she still refuses to think of Erik as her boyfriend, since they haven't gone on an actual date yet. Plus, if she doesn't think of him as her boyfriend, then flirting with Loren (and maybe more) doesn't count as cheating, does it?

Later, Zoey overhears Neferet angrily accusing Aphrodite of lying about her visions. It frightens Zoey, because she's never heard Neferet speak that way to anyone, and Aphrodite is clearly broken up by Neferet's accusation.

Going outside to think, Zoey runs into Loren and has yet another moment with him. It seems like he might be interested in her, and it's obvious that, if he hadn't turned politely away in the end, she would happily have thrown herself at him, Erik or no Erik. Frustrated by the encounter, Zoey heads back to her room, only to see a news report that a football player she knew when she was human has gone missing.

Zoey begins finding haiku poetry that she assumes Loren wrote for her, and again her heart flutters. She tells Stevie Rae, her best friend and roommate, about Loren, and Stevie Rae actually suggests that Zoey might want to try sneaking around and seeing Loren while she is also seeing Erik - after all, she's special in so many other ways that maybe the usual rules don't apply to her. However, Zoey just wants to be normal. She doesn't know what to do about her guy situation.

Later on, Zoey comes across Aphrodite, who is having a vision. The vision turns out to be about Zoey's Grandma Redbird, who, if something isn't done, will be killed when the bridge she will be driving across is damaged. Aphrodite agrees to give Zoey further details about the vision in exchange for Zoey owing her in the future. Zoey readily agrees. Knowing she can't just tell Neferet about the vision, since Neferet no longer believes Aphrodite, she goes to her friends. Together, they concoct a plan to close the bridge by calling in a bomb threat.

Some cops show up at the House of Night, wanting to ask Zoey some questions about the missing football players (or maybe player - I can't remember how many are missing at this point in the book). One of them has now been found dead, apparently killed by a vampyre. Found near his body was a necklace bearing the symbol of the leader of the Dark Daughters. This news shocks Zoey, but her own necklace isn't missing. Neferet defends Zoey against the cops and, when they ask about Loren, lies about where Loren was - Zoey knows it was a lie, because she and Loren were flirting together during the time in question.

Even though it's against the rules (fledglings can only leave the House of Night with the knowledge, permission, and accompaniment of an adult vampyre), Zoey leaves the House of Night on her own. It's almost time to call in the bomb threat. She runs into Heath, who, for the first time in a long time, isn't under the influence of either alcohol or drugs. He says he went completely clean for her, because he wants the two of them to be together again. He doesn't quite seem to grasp that Zoey becoming a vampyre will make the life he imagines for the two of them impossible. However, he and Zoey are Imprinted, so logic and sanity are in short supply during their interactions. Zoey isn't supposed to meet with him or even talk to him at all. Soon, though, he's in her car, where he cuts himself on purpose. Zoey hasn't yet learned to control her bloodlust, so she finds his blood impossible to resist. She licks his blood up, and for her and Heath the experience is like a really hot and heavy make out session. Luckily, they're interrupted, but now Zoey is back to texting Heath and agreeing to meet him again, even though she shouldn't be doing either. Despite all of this, Zoey does manage to remember to call in the bomb threat. The bridge is closed, and a news report reveals that the accident Aphrodite saw in her vision would indeed have occurred if Zoey hadn't acted.

A new student arrives at the House of Night, a guy who has chosen the name Jack Twist. He's not a major character in this book, but he's Erik's new roommate, and it soon becomes clear that he's gay and that he and Damien are probably going to become a couple.

