Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Science Majors, Vampires and a Frat called EEK: My review of "The Dead Girl's Dance" by Rachel Caine

Because in Morganville, murder was sort of legitimate, wasn’t it?
The Dead Girl’s Dance, Rachel Caine
Claire has her share of challenges. Like being a genius in a school that favors beauty over brains; homicidal girls in her dorm, and finding out that her college town is overrun with the living dead. On the up side, she has a new boyfriend with a vampire-hunting dad. But when a local fraternity throws the Dead Girls' Dance, hell is really going to break loose.
                The first Morganville Vampires book send with quite the bang – I won’t spoil it, but it leaves you with your mouth open screaming at the page in front of you, trying frantically to unread the last page and return the story back to a modicum of normalcy. Oh yes, dear Readers – I was left in shock, shaking my head saying “No, just no – couldn’t have happened, I read that wrong.” For more proof, and what I thought of the first amazing book in this series go here

                So, the end of the last book needed some sort of resolution, so onwards to the first page of the second one, where we jump right into that last scene and relive the horror of it, trying not to throw the book across the room as we reread the shock of it. And then suddenly it’s over and we have to continue – but where can you go after everything that’s happened?

                Deep into the town of Morganville, that’s where. 

                As we discovered in the first book – Morganville was founded by vampires who have some nifty tricks up there sleeves to keep their location safe and secret, the humans under their control and anyone who leaves from coming back to exact revenge.

                Of course, that all works fine in theory – but Shane (Yay! Shane!)’s family left after his sister died in a fire, and though Shane came back before Book One, and stole our hearts, his Dad has now come back and is ready to rip Morganville apart – because he remembers it all – the vampires, the cover ups, the killings and the human casualties – and he is angry. Armed with a bunch of prohibited items, a gang of bikers and – gasp! – Shane’s reconnaissance, Papa Collins is out for revenge and he is willing to take everyone down with him.

                Vampire control over humans in Morganville is very tight – particularly when one of their own is staked through the heart – and all evidence points to Shane. But there are so many secrets still underscored by Claire’s experiences in Morganville that you get caught up in all the little mysteries you know will eventually come to light – like the strange vampire who lives at the end of the alley who everyone avoids, or the weird carefulness Amelie has towards Claire, and the repercussions of all their decisions. Caine weaves this impossibly tight web around her world and draws you in  like a spider, only to leave you wanting more by the end. The decisions her characters make are difficult, but each carefully constructed sentence is a stone one the cobblestone path to another avenue of Morganville, and so you can’t help but encourage Claire to be a little reckless – to figure out what is at the end of the alley, and how far she can push and threaten Oliver.

                Claire can be irritating at times – she hovers between childlike and adult in so many ways, that you are never quite sure which side of her will be piqued by what is going on around her. When she’s with Shane she becomes almost a seductress – she has confidence and curiosity and pushes him against his wishes at time, in order to make it clear that she wants him. At the same time, when she’s with Michael, her kid sister routine is firmly in place, even though she notes he is attractive and her best friend’s boyfriend. Claire is smart – but not street smart, too a point. She doesn’t need to be crossed more than once to realize there’s a bad element, but she’s too naïve to stop herself from helping anyone she sees is struggling. She is our main character – the eyes through which we see this world, and for that she is exceptionally good. She has a natural curiosity, a young voice and a steel spine when push comes to shove – she will not go down without a fight.

                Which is good since there is always “fight” in Morganville.

                Book two was a great combination of discovery and action – on the one hand, the events of the first book have not been forgotten by the Vampires or their Human slaves – and they are out to get those in the Glass House, with or without Founder protection. Added to that, the increasingly unstable and scary Mr. Collins – a biker, a drunk and a violent vampire-killer – and everyone is after him. These two scenarios pique the action of the book into a frenzy at time, culminating in kidnappings, torture, secret bombs and a Mexican stand-off in the middle of Morganville during daylight. The action is tempered during parts of the book by daily everyday things that Claire somehow manages to make into discovery expeditions of what life in Morganville is really like.

                She looks for the historical society and finds Amelie in the unlikeliest of places; she tries to gain Shane’s freedom and discovers an even darker side to Oliver; and she goes back to classes, only to be invited to the Dead Girl’s Dance.

                The Dance itself – the conception of a frat called EEK and a zombie themed dance is a twisted sort of brilliance on Caine’s part: it is such a funny way to look at Morganville – usually secluded from the prying eyes of the students, as a happening place with zombie parties. It’s quite the comparison to the actual town itself. It is also a lot more gritty and real then you would expect, grounding Morganville in our own world, interlinking to two to an extent where you actually begin feeling a tad alarmed. At the dance, Claire who as I mentioned before is not so high on the street smarts, gets drugged by a boy and locked into a room with three other boys. As spoil free as I can be, Claire gets herself saved – but the aftermath, where Eve and Claire and her potential rapists are all hiding in a closet, scared for their lives, there’s this gem:

“Yeah, until these two turn us in,” muttered another boy. “For you know, the thing.”
“You mean for attempted rape?” Eve whispered fiercely. “Jesus listen to you. The thing, Call it what it is, you asshole.”

              Don’t you wanna slap the guy? I did. And so did Eve, I imagine. To have something so real in an urban fantasy book is kind of unique – the equivalent of having someone complain about their galactic tax hike on Star Wars. It’s a small thing, but powerful and Caine uses it well to fix her world concretely in our own.

                Another example of this is the release of Eve’s brother from prison – Eve’s human brother. He was in prison for killing a human girl. It’s strange and sort of exciting in a way to have, in the midst of a vampire story, a mundane human killer. Though nothing happens to him or with him through the rest of the book, he hangs on the periphery, as if waiting to see when the best time to wreak the most havoc will be.

                Finally, my thoughts lead me to Sam. Sam is a gentle vampire who was the last vampire made before no other vampires could be made – he is the aftermath of an era long gone, but has a sort of protective ferality that is astonishingly … sweet. His character is a complex mess of human and vampire, both kind and cold, but mostly kind, and you’re never quite sure how far Claire should trust him – given his fidelity towards Amelie. He becomes so much more complicated as the story goes on, in the same way that Caine leaves little mysteries for you to pick up. I look forward to seeing Sam in the subsequent books – and I cannot wait to see him really interact with Vampires.

                In general, this second Morganville Vampires installment just whetted my appetite for more – more Claire and Shane, more Michael and Eve, more Vampire feuds, complicated families, secrets and mysteries. This one, sort of, did not leave off hanging – but the way that Caine writes, I find that her books are more like chapters, and the series is one book – so naturally, I grabbed my copy of the third book yesterday morning and began reading the third chapter of this saga – and already a few pieces have come together. There are loads more to be discovered, and I cannot wait to race my way to ultimate resolution!

                Go pick up a copy! This is not your ordinary YA Vamp book!

Portuguese Cover! Yay! :D

Up Next to Review : Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Read if you liked:
  • Stray by Rachel Vincent
  • Huntress by L.J. Smith
  • Nightshade by Andrea Cremer
  • Teeth: A Vampire Anthology