[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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Indie Book Review: Sleight of Hand by Mark Henwick

Sleight of Hand by Mark Henwick

An Amber Farrell Novel, Bite Back #1

“For Amber Farrell, post-military life as a PI has its ups and downs: She’s been hit by a truck. She’s being sued by a client. Denver’s newest drug lord just put out a contract on her. The sinister Athanate want her to come in for a friendly chat. And it’s only Tuesday.”

Now we’re talking. Occasionally, we get a pitch in our inbox that we just can’t resist. And Henwick’s urban fantasy novel blurb brought it home. It also left me quaking on my canary perch: Book, please, please, don’t go the vampire-werewolf-cookie-cutter plot route.

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