[Book Review] Insatiable, or why girls shouldn’t date 500-year-old princes of darkness.

Chirp!Book Review: Insatiable by Meg Cabot

Audiobook read by Emily Bauer

Maybe there really is no way to redeem the vampire romance storyline.

I was browsing my library’s shelves, looking for some light soul-CPR after a brutal week of vet trips, 20-page reports, and googly-eyed misery. I have been meaning to read some Meg Cabot ever since I saw The Princess Diaries movie in 2001, and this looked perfect:

Vampires are everywhere, and Meena Harper’s employers have just shoehorned a vampire storyline into the show Meena’s working on. Meena, whose special talent is seeing when and how people are going to die, wants nothing to do with the fictional undead and even less to do with the “monster misogyny” of the vampire fad.

InsatiableBut when she finds herself falling for handsome Lucien Antonescu, a modern-day prince who traces his lineage back all the way to Vlad the Impaler, and jumped by Alaric Wulf, an honest-to-goodness modern-day vampire hunter because of it, she begins to discover that vampires really are everywhere.

Man, this book started off so well. The reader was lovely, and I felt I was getting a book version of the ubiquitous chick flick – think Legally Blond, Mean Girls, The Devil Wears Prada. Talented, passionate girl with cute dog is stuck in dead end job, meets handsome guy, gets life turned upside down…

And somewhere near the middle, the story changed as the vampire plot kicked into high gear. Meena seems to be unable to deliver on spunk and loses quite a bit of perspective as she falls in instant lurve with handsome vampire prince, Lucien Antonescu (more on that later).

According to the author’s website, this series is a kind of sequel to Bram Stoker’s Dracula: Lucien is Dracula’s son and all, and Meena’s named for her great-aunt Wilhelmina (presumably, Wilhelmina “Mina” Harker who got nibbled on by Dracula). But for me, Insatiable sets itself up as a kind of reaction against the Twilight fad…and yet seems to end up running against many of the same issues as Twilight. Meena makes her dislike for the vampire-romance abundantly clear, yes,  but faced by a pretty-boy vamp, finds herself, much to her disgust, head over heels in love. Meena’s pragmatic take on the situation is marred by the fact that the story also uses trope like instant love, (insta-)love triangle,  he-can’t-read-her-mind!(tm), let’s give ourselves up to the evil vampire to save friends’ lives…

Despite Meena’s stalwart insistence that she isn’t that girl, she kinda is. And the bad starts about halfway through the novel, right when Meena discovers vampires are real and her boyfriendforever just might be her boyfriendforever, being undead and all.

From a quick look at other reviews, it seems like people are split into two camps, those of us who loved the first half of the book, and those who loved the second. I’m firmly pro-first-half – but perhaps that’s because I went in looking for a heroine, and not a vampire romance (can those two even coexist?).

That said, it looks like plenty of people thought the real story started right when it stopped working for me, about halfway through, so, fans of vampire romances, if you’re struggling with the opening, keep going! There’s hope. In fact, stop reading this review now, because I’m about to hit you with a bunch of story spoilers.

After I wrote this two star review, I took a step back and asked myself, “Am I being too harsh on Insatiable?”

It’s not a bad story and the first half is pretty darn fun, in a YA-adult romance crossover kind of way. What really killed me was that it pulled a bait-and-switch on me. It promised and delivered me a strong heroine, and then took her away just as things got moving. Meena hangs back. Meena gets rescued. Meena’s heart breaks (a lot). Meena gets held hostage.

Sure, she’s just a plain ol’ mortal, untrained in the art of defending herself. But, Meena’s brother, who is even more vanilla human than Meena, gets his hands on a crossbow and starts shooting with delighted abandon the first chance he gets. Meena ends up going with the holy water balloons. (Why, hello there, Freud.) Lucien turns into dragon and incinerates a church full of vampires, Meena ties a tourniquet.

True love also manages to stomp all the part of Meena’s brain that, presumably, houses sanity. When Meena has a vision of Alaric dying – Lucien gouging Alric’s eyes out and then ripping out his throat – that doesn’t really faze her faith in her boyfriend’s goodness. When she tells her vampire boyfriend not to bite her while they’re getting it on, he bites her, and it’s okay because she changed her mind when he pressured her with lurve. It is not until the final battle when Lucien turns into a real-life dragon that Meena decides that she’s had enough and tells the vamp that she needs some space. Of course, she makes it clear that it’s all his fault:

He tells her he’s the dragon a few times, but who’s counting?

