Graphia, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-547-25940-6
Fantasy, 2010 (Reissue)
Beth Fantaskey’s Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side is… I don’t know. It gets plenty of critical acclaim for being an “original take” on vampire young adult tropes, but I suspect that those people doing all that gushing must have never read a story of this sort. The vampires in this book may not sparkle, but they can walk in daylight – that is already one strike against its originality there and then if it wants to claim to be different from Stephanie Meyer’s you-know-what.
Jessica Packwood, 18, is a math nerd who is hoping to get cozy with the local hottie Jake Zinn. One thing I initially like about her is that Ms Fantaskey doesn’t pigeonhole Jessica completely as a nerd. Oh, Jessica is an outsider in the sense that she doesn’t get along well with the blonde cheerleaders – don’t we all, honestly? – but she doesn’t walk around moping about being an outsider. She seems wonderfully normal, like any typical young lady, and I like that. Of course, all that is going to change once she meets that guy, sigh.
Jessica knows that she is adopted. Her real name is Antanasia Dragomir and her real parents passed her to her adopted parents in what seemed like a desperate need to keep her safe. Because her adopted parents were studying weird cults in the Carpathian area when they found her, Jessica doesn’t like to think of her biological parents much, as she suspects that they might be members of some cult. All that changes when Lucius Vladescu shows up, claiming that she is his fiancée, they must get married to unite their feuding families, and yes, they are both vampires.
Never mind the spectacularly unoriginal names of the main characters, this story initially is still readable. Still, I am not fond of Lucius as he behaves like a typical alpha male, invading Jessica’s privacy, behaving like an entitled twit, and throwing fits when he doesn’t get his way. This particular alpha male comes off as extra creepy when I think about how he’s supposed to look like a teenager.
Maybe it’s the fact that these characters are teenagers eventually makes this book too disturbing for me. I mean, we have an eighteen-year old girl practically forced to marry some creepy guy who doesn’t treat her well at all in the entire book, and she doesn’t really have a choice in the matter. How could she, when she’s told that countless vampires will die in a war that will start should she refuse to marry Lucius? Ms Fantaskey says that Jessica loves Lucius, but I honestly don’t see any sparks between those two. Just a young lady clobbered by fate into becoming pretty much the child bride for Ken the Bloodsucking Doll here. And even then, Ms Fantaskey drags Jessica’s dignity through the mud before getting her to become Lucius’s bride.
You see, in the first half of the book, Jessica refuses to play Lucius’s game. She doesn’t let that jerk walk all over her. But Ms Fantaskey then proceeds to punish Jessica for this in the later half of the book by having Lucius shack up with everyone’s favorite punching bag in young adult stories geared at young ladies, the standard slutty blonde cheerleader. Jessica by that point for some reason realizes that she’s in love with Lucius. Ms Fantaskey proceeds to put Jessica in an even weaker position of power as Jessica proceeds to make a fool of herself in her jealousy. And even better, Lucius is doing this because he wants Jessica to be free – a classic “I’m ditching her for her own good” plot development – only, he sort of neglects to inform Jessica of this and causes her to think that he just wakes up one day and decides to get some from someone else. Ms Fantaskey tries very hard to justify Lucius’s antics by highlighting his sad childhood, again another tired plot device prevalent in romance novels. No, that trick doesn’t work, especially on an abusive asshole who looks 18.
What’s more unforgivable, to me, is how Lucius is dragging that floozy into trouble without her knowledge. His clan demands his marriage to Jessica to proceed or else, and they won’t hesitate to remove the floozy for good in order to make this happen. Since Lucius supposedly loves Jessica even as he brings his new girlfriend into his bedroom for fun and games, that makes poor Faith Crosse a potential collateral damage in her fling with a guy who doesn’t tell her that he’s engaged to marry another woman. I know we readers of young adult romances are supposed to hate blondes because they are more beautiful and glamorous than we fat bookish readers, but come on, let’s not take things that far.
To conclude, Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side is nothing more than a tale of a young woman falling in love with the wrong guy for the wrong reasons. And this is made even more disturbing a read because the heroine who is making the mistake is 18 and she will be locked in an ever after that gives her no chance of escaping this asshole beau of hers. Why on earth does a young adult romance insist on the heroine marrying so young anyway? Are we still in the 1800’s? And that’s not counting the author’s obvious plot contrivances to ensure that Jessica has no choice but to pine after Lucius and the presence of tired and eye-rolling tropes like “he’s an asshole but it’s all the fault of his mean relatives” and “he’s just being cruel to me because he really loves me”.
Ultimately, I’d take Edward Cullen anytime over Lucius Vladypoopoo. Why? When Edward ditches Bella for her own good, he doesn’t proceed to make out with some floozy and bring her to his bedroom while not even bothering to hide this from Bella. No matter what Edward’s flaws are, he’s never this much a cheating and mentally abusive boyfriend from hell wrapped up in shiny glitter and presented as a knight in shining armor for a young lady who has every trace of her independence and will beaten out of her in the name of “love”.