Nostalgia Friday: The Watch House, by Robert Westall

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Publication date – 1977

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) The dust flew in clouds, making her cough. Anne looked inside the last glass case. More writing. It was moving Balls of fluff being pushed around like tiny mice. More letters appeared as she watched.

“AnHelpAnHelpAnHelp “

“Anne Help”

Who is writing the messages in the dust? What is the story behind the huge skull in the old Watch House?

Alone and unhappy in Garmouth, Anne knows the shadows are following her. Spirits of long-dead sailors who won’t rest. And from behind its empty windows, the Watch House is watching her…

Thoughts: I probably read this book for the first time when I was 12, and thought then that it was a good novel. I had a weak spot for Westall at the time. After all, he used to live not far from my nana, and the place of my grandfather’s garden allottment was mentioned in another of his novels. It seemed almost a family legacy that I read and enjoy his books.

The Watch House takes place in Tynemouth Garmouth, a place which is like Tynemouth in just about every way but the name. It centres around Anne, a girl of unspecified age but probably in her mid early to mid teens. Caught in a bad family situation, she is sent to Garmouth for the summer, where she stays with Prudie and Arthur, caretakers of the Watch House. But admit the legitimate teenage angst and coming of age is a well-done ghost story, one that doesn’t pull any punches and gives credit to the age group the book is intended for by bringing up some truly deep thought and contemplation.

This is the kind of book I look at and think to myself, “This wouldn’t make it today.” Not because it’s bad, but let’s be honest. There are too many novels with the intended age range of “11+” that mention sex, adultery, swearing, violent death, and heated snarky religious bickering between two priests, all all done with a sense of maturity and realism. If you can find books like this, they’re few and far between. But that’s one thing I’ve always found about Westall. He can write with a tone for younger audiences will still treating them as though they’re capable of understanding some of the darker aspects of reality.

Westall should also be praised for managing to cram complex issues into a small number of words. In only a few short paragraphs, you can get a real sense for Anne’s relationship with her mother and father, her own sense of self, and her feelings about spending the summer in Garmouth. You get a real sense of who the characters are without spending pages on introductions, on narrating the backstory, without Anne staring in the mirror and contemplating the colour of her hair. Westall has always been good at saying volumes without saying much at all, and this book is no exception.

As a nostalgic reread, I’d say the Watch House holds up incredibly well. It isn’t a timeless novel, since there are some very dated references in it, but that was also true of it when I first read it, so I can’t fault the book on that. It may throw some new readers off a little bit, but if they can bypass a few odd cultural quirks and focus on the meat of the story and the characters, then there’s no problem at all.

I do have to admit that much of my high opinion, at least when it comes to nostalgia value, may be riding on the fact that I can close my eyes and picture everything in this book so clearly because I’ve been there. Repeatedly. On family vacations. So I’m more than a little biased here, and for someone who didn’t grow in around Tynemouth might not get the same enjoyment and sense of familiarity when reading this book. That being said, though, it is still a good book for its own sake, and there’s no denying that, even if I rip away the gloss of nostalgia. This just happens to raise my own personal opinion of it.

This isn’t the book I would first recommend to anyone looking to experience the full force of Westall’s talent. I’m pretty sure that the majority of people who have read this author will recommend The Machine Gunners, and I’m no exception. But if you are looking for a quick and mature ghost story, then by all means, give this one a look.

Nostalgia Friday: Witchlight, by L J Smith

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Publication date – January 1, 1998

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Keller, a shapeshifter, has been chosen to protect a new Wild Power. When she’s not a panther, Keller is a tough, no-nonsense 17-year-old. But she meets her match in Iliana Harman–a clueless blonde who may really be the legendary Witch Child. Will Keller get annoyed and kill her before she can convince her to join Circle Daybreak? And what about the dashing and romantic Galen? Keller is falling in love with him–but he’s destined to be the Witch Child’s soulmate.

