a review by Evie Kendal
The House of Night (HoN) series is a young adult paranormal romance series written by mother-daughter writing team P.C and Kristin Cast. It currently consists of ten novels, Marked, Betrayed, Chosen, Untamed, Hunted, Tempted, Burned, Awakened, Destined and Hidden, and three novellas, Dragon’s Oath, Lenobia’s Vow and Neferet’s Curse, in addition to the companion guide, The Fledgling Handbook 101. This review will focus mostly on the earlier novels of the series and thus contains minimal spoilers.
In the fictional world of HoN,vampires are “out” and represent some of the richest and most influential members of society. In the first book of the series, Marked, 16-year-old protagonist Zoey Redbird discovers she is a fledgling vampire after being “marked” by a vampire tracker. The crescent moon imprinted on her forehead is a sign of her impending fate: she will either successfully transition into a vampire, or the change will kill her. As a fledgling vampire Zoey must leave her regular school and start attending the House of Night, a nocturnal school run by adult vampires who all possess special powers bestowed on them by the Vampyre Goddess, Nyx. Students learn what to expect and how to behave as vampires and are given a mentor from within the faculty staff to guide them through the transition. They may also be “chosen” by one of the school’s cats, as is the case when the taciturn tabby, Nala, deigns to grace Zoey with her company during her time at school. As with all high schools, hierarchies form, alliances are made and friendships secured, however in this high school teenage rebellion may involve invoking powerful evil spirits and there is the constant fear that any day your friends’ bodies might reject the change and they will die.
It isn’t long before Zoey and others discover she is not an average fledgling vampire. She appears to have been specially chosen by Nyx and her “mark” is more elaborate than anyone else’s at the school. Zoey also has an affinity for all five elements, Air, Water, Fire, Earth and Spirit, while most vampires only ever master one. At the beginning of the series the High Priestess and principal of the school, Neferet, decides to become Zoey’s mentor and encourages her to develop her abilities, eventually putting her in charge of a special group of talented students known as the Dark Daughters. Throughout the HoN series Zoey must deal with the jealousy and insecurity of other girls in the school, an overabundance of male attention (both human and vampire), and the conflicts within her human family outside of school. She finds close friends, complicated enemies and is generally at the centre of every major disaster affecting the human or vampire world.
Although the major elements of the vampire mythology used in HoN are all rather cliché, there is some artistic flair in how these elements are manifested (the intricate vampire tattoos distinguishing vampires from humans being one example of this). The first-person narration from Zoey’s perspective is also executed very well and gives the reader a good sense of her character and how it changes as she grows into her abilities. The alternate histories provided throughout the series are also very amusing, with vampires being substituted in for major world leaders and artists, as well as contemporary celebrities. The books are all quite short and easy to read, and it is possible to pick up the series partway through and still keep up. The plots are quite simple but most still manage to be interesting and the problems facing teenagers are explored in a way that encourages discussion of complex issues without being too preachy. In fact, HoN manages to be very political in parts while avoiding becoming an “issues” series, a rare quality in young adult fiction.
One of the major failings of the HoN series is how it treats female power. Although constantly reflecting on how women’s power has been traditionally demonised and thwarted throughout history, HoN commits even worse violence on empowered women by casting them as evil, deranged or bitchy. With the exception of Zoey all the more powerful female characters are eventually exposed for misusing their Goddess-given abilities for personal gain. Even in the case of Zoey, her extraordinary abilities are not something she has earned herself, but rather were forced on her according to the will of a more powerful female being. I also found Zoey’s multiple romantic relationships unconvincing and her reactions to certain situations implausible (often leading to irrational decisions existing only to advance some plot complication). HoN also falls into the same trap as various other young adult paranormal romance series by valorising teacher-student romantic involvement, which I find thoroughly inappropriate. Finally, the dual authorship of the series is not as seamless as I would have liked with two quite distinct “voices” coming through – one well-versed in high school lingo and the other in descriptive prose.
I have the same reservations recommending House of Night as I do various other young adult paranormal romance series, particularly regarding its representation of romantic love and relationships. While these elements are unlikely to impact an adult reader as severely as a young adult reader, there are some very unhealthy messages being supported in this series that warrant caution. However, if a young adult reader has already consumed Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series, HoN can hardly do more harm, and at least has the benefit of being faster-paced.