Zoey finishes the preparations for her first ritual as the leader of the Dark Daughters. Just before the ritual, Neferet announces the changes Zoey made to the Dark Daughters, but she acts as though these changes were all her own idea. Zoey feels upset and betrayed, but she manages to keep her cool. Erik is now back (he'd been taking part in the final round of the fledgling international Shakespearean monologue contest), and, for the first time, Zoey is in the same room with Loren and Erik at the same time. She feels like she's having yet another moment with Loren and even flirts with him in full view of all the other fledglings, including Erik, but no one notices what she's doing and Loren doesn't seem to respond to her with any kind of interest. Zoey wonders whether her "moments" with Loren were really all in her head. She proceeds with the ritual, discovering that each of her friends have an affinity with the elements she has assigned to them. This is fantastic news, and everyone is ecstatic. The ritual is a great success, but, unfortunately, Stevie Rae dies right afterwards, her body unable to deal with the Change. She had been coughing for a while before the ritual, but no one had noticed or thought anything of it until it was too late (although everyone worried about Zoey's stress-induced stomach aches earlier in the book).

Neferet offers Zoey something to calm her and help her deal with her friend's death better, but, on Aphrodite's advice, she doesn't take it. Heath gets kidnapped right outside the House of Night, and Zoey uses the bond between them to track him down. It turns out he's been captured by the "ghosts" - fledglings who supposedly died after their bodies rejected the Change. Among them is Stevie Rae, who now barely retains any of her former self. Heath is terrified, because, unlike when Zoey feeds off of him, when these fledglings feed off of him it hurts. Zoey manages to get him out, though. She runs into Neferet, who she has realized is somehow in charge of these evil fledglings - she previously saw Neferet allowing one of the evil fledglings to feed off of her (a sight which repulsed Zoey, since there was a sexual quality to it). Neferet tries to make Zoey forget everything she's seen, but Zoey's connection to her friends helps her - their affinities the various elements helps her cleanse herself.

Zoey meets Detective Marx, who has so far been the friendliest of the cops who have spoken to her about the missing football players. She can't tell him hardly anything (nothing about Nefert, the fledglings, etc.), but she tells him that, if anyone else ever goes missing, she can probably help him find them. Detective Marx makes it clear that he'll help her whatever way he can. He has a twin sister who became a vampyre when they were teens. Even though vampyres are encouraged, for various reasons, to break off all ties with their human friends and family, Detective Marx and his sister stayed close, and he's learned a lot about vampyres from her. He warns Zoey, telling her that his sister mentioned that High Priestesses (like Neferet) can mess with a person's memory. I can't remember if this warning comes before or after Zoey has managed to deal with Neferet's attempt to erase her memory of recent events, but this at least indicates that Detective Marx might be keeping his eye on Neferet in the future.

Neferet threatens Zoey, telling her not to tell anyone anything that she's recently found out. Zoey fires back by revealing the new tattoos that the goddess Nix has bestowed upon her. Even though there's not much Zoey can do right now, and not too many people she can talk to about everything, at least Nix is on her side.

Commentary:

I didn't remember, at first, where Erik was supposed to be (he's barely even in this book), but I did think it was odd that he never even crossed Zoey's mind as she drooled over Loren. When Zoey referred to Erik as her almost-boyfriend (or something similar - I don't have the book on hand to check), I groaned, because she had done the exact same thing with Heath in the first book. In my post for that book, I mentioned that this seemed to me to be a way for Zoey to distance herself from Heath, so that she could flirt with Erik with a clear conscience. Now Erik is her almost-boyfriend, allowing her to flirt with Loren with a clear conscience. Things get more complicated when Heath reenters the picture, but that situation is made more acceptable via vampyre lore - Zoey and Heath are Imprinted, so she really can't help wanting to go after him. Even Erik, once Zoey talks to him about Heath, is fairly accepting of the difficulty Zoey has with leaving Heath behind once and for all. Plus, she and Heath have been friends since childhood, adding an extra layer to their bond.

Actually, all those things made me a little more accepting of Zoey's behavior as far as Heath is concerned, too. She really, really should have just left when she realized she'd just run into Heath, but I could accept that she chose to start up a conversation with him because her bond with him made it difficult for her to choose to do otherwise. Also, it was Heath who cut himself. At this stage in her development as a fledgling, Zoey doesn't have the skills to resist readily available human blood, so I could accept that she drank from Heath, even though it was a really stupid thing to do.