Thoughts: First off, I want to point out that the GoodReads descripion is a little misleading. Galen’s more of a gallant and reserved gentleman than a “dashing and romantic” guy. Also, he’s not destined to be the Witch Child’s soulmate – he’s just destined to marry her. Enter this book with that description in mind and you’re going to end up expecting more conflict than there really is.

Second, it seems that upon rereading these books, I find that my impression now is very often the opposite of my impression upon first having read these books over a decade ago. The books I used to love have more flaws than I can shake a stick at, and the ones I was more ambivalent about tend to actually be the ones that are more interesting and well put together. Such is the case with Witchlight. This was probably one of the better books of the series, and I used to not think very much of it at all.

The story centres around Keller, a panther shapeshifter from Circle Daybreak who is on a mission to find and recruit the third Wild Power of the ancient prophecy. She and her team find this girl in the form of Iliana, a lost witch who has no notion than she’s anything but a well-liked and somewhat airheaded normal teenage girl. Working against them is a revived dragon, the oldest known shapeshifter and being who is bent on the rule of humanity ending by any means necessary. Romantic conflict appears with Iliana and Galen being destined to marry and unite the withes and shapeshifters, but Galen and Keller find themselves growing more attracted to each other.

Definitely an interesting premise, and I only wish that the book had actually been longer to allow a better exploration of each of the plot elements. As with all of the previous Night World, the story moves very quickly, often comprised of only the bare essentials to make the reader aware of what’s happening, all so that it can be crammed into around 200 short pages. In some books, this is a blessing, because it means the clumsy story ends sooner. But here, the shortness becomes a real detriment.

In particular, the characters needed expansion. Keller, Galen, Iliana, and the dragon Azhdeha were the only ones who got decently fleshed out. Winnie and Nissa were practically invisible unless needed. In Iliana’s family, the most well-defined character was the baby who could barely speak properly yet. Iliana’s friends? Nothing noteworthy about them, unless you count Jaime’s hearing problems. They didn’t feel like people so much as filler characters that only sometimes actually served a purpose.

But what really grated my cheese here was Keller’s reaction to realizing that she and Galen are soulmates. She goes from being a closed-off, aloof, no-nonsense leader to someone who suddenly has gained more patience and understanding, and has an instant open-heart discussion with Galen. I can understand that the author was trying to convey the connection between soulmates, but I’m sorry, habits of a lifetime don’t change that suddenly. It was awkward and unbelievable, and it came across as an attempt to show how falling in love can soften and “improve” a person. It didn’t sit well with me.

Still, this book was one of the better ones. Though considering it still only gets a rather lackluster rating from me, that doesn’t say much. It has potential, but a lot of that potential ended up unexplored and wasted, and while I wasn’t aching to be done with it the way I was with some earlier books in the series, it still wasn’t particularly special outside the context of the series.

I’ll be doing a review of the series as a whole in a few days, putting all the pieces together and making a final determination as to whether these books really do stand the test of time.

Nostalgia Friday: Black Dawn, by L J Smith

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Publication date – November 1, 1997

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) First he put her in a dungeon. Then he realized they were soulmates. Now he wants to make her a vampire princess. Maggie Neely is a short, spunky sixteen-year-old with auburn hair and an iron will. When her brother turns up missing, she’s determined to find him. But she never suspects that the trail will lead her into the most secret heart of the Night World, a kingdom where no outsider has stepped in five hundred years.
The kingdom is ruled by the young vampire prince Delos…who keeps all humans as slaves. When Delos falls in love with Maggie, he frees her and demands that she join him in his life of dark pleasure. He’s handsome, he’s romantic Maggie can hardly resist him. But did he kill Maggie’s brother? And who are the strange people searching the kingdom for a Wild Power? Maggie won’t give up until she learns the truth even if it means destroying Delos and his secret land. If he doesn’t destroy her first…

Thoughts: More and more when I read this series, I wonder what I found so fascinating and good about them when I was younger. As far as the storytelling goes, they’re fairly average, and while I can make some allowances because the author was writing in a time when YA novels were mostly confined to 200 very short pages or less instead of having the allowance of expanding the plot, but that grace can only go so far.

