20 January 2012

Demon Girl by Penelope Fletcher

Spoilers Ahead

I don't know about you but I love e-books and e-readers. That's not to say I've given up on traditional books--they're still my favourite and always will be. But e-readers let me hang on to way more books than my already-full shelves will allow. They let me check out books I might not otherwise be interested in. They save my hands in winter (anyone else notice that paper just sucks the moisture right out of skin?) And most importantly they give a voice to writers who wouldn't stand a chance in the deeply flawed traditional publishing industry (sorry but when a semi-literate like Snooki can get a book deal while unknown--but excellent--writers get passed over, you know there's a problem...) Thanks to my Kindle I discovered Penelope Fletcher's voice in her debut novel, Demon Girl.

I have to start by mentioning the cover. I know we're not supposed to judge a book by its cover but in truth you can gauge a lot about a book that way. I've seen a lot of really bad covers among the e-books, mostly involving terrible computer graphics and cheesy/random stock photos. Demon Girl's cover is as pretty and well-designed as anything put out by a traditional publisher. Good job.

As for the story, it's part one of a three (or more?) part paranormal series. Rae Wilder lives in a world where the few remaining humans huddle behind a protected wall, hiding from the vicious demons running wild on the outside. Human society is ruled by the Sect and their Clerics, a draconian bunch who seek and destroy demon-kind wherever they find it. But Rae isn't an average human--she's stronger, faster, and has the irresistible desire to break the rules and explore beyond the wall. What she doesn't expect is to find a pair of Clerics torturing and killing a helpless--and harmless--young female fairy. When they hear Rae she knows she has to run, and when they let the tracking dogs loose she's in serious trouble.

From there Rae's life becomes one complicated mess. When her terror of the Clerics triggers the unbinding of a spell that's been masking her true "demon" (that is, fairy) nature behind a glamour of humanity she's no longer sure where she stands. As if discovering you're not actually human isn't enough of a shock she unwillingly becomes bonded to Braendan, a fellow fairy, and even more unwillingly ends up with a blood bond to vampire Tomas (naturally fairies and vamps aren't supposed to get along). While she's trying to get a grasp on her true nature and new reality she becomes enmeshed in the unpleasant--and violent--world of fairy politics and manipulations. Pretty overwhelming stuff.

Fletcher has come up with a good concept, but the execution is more often shaky than not. The interesting story is repeatedly bogged down by some truly illogical plot devices (why would Rae even consider returning to the Clerics' world after discovering she's a demon?) Rae also suffers from starting off as a pretty cool character who ends up frequently annoying and useless, whining her way through the book and passing out continually. The character of the White Witch is also pretty pointless. Luckily Braendan and Tomas are likeable-. Both are charming enough that they'll draw female readers right in, they're sensible, they're protective of Rae (again something maybe female readers will appreciate more) and they can kick serious ass. You can easily see why she's torn between them (I also kept wishing she'd follow their examples).

The book also suffers from poor editing. There are tons of mistakes throughout that are both distracting and annoying. A good editor could have also smoothed out the problems I mentioned above. Skimping on editing is the number one thing not to do as an author. And your friends don't count. On the other hand, as much as I can't stand editing issues, I still kept reading (sometimes staying up way too late as I had to see what happened next). That's got to count for something.

I thought the end of the book was done well--without giving too much away, enough got resolved so that it was satisfying but not so much that it was a little too tidy. There's plenty left to keep up interest in the rest of the series and I have a feeling (or at least a hope) that Rae will continue to evolve as a character.

Fletcher was only 23 when she wrote this book, which leaves a lot of time for future improvement. But the potential for her talent is definitely there and Demon Girl, despite all its issues, was still good enough that I bought the second book in the series. If you've got an e-reader I recommend giving Demon Girl a go. Support young talent and get your vampire fix while you're at it.

Fang Files

Appearance: Sickly pale human with red-ringed eyes and long, sharp fangs that descend when hungry, angry or excited. Their eyes become all black when the vampire fully emerges. Dead vampires turn to ash.

Strengths: Ability to hypnotize humans. Super strength and speed. Heightened senses. No need to breathe. Their bites initially hurt but then feel pleasurable to the victim. Quick healing.

Weaknesses: Sunlight, stakes, silver, decapitation, blood lust, starvation.