What bothered me most was her behavior as far as Loren is concerned. I was ok with her giddiness when she first met him in the library - I'm sure there are tons of teenage girls out there who have nursed fun, giddy crushes on completely unattainably older guys. Zoey gushed over Loren, and it didn't really feel like she was cheating on Erik, because even Zoey didn't expect anything to happen. However, the second time Zoey met Loren, things got a tad more heated. He asked to see the tattoos on her shoulders that she gained at the end of the first book, and Zoey made a sexy show of it. Suddenly, she felt all womanly. Then she became frustrated because Loren went all polite and left her be. Not once did she think of Erik. Oh, wait, at this point in the series Erik is still only her almost-boyfriend, so it's ok. I think it was Stevie Rae who commented, saying something like "what does it take for you to consider someone your boyfriend?", and I completely agree. Apparently, any guy who wishes to have anything resembling an exclusive relationship with Zoey must publicly announce that he is her boyfriend. And then get Zoey to publicly agree to it.

None of that even gets into the other issue with her flirtation with Loren, which is the age difference. Zoey thought about it at first, and it was one of the reasons why she was sure Loren was unattainable - why would a guy in his early twenties want to date a teenage girl? I can't remember Zoey's exact age, but I think she might be sixteen. However, the age difference was rapidly forgotten as Zoey started to feel all womanly around Loren. She flirted with him like a pro, until he ignored her at the ritual and she started to wonder why she thought she had a chance with him. Trying to give Zoey a little credit, I wonder if Loren didn't have something to do with Zoey trying to throw herself at him. I mean, what if he was somehow using vampyre powers to make her lust after him even more? It's a thought, and, if he's doing it on purpose, would make him a sleazeball. It's also possible that he could be doing it accidentally, which would explain why he seemed drawn in by Zoey at first and then made an extra effort to distance himself from her. That has interesting possibilities.

I still can't believe that Stevie Rae, of all people, suggested that Zoey secretly see both Erik and Loren. And saying that it might be ok because Zoey is special in other ways?! You've gotta be kidding me.

Since I've brought up Stevie Rae, I'll say that it really surprised me that she died. Well, "died." I'd read teasers for later books in the series and had seen her name, so I figured she'd be fine in this book, and then she went and died. I wasn't expecting her to become one of the bad guys. I'm looking forward to all that angst and drama that's going to inspire. I also wonder if "Bad Stevie Rae" is going to bring up the fact that no one even noticed her coughing, even though everyone worried over Zoey's stomach aches. If I were Stevie Rae, I'd be a little peeved by that. Then again, Zoey's friends seem remarkably immune to jealousy and envy.

Neferet's transformation into the (current) primary baddie doesn't surprise me. There were hints in the previous book that she wasn't the gentle, kind person she seemed to be. However, the sudden depth of her badness did surprise me. I kind of thought the Casts would slowly work up to it, or at least spend lots of time focusing on Neferet's motivations (which I'm guessing include her father raping her when she was a child). Instead, she was suddenly snarling at Aphrodite, having a nearly sexual bloodgiving session with a fledgling who supposedly died in the previous book, and apparently ordering the kidnapping and killing of lots of football players. No longer is she a nice motherly figure.

There are a few characters I'm really looking forward to seeing more of. Detective Marx could be fascinating - I'd love to hear more about him and his sister. Who knows, maybe his sister will show up in a future book? Also, the Equestrian Studies teacher, whose name I unfortunately can't remember, could be fun. She seems to at least suspect something about Neferet's activities, because she offers herself as someone Zoey can talk to if she ever feels she can't talk to Neferet. At the time, Zoey wonders about that offer, but she didn't know of Neferet's betrayal until later.

Overall, the guy-oriented storylines in this book annoyed me, but there are still quite a few things that intrigued me. Hopefully the Casts won't go too far down the "sex and a surplus of guys" path. I'd like more vampyres and intrigue, with enough romance to spice things up. Notice I used the word "romance" instead of "sex." Romance can include sex, but sex doesn't necessarily mean romance - sometimes authors forget that, or maybe don't care. Especially with books written in the first person, as the House of Night books are, sex scenes tend to feel a bit voyeuristic, or at least they do to me. I'd rather have romance, thank you.