This book starts out with another example of a teenager — Maggie — making a ridiculous leap of logic that turns out to be right. She awakens to find her parents distraught as her brother’s girlfriend Sylvia informs them that Miles (said brother) has died. Maggie deduces that Sylvia must be lying about what happened because her display of grief is “too perfect” and so must be acting. Following her intuition, she sneaks out of the house to follow Sylvia and ends up getting kidnapped by a group of Night People who are intent on bringing human slaves to their kidden kingdom in the mountains.

Yeah, you read that right.

The story itself, while fairly simple, is interesting enough. Maggie finds other people who are kidnapped, living in the castle town as slaves, and sets out trying to free them. Along the way she meets Delos, the vampire prince, scornful and cold and yet still her soulmate, as is typical for the Night World books.

But this really fails when you throw in some logical scrutiny. Aside from the opening scene, which really just seemed like the author wrote herself into a corner very quickly and needed some way — any way! — to get Maggie to follow Sylvia so the real plot could start, I have a hard time suspending my disbelief when it comes to the major end-of-the-world prophecy, specifically how it’s done here.

My biggest problem with it? Aside from the fact that the prophecy is translated into English and only one translation is ever mentioned anywhere ever, the kingdom in the mountains in relation to it is a major fail. The kingdom, with its sanitized medieval-style culture, was established around 600 years ago in an American mountain range, and yet they have the exact same version of the prophecy. Same translation, in modern English, in spite of only very recently (last couple of decades or so) having contact with the outside world. They all speak modern English there, in fact, and quite easily.

Then on top of it all, the “finding Miles” subplot that occasionally pokes its head up at random places in the story, gets wrapped up almost as an afterthought, like Smith had forgotten Maggie’s sporadically-driving goal until someone pointed it out, and then she just tacked on an ending that makes sense but still comes somewhat out of left field and doesn’t flow well with the rest of the scene.

I keep trying to tell myself that I’m being too hard on the book and the author, that most teens won’t catch that, but that really isn’t much of an excuse. Smith has made some other major gaffes in this series, including some incredibly ironic and hypocritical ones, and the more I read them, the more I notice them. And the more I wonder why I bought the rereleased books a few years back. They aren’t as good as I remember, and rereading them now has ripped away the shiny happy veneer that nostalgia once gave them. There are so many better YA urban fantasy novels worth reading, and if truth be told, I’m rather glad that this is the penultimate novel in the series (unless you count the as-yet-to-be-released final book that should have come out over 10 years ago but is still in progress) and I won’t have to keep reading them much longer.

Sometimes things are best left in the past.

Nostalgia Friday: Huntress, by L J Smith

Yes, it’s the return of Nostalgia Friday! I started doing this last year, and didn’t so much lose steam as get distracted by a hundred and one other things. So I’m reviving it. For those who missed the original goal of Nostalgia Friday, I’m going to try to post each Friday with a book that I read first years ago and have recently reread, to see how well the book stacks up against my memories of it. In some cases it ends up being more enjoyable, and in others, less so. But no matter which way my opinions go, it’s kind of fun to look back on the books I used to read and see just how much my reading tastes have changed or stayed the same.

And so, on with the show!

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Publication Date – September 1, 1997

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Jez Redfern is unique. She’s a vampire hunter…who’s half vampire. Raised in the Redfern family, the girl with fiery hair and silvery-blue eyes was the undisputed leader of a gang of vampire raiders. Then came the discovery that shattered her life – her mother was a human. Now, Jez hunts her former friends, protecting humans from the Night World.