Mythology: A vampire's human body has died so they have no breath, heartbeat or body heat. Vampires need invitations into private residences. Vampires organize themselves into nests. Cannot turn humans--they are genetically mutated humans.

Text Bite

"The dead ones were not the kind of demons people dressed up to make scarier than they actually were. Vampires were the creatures you made nicer in stories to that you didn't pass out when reports came your way one had breached the Wall and eaten a few homeless people."

"People said vampires were soulless, and I did not agree. They had souls, dark ones. Here I must say I also believed there were different kinds of dark. There was a dark that was evil and cruel, and there was a dark that was solitary and simply absent of light."

Demon Girl: Book One of the Rae Wilder Novels
by Penelope Fletcher.

17 January 2012

The Vampire Diaries S3 E9 "Homecoming"

Spoilers Ahead

It's weird: I keep hearing from other people about how great this season of TVD is and I keep wondering if we're watching the same season. I don't know--I'm just finding it overwhelmingly lacklustre. The pacing is rushed, the writing is uninspired, the acting is meh (even from Ian, which sucks as much as it is surprising). As I'm watching I keep checking the clock to see if it's almost over. Not a good sign. That being said "Homecoming" wasn't bad. It wasn't great, but it wasn't horrible, either. Although, in the end, isn't that just another way of saying it was disappointing?

If you'll recall last episode Michael showed up and promised Stefan that he would kill Klaus--if Stefan could lure him back to Mystic Falls. And if Stefan couldn't manage the task? Then Michael would kill him instead. Death threats--the ultimate motivational tool. Anyway, this episode starts off with Stefan giving Klaus a call. The Original Hybrid is off in Portland making himself a group of hybrid playmates. Stefan informs him that Michael has been daggered (anyone else bothered by the use of the word dagger as a verb?) Of course Klaus is going to have to come back to see this for himself and to finish daddy off while he's there.

Klaus's return coincides with the Big Event happening this episode: Homecoming. Okay, do we really need to have an event every single episode? As a plot device it's getting old, and it wasn't that interesting to begin with. You know, things can happen within a story even without a large gathering. Anyway, our heroes decide to take advantage of the dance to trap and kill Klaus. While Elena stresses that too many things can go wrong with their plan, Damon comes up with a secret contingency plan of his own.

Elena is right to worry. Things start going awry when the school gym floods and the party has to be moved to Ty's house. Right away Bonnie notices that there are a lot of people there who they don't know. We find out why a moment later as Ty chats with Stefan. It turns out this isn't Ty's party--it's Klaus's. And it's not Homecoming anymore, it's a wake for Michael. The strangers are Klaus's new hybrids. I hope Damon's contingency plan took all this into account.

Klaus tells Stefan that as soon as Michael is permanently dead it'll be time to reunite the family. He's confident none of his siblings will mind being staked and stuck in coffins for years/decades/centuries. He also promises Stefan that as soon as Michael is dead he'll free Stefan from the compulsion he's under.

Back at Salvatore central, Damon and Michael are preparing for the big moment. When Stefan shows up to tell them it's time, Damon lets him know they have a plan--but it doesn't involve him. At that point Michael pounces on Stefan and drains him. I guess being drained of blood doesn't actually kill a vampire, which--now that I think about it--makes sense since the tomb vampires survived for more than a century with no blood. Damon's still shocked, though, having expected Michael to do something simple, like break Stefan's neck. Doesn't stop him from leaving to kill Klaus, though.

Speaking of, as Klaus waits for Stefan to get back with Michael's body he has a chat with Ty. He starts off by telling Ty that he compelled his mother to go to church and pray for Ty's friends. I found that pretty funny (just the image of Carol Lockwood on her knees in a church...) Ty's more confused than amused. Klaus then goes on to point out all his hybrids, who also all happen to be sired. He lets it be known that if Ty's friends make any move whatsoever against him, his hybrids may feel "obligated to retaliate." Then he urges Ty to warn his friends.

Ty starts with Caroline. She insists she doesn't know anything about what might be happening that night but even if she did she wouldn't tell him because he's "sired to Team Klaus" and can't be trusted. So he shoots her up with vervain and gets Matt to get her and everyone else out of there. Must be fun to be Matt: when you're not in danger from all the paranormal beings around you, you're stuck running errands for them. He's got to be at the top of the useless characters list.

