Saturday, September 4, 2010

Vampire Weekend, Part V: "Marked" by P.C. and Kristin Cast

Marked: A House of Night Novel (House of Night Novels)
Title: Marked
Authors: P.C. an Kristin Cast
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin, 2007
Where I got it: I bought this at Barnes & Noble.

Set in a world where vampyres are a normal part of life, and in which most celebrities and high-profile people are in fact “vamps,” Marked by P.C. and Kristin Cast, the first novel in their House of Night series, centers on newly marked vampyre fledgling Zoey Redbird. In this world, vampyres are "marked," or chosen by the vampyre goddess Nyx; they are then sent to a school for fledglings, or not-yet-adult vamps, called the House of Night. The series begins with Zoey’s marking and subsequent move into the school, as the new girl on campus. There are all of the typical school problems: mean girls, new boys, deaths of old friendships and the forging of new ones (one of which is the only gay vampire I’ve come across).

But Zoey is a really weird case for a fledgling. After she hits her head in a fall, she has a dreamlike run-in with Nyx, and upon regaining consciousness, the mark on her forehead (every vamp has a mark) is colored in. The thing is, this isn’t supposed to happen until a fledgling graduates to full vampyre. She also discovers she has premature bloodlust (only adult vamps require blood-drinking to survive). And as if all this weren’t enough to make her stand out, it appears Zoey has an affinity for all five elements—air, water, earth, fire, and spirit—a blessing that is all but unheard of in the vamp world. Apparently Zoey is in for an atypical high school experience, even for a vamp.

Zoey narrates the book and has a very engaging voice and sharp wit, making for a really fun read. She talks like a teenager talks, unlike some other books aimed at teens where it’s clear the author was trying too hard to sound like one. Zoey comes off as really genuine and likable. My only issue with the narration is that it tends to get preachy when it comes to drinking, drugs and sex—the tone is condescending and is a real turn-off. But the preachy moments are only sprinkled here and there, and for the most part I was absorbed with the story and the details of the vampyre world.

The vamps in this world follow some of the typical vampire folklore, such as drinking blood and not being able to go out during the day easily (it is possible, but very uncomfortable as they are very sensitive to light). But there are also drastic differences from the typical vampire image, notably the blending of pagan beliefs and rituals with Native American beliefs (Zoey is part Cherokee). The rituals and services held in honor of Nyx are reminiscent of Wiccan practices (the pentagram plays an important role in both, to name one similarity). I, for one, found this fascinating. Cats are also vital in this world—many vamps own a cat, and the cat chooses its owner. The vamps have a special connection with this animal, though it isn’t really delved into too deeply in the first book (Zoey is chosen by a cat, whom she names Nala).

Another difference from typical folklore is the fledgling stage of vampyres. Fledglings are not guaranteed to make it to vamp adulthood—their bodies can reject the Change (from human to vampyre), happening out of the blue and killing them within minutes. Fledglings are not supposed to crave blood, but are often hungry and eat a lot of food (the House of Night insists it be mostly healthy). After they are marked, a tattoo appears on their forehead, an outline of a crescent moon; when they become adult vamps, their tattoos are colored in and often they will be embellished by Nyx, a gift given through her power.

A riveting read and nice blending of different belief systems, the first House of Night novel is a worthwhile and fun addition to the vampire teen lit canon. Not only is it told from the perspective of a believable teen heroine, it also gives us another strong female role model and broaches gender issues without putting the readers off. However, it is geared toward an older audience; there is a lot of swearing and sexuality that would make this series decidedly for teens.

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