But when Circle Daybreak sends her on a search for one of the legendary Wild Powers, Jez has to rejoin her old gang. They want her back — especially Morgead, the gorgeous green-eyed vampire who used to be her second-in-command. Jez wants to stay faithful to Hugh Davis, the human she loves. But Morgead swears he’s her soulmate and he’ll do anything to lure her back to the old ways. With danger and temptation around, Jez finds herself irresistibly drawn to him. And she’s afraid that if she tastes blood again, she’ll become the evil huntress she once was…

Thoughts: My rather lackluster opinions of the Night World books isn’t dramatically improved by this book, but I did enjoy it more than I expected I would, and even more than I remembered doing when I first read it all those years ago.

Part of my improved opinion of this book is due to the fact that in this, there are demonstrated consequences to a teenager living a secret double life as a vampire hunter. Not many consequences, I’ll grant you, as Jez’s family don’t seem to understand the meaning of the word “discipline”, but some, and that was a favourable comparison to other books in the series.

Comparing to books these days, however, it’s nothing. More authors are actually giving the time needed to put reality into their fantasy and urban fantasy, and making a point of showing that when a high school kid skips class and stays out all night and doesn’t give their parents and teachers a damn good reason why, they get in massive amounts of trouble. Really, even Buffy the Vampire Slayer showed this, and that show was on TV at the same time that the Night World books were being written.

This is the beginning of what the previous books in the series were really building up to. The start of the prophecies being fulfilled, the countdown to the millennium, and the truth behind all the hints about the changes in the Night World that have been taking place.

Prophecies are old hat and have been done to death. More annoying is the fact that one of the twists on the prophecy’s interpretation relies on the assumption that the word for sight and prophecy were just as interchangeable in English (“vision”) as they were in whatever language the prophecy was originally written in. This sort of assumption that the reader will either overlook these things or not notice them seems to be very common in Smith’s books, and is one thing that particularly annoys me.

But still, Huntress was a decent book, as far as the Night World series goes, and was an interesting way to kick off the more action-filled part of the series. Jez’s story is an interesting one, as is her struggle to fit into two worlds while not really feeling like she belongs to either. Also interesting was the way that Jez and Morgead, the established soulmates of the tale, were resistant to their bond at first. Jex had her heart set on someone else and experienced an internal struggle over the issue, though admittedly not much of one. Still, much like one of the earlier novels in the series, it was interesting to see a connection between two people who didn’t want to be connected, showing that the soulmate principle isn’t an instant recipe for “happily ever after.”

Nostalgia Friday: Soulmate, by L J Smith

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Publication date – April 1997

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Hannah Snow’s life was perfect…until the notes started appearing. Notes in her own handwriting, warning her: Dead before Seventeen. Then she starts having visions of another time, another life. And of a stranger who tore her world apart.

Now the stranger, Thierry, Lord of the Night World, is back. Convinced Hannah is his soulmate, he has searched for her throughout the years, waiting for her to be reborn. But if Hannah’s destiny is death, can even Thierry’s love protect her?

Thoughts: This used to be my favourite book in the Night World series, tied for first with Spellbinder. I loved the way that reincarnation was approached, the idea that love could follow people through lifetimes, always calling back to each other and finding each other once again, even when both parties could well be vastly different than their previous incarnation.

Reading this book again now, I’m sad to say, ruined the story for me. It was very hard to keep the shine of happy nostalgia going when I found so many flaws.

As stories go, it was something of a creative one, and I can’t fault Smith for that because the idea and ideals fits so very well with the established mythos of the Night World. The reader also gets to see, in a very close-and-personal way, the fabled first vampire Maya, whom we’ve really only heard about in passing back in Spellbinder, when Thea told the legend of Maya and Hellewise. Maya herself was quite an interesting character, carried through the ages by a singular obsession, one that went so deep and was so engrained in her mind that she herself really couldn’t attach any logic to it. “I have to win,” is all that mattered to her, even when it was clear that she didn’t entirely know what her own idea of winning would even mean. It was interesting to see her be so flawed and unhinged and yet so very calm about it all.