Klaus also has a chat with Elena, letting her know that whatever she's got planned to give it her best shot because she won't succeed. Elena spends the conversation acting twitchy, which certainly doesn't tip Klaus off that something's in the works.

After Ty takes care of Caroline he heads back to the party only to be intercepted by Damon. I'm not even sure why they start fighting but Ty tries to bite Damon. Just as Damon is about to stake Ty (with Michael's super special stake, no less) both of them grab their heads in pain. That would be Bonnie interfering. She stops before Damon passes out but Ty is now out of the equation. Damon tells Bonnie he's there with the stake because he's the only one who could get into the house. At least that makes sense.

When Klaus is told he has a visitor at the door named Michael, he doesn't seem at all surprised. He orders his hybrids to all move out back and then goes to the door, where it turns out Michael really is waiting. So much for the element of surprise (by the way, since it seems Originals can't enter homes without invitations I have to ask again how Rebekah waltzed into the Salvatores' place a couple of episodes back. Anyone remember her being invited?) Klaus is careful not to cross the threshold as his hybrids surround Michael. Not at all concerned, Michael mocks and taunts Klaus, and points out that his hybrids are still half-vampire and can, therefore, still be compelled by him. Looks like the hybrids are backing up dad.

Hybrid Mindy steps onto the scene holding on to Elena. Michael then threatens Klaus to come out and face him or else Elena--and his ability to make hybrids--dies. Michael doesn't just like to stick the knife in, he also likes to twist it. Some of his taunts to Klaus are downright cruel. Michael might have a point but you can see why Klaus is so damaged, having been raised by someone like that. I also have to give kudos to the actor and director for having Klaus cry without it being cheesy or trite. Without naming names I have seen the single-tear-rolling-down-the-cheek bit way too many times and at this point it just makes me laugh. But this show seems to get it right so good on them. Anyway, Klaus calls Michael's bluff and the next thing we know Elena is getting a knife in the back.

As Klaus stands stunned, Damon shows up behind him and drives the stake into his gut. The heart is a little to the north, my friend. But just as he is about to stake Klaus properly Stefan shows up out of nowhere and holds Damon down. Klaus takes the opportunity to grab the stake and use it on Michael, who screams and promptly burns to nothing. So, that's it for Michael, huh? The huge threat who's been hunting Klaus for 1000 years and who--if woken--would kill them all because he's such a badass. Colour me underwhelmed. This show has a problem with massive build-ups and anticlimactic resolutions.

As for Elena, it turns out she was actually Katherine. She gets up after the stabbing (surprising Michael, who thought it really was Elena and stabbed her anyway), tosses a couple of wolfsbane grenades at the hybrids, and promptly disappears. Damon also disappears. But Klaus is satisfied and grants Stefan his freedom.

Back at his place, Damon is Pissed. He has no idea what went wrong or why Stefan double-crossed them. Elena is a calming influence, reassuring him that they'll survive this. I wish these two would just get together already--they're clearly stupid for each other. If I were Elena I'd grab Damon and take off, far, far away from Mystic Falls. It's not like she has any reason to stay there. But I guess that's why no one would make a TV show out of my life. At least she agrees that Stefan's not coming back and they have to let him go.

As they're talking Damon gets a call from Katherine. She's just calling to say goodbye because she's going back into hiding. Is Klaus really still pissed at her? Anyway, after they hang up she tells someone sitting next to her that Damon doesn't know where it all went wrong. It turns out to be Stefan next to her and he replies that Damon doesn't need to know. She drops him off at the side of the road and we're treated to a flashback to the party. When Klaus was talking to "Elena" he tells her something we didn't see before: if he dies, Damon will die along with him. His hybrids have orders even after he's gone.

From there Katherine revives Stefan and tells him what's happening. She's counting on him to care enough to save Damon. That's a big risk she's taking there. She insists it's their only option because if they call off the plan entirely they'll have to deal with Michael's wrath. But...didn't Michael compel the hybrids? He couldn't have compelled them not to kill Damon? Uh, Vampire Diaries, your plot hole is showing.