“You know,” she said, swallowing hard, “when you told me the story of St. George and the dragon that night we were in the museum, Lucien, there was one thing you left out.”

“What is that?”

[deleted: Description of Lucien upset and barely clinging to control.]

“You never told me that you were the dragon,” she whispered.

Thunder – or maybe it was his voice – rocked the walls of the apartment [deleted: Meena covers her face!]

“I’m the prince of darkness.” His voice was like a sonic boom in her ears. “What did you think that meant, Meena? Did you think that meant that…I…was…the…saint?”

Touché, Mr. Vampire, touché. You bring up a salient point.

And this, really, is why I couldn’t buy into Meena. She makes the strangest cognitive leaps. When deciding what to do with herself now that she has no job, she comes up with a bright idea; she’s going to join the society of vampire hunters to use her skill to warn them if they’re in deathly danger.  This is her explaining her decision to her vampire (now ex-)boyfriend:

“It’s not like I would ever do anything to help them go after you, Lucien,” she rushed to explain. “You know that. I’ll always try to do everything I can to help you. Because I love you, too. I always will. But I just can’t be with you. Not if it means my friends are going to get hurt. And this job…it means I can finally do what I think I’ve always been meant to do.”

And by that, I can only guess she means to help the Palatine Guard be more effective in their efforts to kill vampires indiscriminately (nevermind that she slept with one, and was close friends with the two living next door), instead of, say, helping abused and exploited young women get the help they need before they end up dead, as she’d done before meeting Lucien. I just…

I don’t understand.

But hey, at least they end up taking a break:

It wasn’t until they were almost halfway there that Meena stopped shaking and began to believe that she’d done it.

She’s told him “no” and she was still alive. She’d survived.

Honey, that’s not a sign of a healthy relationship. But good for you.

As a book, I suspect that Insatiable would have been a one-canary. But Emily Bauer’s reading salvages an entire canary. She was incredible. Her reading had me falling in love with Mary Lou’s southern drawl, Meena’s mental quips, and Alaric’s running commentary on interior design.

As I lost more and more faith in Meena’s abilities to make rational and effective decisions, I decided that  the actual hero of the story is our human vampire hunter, Alaric Wulf, (team “wolf,” anyone?) as he tries to deal with his anger over his ex-partners savaging at the hands of vampires, his own imminent death as predicted by Meena, and his coming realization that maybe, sometimes, (albeit incredibly rarely) there are things more important than staking the nearest undead. I wanted Meena to run off to Thailand with Lucian so the sequel could be all about Alaric’s adventures with his faithful vampire-head-chopping sword, Senor Sticky.

A girl can dream, right?

All in all, this is a fun read. Just don’t go in like I did, expecting a feminist-approved overhaul of the vampire storyline.

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Canaries, is there a way to redeem the vampire romance storyline? Any recommendations?

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20 thoughts on “[Book Review] Insatiable, or why girls shouldn’t date 500-year-old princes of darkness.

  1. “Pressures her with love” hahahahaha.

    Maybe we just need an actual retelling of Dracula…you know…where Mina tries to kill him for vamping her best friend and then when Mina’s bitten she uses her link to track him down, then when he’s finally dead she marries her sweetheart and all that. 🙂

  2. What do you think of Sunshine by Robin McKinley? It isn’t a vampire romance per se, but it does have aspects of that and she still manages to to be independent and brave (although her instincts lean more toward self preservation than crossbow shooting sprees).

    • Sunshine! I have a well-loved copy of that book on my shelf.

      It’s actually the only vampire-romance novel that I feel adequately dealt with the whole vampires issue. Constantine truly is other and acts like it, and Sunshine doesn’t stare at him with love-struck rose-colored glasses. I still hold it up as a model of the way to do it right, but while it’s romantic and I love the idea of them as a couple, McKinley didn’t go there for, I think, good reason. For all we know, they’ll be just friends for the rest of their lives.

      In my first draft of this review, I even had that quote from Sunshine when it talks about the Loathly Lady and eating the hounds.

      Have you read any other books that hold up like Sunshine does?