Read-alikes:
  • Vampire Academy (book) by Richelle Mead - This is the first book in a series. Lissa is a mortal vampire princess and Rose is her half-human/half-vampire guardian. After having been on the run, they are forced to return to St. Vladimir's Academy, a private high school for vampires and the half-bloods who protect them. Rose and Lissa must deal with dangerous social politics, as well as the discovery that Lissa seems to have abilities that haven't been found in vampires for generations. Those who'd like another young adult book (and series) featuring main female characters who must deal with danger, intrigue, and complicated relationships might want to try this. Like Betrayed, this book is aimed at an audience mature enough to handle the occasional bit of steamy sex and "language."
  • The Summoning (book) by Kelley Armstrong - After Chloe Saunders suddenly starts seeing ghosts, her father and her aunt have her admitted to Lyle House, a home for troubled teens. All Chloe wants is to convince the adults at Lyle House that she's better and can leave, but it's not long before she starts noticing that there may be something sinister going on. A couple of the other teens at Lyle House are convinced that Chloe really can see ghosts and is, in fact, a necromancer - they may know what they're talking about, since one of them can do magic. Like Zoey, Chloe has to deal with sudden freaky changes to her life, new friends and enemies, people who can't necessarily be trusted, and potential romance (a very tiny part of the book, since Chloe is more concerned with getting to go home that finding herself a guy in the slim pickings of Lyle House).
  • The Initiation (book) by L. J. Smith - This is the first book in Smith's Secret Circle series, although it is no longer available on its own - the link will take you to the Amazon.com page for a volume combining the first book and half the second book (what were they thinking?!). Cassie isn't thrilled to move from sunny California to gloomy New England, but it isn't long before things get interesting for her. Her new school is practically ruled by a group of gorgeous teens who appear to be feared and/or respected by everyone around them. Cassie gradually discovers that, not only do these teens have special powers, so does she. As she gets involved with the group, she begins to fall for the boyfriend of one of the girls. Those who'd like another paranormal YA series/book involving magic, a school setting, a bit of romance, and lots of drama might want to try this.
  • The Strange Power (book) by L. J. Smith - This is the first book is Smith's Dark Visions series. Kaitlyn Fairchild is a psychic whose drawings predict the future. The only problem is, her drawings usually don't make sense until after whatever they predict has happened. When she finds out about the Zeetes Institute, a place where she can learn to control her abilities, she decides to go, but the institute may have have more sinister intentions than Kaitlyn realizes. Like Zoey, Kaitlyn finds herself dealing with potential romance and darkness and danger just under the nice surface of the Institute. It's not clear who Kaitlyn can trust.
  • Blue Bloods (book) by Melissa De La Cruz - This is the first book in a series. Schuyler is treated like an outcast by the clique of popular, athletic, and beautiful teens made up of Mimi Force, her twin brother, and her best friend. At the age of 15, Schuyler learns that she is a "blue blood," a very special vampire who is descended from a very old line. Unfortunately, lots of blue bloods have been dying, and Schuyler has to find out why before she, too, ends up dead. Those who'd like another story featuring high school-aged main characters, vampires, and a bit of suspense might like this book.
  • Vampire Knight (manga) by Matsuri Hino - Yuki's earliest memory is of being attacked by a vampire and then saved by another, the gorgeous and mysterious Kaname. Ten years later, Yuki, now the adopted daughter of the headmaster of Cross Academy, spends her time blushing over Kaname and protecting the Day Class students (all humans, unaware of the vampires around them) from the Night Class (all vampires). She is aided by Zero, a brooding teenager hiding a dark secret. Those who'd like another romance involving teens, vampires, and lots of hot guys who make the heroine's head spin might like this series. By the way, it has also been made into an anime, which has not yet been made legally available in the US (which, um, hasn't stopped me from seeing the first four episodes - it's a lot of fun).

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