However, the biggest problem I had with this book was exactly what I used to love about it: reincarnation. Not so much the concept, but the way it was carried out. Hannah’s first incarnation was Hana, a Stone Age girl living in some place that I’m fairly sure is geographically and anthropologically impossible. She lives in a place where there are Arctic foxes and wild cattle, part of a tribe consisting of people with quite varied hair and skin tones (though it’s established that they’re all at least Caucasian), they worship Hekate as a dark goddess who also seems crossed with a mother goddess figure, and the tribe is run by a matriarch. Her best friend is somebody who “always has to wear something new to every festival” and is fretting because a man she doesn’t quite like wants to “mate [her]”. Sorry, honey, but when you’re in that era and 16, you’re approaching the end of the average lifespan, and you’ve probably popped out a couple of kids already. You’re not a modern teenage girl in a furry bikini.

This all wouldn’t have been quite so painful (the books all deal with hidden aspects of the world we live in everyday, so I might possibly have been able to suspend my disbelief for a while) if the psychiatrist character who was helping Hannah uncover her past didn’t state quite bluntly that the majority of past-life regressions were always told in ways that made it quite clear that the people who romanticized living in the past actually knew nothing about the past they were talking about. I winced when I read that line, because the character was trashing the sort of people who were doing exactly what the author was doing! That entire situation was ironic and painful enough to have a lot of the gloss stripped from the memories of this book, and I’m sad to report that reading this now that I’m older does not have anywhere near the same appeal that it did when I was a teenager.

As far as its place within the series, this is one of the essential novels. A lot is revealed about Circle Daybreak, far more than the hinting mentions that appeared in other novels of the series. And we get to take an interesting look back at Night World history, looking at the characters of Maya and Thierry. If you’re going to read the series, you really can’t afford to skip over this one. But too much sat wrong with me for it to have a very high rating, in light of all the irony and historical mangling.

Nostalgia Friday: The Chosen, by L J Smith

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Publication date – February 1997

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) She stalks the back alleys of Boston, seeking revenge on the vampires who killed her mother. Armed with a wooden stake, martial arts, and the will to resist mind control, she is killing the Night People one by one. But when she rescues Daphne Childs from certain death, she’s suddenly swept into the Night World Slave Trade, gateway to the vampires’ secret enclave.

Thoughts: Vampire hunter meets vampire, and they all live happily ever after.

Rashel decided to become a vampire hunter because when she was very young, she saw her mother and her friend (or possibly a kid her mother was babysitting; I don’t think the book was very clear on just who Timmy was in relation to Rashel) killed by a vampire, and decided some payback was in order. Then one night, on a mission, she runs into the vampire Quinn, and, true to the theme of this series, the two discover that they’re soulmates.

Now, I have to say that Smith did make a point of having Rashel deny the connection at first, refusing to believe she could be so bonded to something she despised so very much. But what really got to me was a scene in which Rashel and Quinn are mentally joined, and she senses darkness and fear in his mind so she (and I’m paraphrasing here) “dances through it kissing sunlight into the dark corners.”

Let me just point out that Rashel has spent over a decade at this point hating vampires with a passion, and being shuffled from foster family to foster family and refuses to form emotional connections, trying to cut herself off from others and keep her emotions cold, her mind removed. I understand that this is teen fantasy with an emphasis on romance, but honestly, I find it incredibly difficult to suspend my disbelief long enough to accept that “twu wuv” really heals all wounds in a heartbeat like that. It was trite, and horribly out of character, and it didn’t do anything but make me roll my eyes and wonder if Smith even understood the characters she was creating.

Nyala’s transition from mentally scarred to completely unhinged was also something that felt odd and out of place, like the author just needed a plot device to work in a little more tension.

Many parts of this book felt clumsily executed. Some scenes were powerful and touching, incredibly well done, but for every good scene there seemed to be one that was equally bad, and it made for a very poor experience. While this book wasn’t one of my favourites when I first read the series, my opinion on it has certainly dropped upon reading it again.

