Two new vampire books to write about (both reviews based on advance reading copies):
Night Road by A.M. Jenkins and The Otherworldlies by Jennifer Anne Kogler
Both of these novels are interesting additions to the already large corpus of teen vampire literature. They take the concept of vampires in new directions, which is a breath of fresh air. A.M. Jenkins, author of 2008 Printz Honor Book Repossessed, tells a dark tale of suspense, personal limitations, and willpower, filled with a cast of characters that you will hope for sequels to revisit. Kogler’s novel is more whimsical, though no less inventive with its re-imagining of vampire lore, and features absolutely delightful characters which convince you to continue reading.
Jenkins creates a vivid contemporary world populated with vampires living amongst us, with humanity unaware. They form colonies–small networks of vampires–that operate as jurisdictions for vampire life. In the case of Cole, the main character, and vampire, of Night Road, he is a part of a colony run by a vampire named Johnny in a building in NYC. Several vampires live in the building, feeding off of human groupies. Humans, (called “omnis” since they are omnivorous, as opposed to “hemes” or “hemovores”–the politically correct term for vampires), play only a marginal role in the story which focuses on the road trip taken by Cole and two other hemes, Sandor, and Gordon (who was recently turned by Sandor). They take trip as a means to teach Gordon about heme life and habits, which allows Jenkins to also teach us about her vision of vampire life. . The trio’s meeting with a “wild” vampire allows for a thrilling amount of suspense, and ultimately has a major impact on Cole’s self-conception, which provides a decent amount of character growth. Furthermore, the novel delves into a deeper back story for Cole, but the hints at a richer history of Night Road‘s world left me hoping for move novels set there.
Kogler, whose previous novel Ruby Tuesday received a starred review from KLIATT, presents a much different view of vampires in The Otherworldlies. Told by an omniscient narrator, the novel tells of a young girl named Fern. Fern isn’t your average twelve-year-old. She’s plagued by stomaches (usually right before something awful happens), gets severe sunburns after being in the sun only briefly, seems to be able to communicate with her dog, and has a two-year track record of correctly predicting the weather. Oh, and she just started teleporting to other places just by thinking about it. Fern, along with her twin brother Sam, end up embarking on a dark adventure of discovery which involves secret plots, evil vampires, underground societies, a variety of monsters, and Greek mythology (which is one of the most intriguing aspects of Kogler’s vampire world-building). Among all of this, however, is a very realistic story about being different, and especially being different in the almost more evil world of seventh grade where your differences can make you a social pariah.
I choose the word pariah to illustrate the main problem I had with both of these books. In the case of The Otherworldlies, quite often the thoughts and feelings which the omniscient narrator ascribes to Fern, Sam, and their friend Lindsey, are unbelievably precocious. It often felt like Kogler used a thesaurus to come up with a word that meant the same thing as a word a twelve-year-old would actually use, much like I could have simply typed outcast instead of pariah. For instance, when describing the novel’s antagonist, from Fern’s point of view, she writes:
Fern couldn’t avert her eyes from Vlad, or the real Vlad. Although there was something about him that inspired mistrust, his fangs, although sharp, didn’t seem threatening. He looked like he belonged in a Charlotte Bronte novel.
A “Charlotte Bronte novel“! Seriously. While overall the novel’s tone and writing style was quite interesting to read (in a sort of Lemony Snickett-esque way), I also found it distracting because there was an inconsistency to it. Quite often the words that the characters would actually speak, or the actions they took, were representative of their young age, and then suddenly they spoke/thought/felt as if well-educated adults. I think the novel would have worked better had it been plotted with the characters in their mid-teens. The realistic school and personal issues would still have been relevant, and Fern could still have been a bit naive, but the precociousness would not have seemed so over-the-top.
My major criticism for Night Road is in a similar vein. While the vampires in the novel, excepting Gordon, have lived for decades, if not centuries, their characterizations do not really reflect this. The members of the Colony are portrayed as hipster twenty-somethings, and their actions and words support this. If it were just a ruse to dupe mankind, this could be ignored, but within the confines of the Building they do not need to act like the age they look, the could act their actual age. More significantly, Cole, whose thoughts and feelings the reader has access to, seems to be in the late teens/early twenties which his appearance reflects. This is all at odds with the vampire social/governmental structure which Jenkins presents, since they all appear to be too juvenile to maintain, let alone create, such a system. Perhaps this could have been explained somehow, that the age at which you are turned affects your personality in your un-death? Just a thought.
Criticisms aside, and while neither are as amazing as other vampire novels, such as Society of S, both novels are enjoyable reads which introduce the reader to interesting characters and stories, and provide new conceptions to add to the vampire genre.