Berkley, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-425-24042-7
Night School is the fifth book in Mari Mancusi’s Blood Coven series, but it can stand alone or be read out of order just fine. While there is a semblance of a sober story line in this series, the series is a hybrid of sorts. It’s part playful satire, with the main characters breaking the fourth wall and poking fun at current vampire pop-culture; it’s also part paranormal vampire romance with some unexpectedly weighty angst at times. Incidentally, this book serves as a spoiler for the previous book, Bad Blood, so you shouldn’t read this book or this review if you don’t want to know the “twist” at the end of the previous book.
So, the “twist”. Like much of the series, this “twist” is a defiantly improbable one. In fact, it’s outright retcon: Rayne MacDonald and her twin sister Sunny learn that their parents are actually members of the Sidhe, with their mother being a runaway princess who fled to this world to elope with their father, her bodyguard. And being all about free love, their parents actually entered a ménage à trois arrangement with Heather (this isn’t delved in with explicit detail, however), and the “divorce” only happened when they realized that their unusual arrangement could expose the whole family and bring on the wrath of the Sidhe. So, Daddy never meant to be a deadbeat dad (he was staying away to keep the family safe), Grandma is actually an actress hired by the family to play one (the real Grandma was the Queen of Tír na oÓg), and now that Grandma is dead (murdered by the Dark Court, apparently), the Sidhe are coming to make Sunny go back there and become the new Queen! Eeek!
When a Sidhe party crashes the MacDonald abode, Rayne does her thing and ends up staking a very important fae person. As you can imagine, this is a bit of a diplomatic crisis. Thus, Heather make Sunny and Rayne hide away in a very isolated school for Slayers in Riverdale, Switzerland, while Mum and Dad go to the Magic Kingdom to try to sort things out for the sisters’ sake. Ah, but Riverdale Academy has its share of dark secrets, one that Rayne and Sunny are about to find out soon enough…
This story is narrated from Rayne’s point of view, which is always a good thing that she is the genre-savvy and sarcastic sister who knows how to crank out the best lines using pop-culture references from Harry Potter to Bella Swan to Buffy to… well, everything. She knows her genre, after all, and she displays a charming self-awareness of how ridiculous the story can be at times. This story also introduces some interesting developments, such as Rayne getting addicted to fresh human blood, the appearance of a big bad hot boy student who eventually becomes the MacDonald sisters’ worst enemy, and the over the top fantastic depiction of Tír na oÓg as Disneyland with a deadly undercurrent.
Unfortunately, as entertaining as Night School can be, it is also a seriously underdeveloped book. The sisters’ adventures in Riverdale Academy and Tír na oÓg are squished up and resolved at a bullet train pace, so while there are plenty of intriguing possibilities to this story, these possibilities never get a chance to develop into something fantastic. This is one book that should have been split into two, I feel, for maximum satisfaction. I want to see more of both Riverdale Academy and especially the Magic Kingdom, and the accelerated pacing of this story only allows me a cursory glimpse of things.
This one is a pleasant addition to a series that contains enough Easter eggs for adults who feel that they are too old or jaded for the current crop of paranormal young adult romances to still enjoy this one. Indeed, there are plenty of jokes about sparkling woo-woo to enjoy here. But the underdeveloped feel of the story also means that it comes off rather lacking when compared to the previous books in this series.