  3. You know, I usually don’t even bother reading reviews for YA romance, never mind vampire YA romance. And every time an ad pops up on my Facebook for vampire romance books, I utter some kind of strangled noise and block the ad, but the headline on this review got me sucked in! (Oh GOD- no pun intended…)

    But I’m glad I read this review! I loved it and I definitely got a few chuckles! I think the fact that the review exists gives the novel and genre a nice little boost too, even if it’s a 2-star. Very cool. Thanks for writing (and no offense to lovers of this niche! I don’t like to be a killjoy. I know there have got to be some fiver vampire stories out there that I’m not savvy to. 🙂

    • I know it’s no excuse for dipping my toe in the genre, but I really did think this was gonna be an adult (not ya!) novel with a strong (or at least sane) character. Meena, with her job she loves, supernatural abilities, and a life she’s comfortable with, could have been a stellar character. Oh vamp romances, when are you gonna stop having the power to reel me in? They’re my weakness – each and every time, I think: “This time it’ll be different!”

      Glad you liked the review! If you ever do come across a fiver vamp romance, absolutely let me know. 😀

  4. You know, when you discussed your thoughts on this book I thought: perhaps she’s a bit hard but then you added the actual content and I was surprised at how juvenile it sounded. I’m not a Twilight fan AT ALL. I haven’t gone for writing the vampire stories yet because too many writers are and I think the market is becoming satiated. I liked Anne Rice. Enough said.

    I’ve written a novel about a hot, female archangel on earth killing demons in her sleep and found it difficult to sacrifice the Protagonist’s strength for the love story. In the first book she finds out she’s been betrayed by her lover since she was a baby and punches him out. When he follows after her to explain, she throws the next punch through the wall next to him.

    Later in the novel, when the consequences of his betrayal create a battle for survival,one that nearly kills him, she’s the one who saves him then leaves because she can’t live with his betrayal, not across town, across the ocean. And the one time when my heroine grows weak, she’s told by the one she wants to save her she’s the only one strong enough to save herself.

    I know, doesn’t have the weak-woman-who-needs-a man-to-save-her-life element (she’s stronger than any man) so it doesn’t play well for serial romantics. But I’m with you. Sappy story changes that don’t make sense are the main reason I can’t read romance. I want a character who’ll knock out her boyfriend if he steps out of line. Is that too much to ask?

    • Now that you mention it, I do recall enjoying Anne Rice. I have been a bit afraid to reread her books, wary that I might ruin my good impressions of the series, now that I’m out of school.

      So glad you didn’t clip your character’s wings. All too often in these kinds of books, we get a strong character (well, at least, they’re usually physically strong. E(mope)tionally, they tend to be a mess, but that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms) who does all sorts of awesome things…right until the love interest appears on stage. Suddenly, she either loses all independence, or is completely overshadowed by the even more uber-macho skills of the guy. (Yeah, sure, she’s been running around with a shotgun, but he’s an extra elite military commando, and now he’s gonna take care of her. Aww, she’s so cute.) I think part of it stems from that misconception that a guy is only attractive is he’s stronger/taller/more alpha than his partner.

      I can only think of a handful relationships in the paranormal/urban fantasy genre that go against this trend (and they tend to be my favorites).

      …Wanna trade lists? :3

      • Yes! Have you read Darynda Jones, Grave series? She rocks. It’s adult, also, and funny. I’m glad I’m not the only one who hates a female warrior turned wimp. If there was greater consensus we might see more publishers picking up the new normal rather than those that fit the ‘formula’. Ugh! I HATE formulas.

        • I’ve read the first and second book, and really struggled with the first one. I think the reader’s voice might have been in large part to blame – the combo of writing style and the audiobook’s reader’s interpretation of it just didn’t work for me and made Charley sound whiny and childish. But the series seemed to hit its stride in the second book. I also rather liked the secondary characters in the books and the way Jones developed them, but the romance still wasn’t working for me by the end of book two… 😦

          • Yuck, Sorry. I don’t do the books on tape. I listen to my voice when I read my own writing aloud and I hate it. I prefer my inner voice than any other voice. I’m a snob. =(

            What books have you liked in the past?