This novel also shows how dated it is by mentioning Buffy the Vampire Slayer and then adding that Rashel “missed the movie.” The vast majority of teens who read this book now will likely only know Buffy as the TV show, and may not even know that the multi-season show was based on and a continuation of a movie in the first place. It’s only a minor mention, but much like a previous book in the series mentioning Walkmans, it’s something that the audience doesn’t come across these days half as much as they used to. The stories are not timeless, and moments like this really underscore that.

Ultimately, I’d have been happier skipping over this book during my series reread, given all the problems I had with it. It needed serious work on the character development, the twist ending made only marginal sense, and it was far from the entertaining read I remember from my teenage years. Sadly, I came away rather disappointed.

Nostalgia Friday: Dark Angel, by L J Smith

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Publication Date – December 1996

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Gillian Lennox is saved from death by an angel who becomes her guardian. But after helping her become popular at school, the angels begins to make bizarre demands–enough for Gillian to wonder what she has brought back from the other side.

Thoughts: While this wasn’t one of the best of the Night World books, you can definitely see Smith getting more comfortable with writing the world she’s created, and that alone raises the book’s standing in my eyes. It’s a good thing, too, because while the previous books have all dealt with people who are very much in the centre of the Night World society, Dark Angel deals with Gillian, a rather shy and reserved girl who only discovers that she’s part of a lost witch family thanks to a guardian spirit she calls Angel. The book brushes the edges of the Night World, for the most part, never really taking the plunge, and it makes for interesting reading, and a surprise departure from what I came to expect from the novels.

Gillian meets Angel during her near-death experience, and when he returns with her to the world of the living, he does assume the role of a guardian to her, helping her to improve her life by gaining popularity and the guy she’s had a crush on for years. She learns that popularity has its downsides, however, and in trying to quash somebody’s revenge scheme, she learns from Angel that she is actually a witch and can cast spells, thus leading her to curse the perpetrators of said revenge fantasy. Blindly following Angel’s instructions, though, the curse was out of proportion to the crime, and was the first hint that Angel might not be as divine as she thinks.

Smith does a very good job of showing the balance behind things, and not falling prey to stereotyping, something I see a lot of when it comes to dealing with the so-called “popular crowd” in YA novels. It’s a little cheesy, I admit, but Gillian learns that being popular will not solve all of her problems, but it’s not done in a way that feels over the top. Some people in the popular crowd are there because people fear them too much to show how much they’re not liked. Others turn out to be quite nice people, with problems of their own. Many YA novels I’ve read have the portrayal of popular people as beautiful teens who are nearly always mean under a thin glaze of niceness, with maybe one or two genuinely nice people in the whole bunch, who inevitably become the main character’s close and true friends. There’s more variety shown here, with more instances of people being people, truly varied creatures with more depth than many authors give teens credit for.

The romance was also quite interesting. Angel insists he’s Gillian’s soulmate, and will do just about anything to help her. Gillian is more interested in David, and takes Angel’s advice on how to attract his attention. Gillian even thinks to herself at one point that there’s no denying she loves both David and Angel, each somewhat differently but no less deeply than the other, which is wonderful to see in teenage fiction, especially in a story in which One True Love actually exists.

If it had any great failing, it was that it did nothing to really further the overarching plot of the entire Night World series. It revealed precious little that the previous three novels hadn’t told us, and what it did reveal it did so in passing, and then right at the end. It seemed to have little place in the continuum of the larger story, and much like Daughters of Darkness, it could have been skipped without any great loss to the reader.

Though it wasn’t the greatest book in the series, it definitely did have its good points, and I was pleased to see some real depth to the character, especially when you consider just how short the book is. But as I said previously, it can be skipped without much worry if what you want is to see how the series progresses. “Take it or leave it” is my final verdict, unless you’re a completionist and can’t bear to skip a book in a series.