Back in the present again Katherine informs Stefan that she wanted to save him as well, or rather, to save his humanity since she liked the old Stefan better. She also claims that no matter how much vampires try to shut their humanity off it always tries to fight its way back in. Stefan says he doesn't want to let his emotions back in, not after everything he's done (*cough*coward*cough*) but Katherine needs him to feel so that he can do what she needs him to do next: get mad.

If you're wondering where Rebekah's been through all this, she's having an epically bad day. Not only has she recently found out that her beloved brother Klaus is the person actually responsible for killing their mother, but now she's going to help kill him (let's just say she's having mixed feelings). On top of that she has some major daddy issues (she blames Michael for turning them all into vampires and destroying their family). And it gets worse. As she's getting ready for her first ever high school dance Elena shows up with Rebekah's necklace (aka Elena's necklace/the first witch's necklace/the necklace that wouldn't die). More emotional upheaval for poor Rebekah (even I'm starting to feel sorry for her). On the bright side she doesn't have a chance to wreck her makeup crying because a moment later Elena shoves a dagger through her back and into her heart. Elena had good reason (she couldn't risk Rebekah turning on them and helping Klaus) but still--that was cold.

Ty and Caroline are also on the emotional upheaval train. She's (rightly) upset that he's spending so much time with Rebekah, not to mention the whole sired by Klaus thing. After he knocks her out and she regains consciousness in her own bed she has serious trust issues with him. Ty tries to explain that it's worth it for him to be under Klaus's control because his life is better now. Thanks to Klaus he doesn't have to go through the pain of turning at the full moon (or at all). And he doesn't want Caroline to give up on him. Unfortunately for Ty, Caroline just can't deal with him anymore. High school love--so fickle.

The episode ends with Klaus getting a call from Stefan, who lets him know that since he took everything from Stefan, he's returning the favour. As Stefan is saying this Klaus discovers that the coffins containing his family are gone. Klaus's instant response is to threaten to kill Stefan and everyone he knows. Stefan's not too concerned, though, because if Klaus kills him he'll never get his family back. Then he asks Klaus whether, since he spent the entire episode talking about how he's been one step ahead for the last 1000 years, he was prepared for this.

Like I said, not really a bad episode but that plot hole--along with other lesser issues--ensures it's not a good one, either. And I feel that this describes the entire season. A few bad episodes are understandable and forgivable but I think we've passed that limit on TVD. Come on, guys--bring back the inspiration of season 2.

Fang Files

Appearance: Pale human until the vampire emerges, then dark/red eyes, dark facial veins and prominent fangs. Hybrids' appearances change depending on which aspect is dominating (wolf or vampire).

Strengths: Ability to compel humans. Originals can also compel other vampires. Can feed on human, animal, or vampire blood. Resistant to most ways of being killed. Fast healing. Ability to turn emotions/humanity on or off at will.

Weaknesses: Werewolf/hybrid bites. Witchcraft. Vervain. Stakes. An Original vampire can be temporarily killed only by a special dagger dipped in the ashes of an ancient white oak tree. An Original can be permanently killed only by a stake made from that oak tree. A regular vampire can't use the dagger on an Original without dying themselves.

Mythology: Michael basically invented vampires by using magic to make himself and his children immortal (the blood lust and other drawbacks were unintended side effects). These are the Original vampires. To be "sired" means that a vampire has an unusually strong connection and loyalty to their maker, putting their maker's needs above their own. Vampires need an invitation into a private residence.

Sound Bites

Klaus: [on the phone to Stefan] Portland is fantastic--once you get over all the whiny music and healthy-looking people. [Side note: isn't Seattle the place for whiny music?]

Elena: We can't trust Rebekah not to turn on us.
Damon: Oh, really? 'Cause, you know, vampires are usually so reliable.

Ty: [to Caroline] I'm here hanging streamers and I have glitter all over my hands. If I'm sired to anybody it's to you.

Damon: Do you trust me?
Elena: Yes.
Damon: Then you have nothing to worry about.

Damon: [to Michael] Why feed on vampires? Don't tell me it's for the smooth aftertaste.

Doorman: Invite only, vampire.
Damon: Here's my RSVP, [rips out the guy's heart and tosses it on him] hybrid.

The Vampire Diaries, Season 3 Episode 9 "Homecoming." Written by Evan Bleiweiss. Directed by Joshua Butler. From The CW.