            Btw, there’s a book called Let Me Out, Caveat, I know the author, not real fond of the pace of her novel but the story definitely has a strong female protagonist with a split personality and a lust for blood. Good elements, not much of a romance but there’s action. Not Fantasy, Suspense. I’m sure she’d send a copy for a review.

            • I’ll look her up on goodreads the moment I get home. On my end, here are a few books I’ve enjoyed off the top of my head:

              Ava Gray (aka Ann Aguirre) – Skin Heat – for not trivializing the effect of torture/abuse on a guy (which is something that always bugs me – people don’t just shrug off traumatic events, even if they’re manly men). This is the third or fourth book in the paranormal romance “heat” series, but they’re all standalones. I’d recommend the first two as well.

              Sunshine by Robin McKinley – Urban/Paranormal Vampire Romance(kinda). I own a copy of this book. It’s vampire romance done right (and pretty much the only book that really does address most the big issues surrounding the concept of relationship with vampire). Legit good, but because it pays attention to realism in the way the characters act and react, and has that Mckinley style, I know a lot of fans of the genre find it too slow. Me, I love it. LOVE IT.

              Undone by Rachel Caine – Urban fantasy. The main character is a djinn (equivalent of angel-meets-very-non-human-goddess) who is stripped of (most of her) powers and banished to earth. One of the few stories that I feel really pulls of that transformation of going from non-human to a human. While on earth, she has to drain power from mages to survive, and, even diminished, the equivalent of an irritable powerhouse.

              Street Magic by Caitlin Kittredge – Urban fantasy. The main character stands out here because she doesn’t take any crap from the guy. Their interactions are wonderful, and she really does take charge in trying to pry the guy out of the mess that he’s made of his life. Really recommend this for the relationship.

              The Hobb’s Bargain by Patricia Briggs – Fantasy. This one actually have almost no romance content, but…kinda does. It’s classic fantasy first, and kinda reminds me of books like Howl’s Moving Castle (none of the lightness or humor, though).

              That highlander book by Linda Howard (can’t recall the exact title!) – it’s the only highlander time travel romance that has ever come close to making me take it seriously. In fact, Howard won my respect with the way she infused the entire story with character growth and made the time travel romance actually work. I swallowed this story, hook, line, and sinker.

              Tell me if you pick any of these up. I’d love to hear what you think!

              • I was planning the Highlander series next. Heard it was great. I love the idea of Street Magic since it’s more like my character in Shadow Killer. Undone sounds familiar. If I hadn’t read it yet that’ll be my third. Thanks for the suggestions! I’ll let you know what I think. I guess Highlander will take a while though. Isn’t it something like 1000 pgs?

                If you read Nichole Severn’s Let Me Out let me know what you think.

                Thanks for all the suggestions

                • You’re thinking of Beyond the Highland Mist (Highlander, #1) by Karen Marie Moning or more likely The Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (which really is about 1k pages, at 870). The one I was thinking of is Son of the Morning by Linda Howard which I had read after Moning and a bunch of other time travel romances and appreciated all the more what she managed to pull off. (For example, the main character starts off very happily married!)

                  I haven’t read anything by Gabaldon, so can’t comment there…

                  Looking up Let Me Out!

                  • You’re right, it was Outlander by Diana Gabaldon I was thinking of. But I did look up Son of the Morning so I’ll have that on my list of books to read next. Thanks for the info. Looking forward to the read and I so enjoy your reviews.

                    • Drat. Ended up reading it last night, and it just didn’t click. I loved a lot of the elements of the idea – Adelaide’s psychosis was intriguing, Christian’s possessive concept of “love” was chilling and realistic-seeming, and I appreciated that true love didn’t actually save anyone and the guy had enough sense to realize she was broken. But it didn’t come together for me. I wonder if it has something to do with it being horror/thriller-esque…

                    • You may be right. The thriller-esque content may have tripped you up, but there is also the element of an unfinished story, which was my problem, but I knew there was a sequel in the works and may have had more patience for that reason. At least you gave it a try.

  5. That’s really how I felt about Insatiable too. I was hoping for a nice, fun read like the rest of Meg Cabot’s books but this one turned weird and way too silly for me. I absolutely hated the and (although Cabot lost me halfway through anyway) and I was just really disappointed in this one.
    I actually like the Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead. The first three books are really great and I like her different take on the traditional vampire story.

  6. Pingback: Writing Challenge: Vampires | Ink and Paper

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