Nostalgia Friday: Spellbinder, by L J Smith

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Publication date – October 1996

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Blaise’s black magic is powerful. The only way Thea can fight back is to use her own white magic, to bewitch Eric herself as a bluff. But soon Thea finds herself getting too close to Eric, feeling forbidden emotions, breaking Night World laws by falling in love. As halloween and the Night of the Witch draw closer, can Thea save Eric and herself from Blaise’s revenge?

Summary: This book holds a particular nostalgic fondness for me because of the way I was always able to relate to the main character, Thea. She and her cousin Blaise are rather disturbingly similar to myself and an old friend of mine, at least in terms of demeanor, and to a lesser extent appearance. Thea also suffered angst over having to choose a magical specialty, unable to choose because she liked all of her options equally, and I know very well that in such a position, I too would have been unable to choose. She seemed the perfect character to relate to, especially during my early teenage years when I was discovering my spirituality. For that reason alone, I think this book gets a higher rating from me than it perhaps deserves on the basis on writing style and plot alone.

On the other hand, the ability of the reader to relate to a character can drastically impact the quality of a novel, so maybe it is justified after all.

As far as plots go, it’s interesting but nothing special. True to the rest of the Night World books, there’s the element of secrecy combined with breaking the rules, and an emphasis on forbidden love, though in this book the forbidden love is a little more normal and balanced than most, which is nice. Smith also takes a lot of popular fluffybunny Wiccan lore about the Burning Times and magic and makes it all real. That’s the truth behind witches in the Night World books. For the time it was written, this kind of information, and the attitude of some of the humans in the story, could be considered progressive and perhaps decently-researched, and an intrigue to those interested in Goddess- or earth-based religions. Nowadays, though, five minutes on Google will reveal a dozen things proving that the background of the story makes no sense.

I know it’s supposed to be fiction, but it’s also supposed to be a hidden world within our mundane world, so having it be easily disproven isn’t exactly a good thing.

On the whole, though, this is one of the more decent books in the series, especially within the earliest books. It’s definitely one of my favourites, mostly because of the associated nostalgia but also because you can really see the author getting into her element with the Night World books. The first book was an okay first book, the second book was awkward, but this one fares better and does a lot to redeem the series for anyone turned away by the lackluster quality of the first two. You could probably even start the series on this book and not miss out on much, since the real continuity begins here. In small ways, of course, but some of them are rather essential for setting up some later large events. Worth reading, I’d say, even as a standalone.

Nostalgia Friday: Daughters of Darkness, by L J Smith

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Publication date – March 19, 1997

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Here is a vampire story with a twist, the bloodsucking ghouls are three beautiful teenage sisters who escape from the Night World and try to find a new life, and love, with humans in a small town.

Thoughts: This is probably my least favourite book in the whole series. Despite it being the second, I didn’t read it until long after I’d read all the other Night World books, but my distaste for it isn’t solely due to the fact that it can’t really compare to the novels that came after. This book not only can’t stand the test of time (do teenagers even know what a Walkman is anymore?), but had a good number of flaws that would have been evident even at the time of writing.

For example, there’s a scene quite early on in which two teenage boys start in on their attempt to rape three girls. When these girls reveal themselves to be vampires, one of them shouts, ” How the freak did you do that? What the freak are you?” Freak? Really? A guy who’s about to rape someone isn’t going to play by PG language rules. If you can’t have swearing in your story, don’t try for swearing. Toning it down and substituting words just makes the whole situation look absurd, and is rather insulting to the intelligence of the reader.

Second example I can think of is when characters are wondering who might be the killer they’re all looking for. They land on a character who was mentioned only once or twice before that, and in passing: Bunny Marten. They suspect Bunny because of her name; born-vampires tend to have names related to nature in some way. Bunny is obvious, of course, but one character then says, “And isn’t a marten a kind of weasel?” Yes, it is, but the spelling of her last name was never mentioned, and it’s not as though a more common spelling isn’t “Martin.” It may have the same root, but it’s one heck of a leap, and a leap that only makes sense if the character suggesting it knows the odd spelling. Which she doesn’t.

The story itself wasn’t particularly engaging, either. Standard whodunnit mystery involving the death of a vampire. The killer turns out to be a mad werewolf who doesn’t display any signs of actually being insane until he’s triggered by jealousy, but apparently he was unhinged all along.

The only thing I really liked about this novel was the way to romance between Mary-Lynette and Ash was handled. The two are soulmates, which means that they’re bound together whether they like it or not, and can’t be truly happy without each other. Problem is that they don’t get along, and outside of a few moments of teen lust, even admit that there’s no way they can handle each other. But rather than refusing to acknowledge that, they agree to spend some time apart until they’ve both matured and come to grips with themselves and each other before exploring their connection any further. It was a refreshingly mature approach to the soulmate concept, and I really enjoyed seeing it.

Aside from a brief mention of a few characters in a later book, this is one that can be skipped over without losing anything of the series as a whole, and I highly recommend doing so. You don’t miss much, and you get to spare yourself the trouble of reading a clumsy novel that was subpar even for a decade and a half ago. Overall, not really worth it.

Nostalgia Friday: Secret Vampire, bu L J Smith

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Author’s website
Publication date – March 19, 1997

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) The diagnosis for Poppy was death. there was no hope–until James, her best friend and secret love, appeared in the hospital. But this was a James she didn’t know. He offered Poppy eternal life. Only he could open the door to the Night World. They’re soulmates–but can she follow him into death and beyond?

Thoughts: For being written over a decade ago, this book actually holds up quite well to the test of time. The details it gives about the medicine and medical practices of the time are vague enough in most cases to not raise eyebrows among teens who are reading this for the first time in the rereleased anthologies. And it is an interesting introduction to the Night World, which will grow deeper and more complex and the series continues.

However, I must say that it really helps to know that in advance. Even if vampire fiction wasn’t in vogue right now, as a standalone story, Secret Vampire would be seen as pretty lackluster. The concept of the Night World is an interesting premise, but the threat behind the worldwide secret society really isn’t felt, though it is mentioned plenty of times. The writing style is fine, if a bit unpolished. The characters don’t exactly pop. Today, there are so many books lining the shelves that would not only compete but completely overtake this novel that I think it would have trouble getting anywhere if it were pitched to an agent or publisher. “Make it longer, elaborate instead of hinting, and maybe try for a trilogy instead of a longer series.”

That being said, though, it was pretty good for the late 90s, when YA paranormal fiction was in much shorter supply, and the majority of new books being written for that age group were noteworthy if they had more than 200 pages. I was excited to discover this book, because decent vampire fiction was tough to come by at the time. The same can’t be said of today.

This book also suffers heavily from the whole “teens in a vacuum” issue that occurs a lot in popular media. If you believe books and TV, teenagers get way more say in how the world works than they really do. In Secret Vampire, one character advises the brother of a dying girl not to let the funeral home embalm her, since he plans to turn her into a vampire. How a teenage boy is supposed to do this is never explained. It wasn’t even, “Convince your parents she didn’t want to be embalmed,” or, “I’ll come over and hypnotize people so it doesn’t happen,” (which is what he did, in the end), but no, it was expected that the teenage brother could handle it, realism be hanged.

And yes, I am mentioning realism in a story about a secret society of vampires, witches, and werewolves. The world still works the way it works, and that’s the kind of thing that can’t just be handwaved if you want to portray things in a realistic fashion. Of course, that isn’t a fault of the book not holding up against time. Modern media does that too. And in worse ways, sometimes. But it was worth mentioning.

As far as things stand now, I might recommend these books to somebody younger than the original target audience, since the age group these books were intended for now has access to far more, and better. But as far as nostalgia goes, the book still holds up fairly well to my fond memories of it. Knowing the rest of the series helps, certainly; if I’d only ever read this one book, I might have dismissed it out of hand and not bothered rereading it. I do enjoy the rest of the series more, though, once we get into the real meat of the story.