Thursday, August 18, 2011

A More or Less Satisfying Installment - Aside From Zoey's Mind-Numbing Boy Drama

Source: Author Website
Hunted (House of Night #5) by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast (St. Martin’s Press, 2009, 336pp.)

Having fled the House of Night after the dark angel Kalona takes over, Zoey and friends find themselves huddled in the red fledgling stronghold under Tulsa. A few days into their self-imposed exile, a skirmish with one of Kalona’s henchmen leaves Zoey severely wounded. Knowing that she will die without proper vampyric treatment, the gang has no choice but to return to campus. How will they survive Kalona’s reign of terror, especially since he holds the entire student body and faculty in thrall? The beginning chapters move at a somewhat sluggish pace, chronicling the goings-on at Zoey’s impromptu camp, as well as a few altercations between Heath (who joins forces with Zoey’s group) and Erik (now dating Zoey again). It’s only until the characters are forced to relocate to the House of Night that the action really starts. And of course, the Casts just can’t resist throwing in a good old-fashioned love quadrangle. Zoey once again finds herself juggling two other love interests in addition to her relationship with Erik. The first is with Stark, a fledgling with a Goddess-given talent for archery, and the second is with her ex-boyfriend, Heath, Zoey’s willing blood donor who butts heads with Erik constantly. As with the Erik/Heath/Loren subplot in Book 3, the Casts spare no one when it comes to teen melodrama. But aside from Zoey’s mind-numbing boy drama, Hunted is a more or less satisfying installment in the series.

Plot Develops, But Majority of Characters Don’t

Source: Author Website
Untamed (House of Night #4) by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2008, 352pp.)

After the disastrous events that brought book three to a close, Zoey’s life is going a little better. She’s back on speaking terms with her friends, and Stevie Rae is back to her sweet old self. The gang is even starting to get along (sort of) with Aphrodite, Zoey’s surprising new ally. But as seen from the end of Chosen, danger is just beginning. Aphrodite has a vision that delivers a terrifying prophecy: a dark angel known as Kalona is predicted to rise after centuries of imprisonment and enslave woman-kind. What to do?! The mystery that builds around the legend of Kalona is what primarily drives the plot of this installment, and it’s definitely to the authors’ credit that the Cherokee-inspired mythos of the series just keeps getting better the deeper they delve into it. But Untamed, like the books before it, has its problems. With the exception of Aphrodite and Stevie Rae, Zoey’s circle of friends remain nothing more than a host of underdeveloped groupies. Rather than take the time to explore these characters, the Casts continue to treat them as props, relying on the same gags and trademark banter they’ve used as before: Damien wows the others with his extensive vocabulary, and his boyfriend, Jack, is so opaquely fey that it’s embarrassing. Not to mention joined-at-the-hip roomies Erin and Shaunee. What do we know about them? Well, we know that one girl is white, one girl is black, and they both love shopping for shoes. Oh, and they finish each other’s sentences. A lot. After such behavior for three (going on four) books, it’s surprising that they haven’t physically fused into one person. The verdict? The Casts continue to develop a series rich with intrigue and world-building details, but many of the characters leave much to be desired.

A Series That's Turning Out To Be As Addictive As Candy - And Just As Nutritious For Young, Impressionable Minds

Source: Author Website
Chosen (House of Night #3) by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2008, 320pp.)

In Chosen, the third installment in the “House of Night” series, Zoey Redbird tries to help her best friend, Stevie Rae (who has recently become “undead,” for a lack of a better word), return to her lovely old self. Her attempts to restore her friend’s humanity at whatever cost is very sweet, engaging, and makes for a good story. Unfortunately, the quality of the novel as a whole is off-set by the other accompanying story-lines, including a somewhat questionable subplot involving Zoey and her three love interests: Erik Night, her “official” boyfriend; Heath, her human ex who’s still in love with her; and Loren, a handsome professor who takes a not-so-scholarly interest in her. Like its predecessors, Chosen is a book buoyed with a few good ideas, but is made lopsided by the weight of its flaws. It sometimes resorts to stereotypes, and very often chooses the melodramatic over the realistic. Christians, here, are portrayed as little more than narrow-minded idiots. When Zoey’s fundamentalist mother and stepfather make their first, and only, appearance in the story, they start spouting Bible verses and fire-and-brimstone rhetoric like there’s no tomorrow. Zoey, meanwhile, is allowed to stand by feeling smug, secure in the knowledge that she is light-years ahead of them with her hip New Age beliefs. The Casts also show little to no dexterity in handling the matter of Zoey’s love life. The traditional “torn between two” plot device is a little threadbare, but at least plausible. The fact that Zoey is being courted not only by two guy friends, but also one of her professors, is ridiculous. The fact that she ends up giving her virginity to one of these love interests, and then later walks in on him gloating about his conquest with her worst enemy—while they’re in bed together—leads one to suspect that the authors have never encountered the concept of subtlety before, either.

I have surely voiced enough complaints to turn some readers away from the series. However—despite its numerous flaws, predictable Mary Sue elements, and teen melodrama, the “House of Night” series has a tendency to grow on you. This is due mostly in part to two characters who truly stand out from the rest: Stevie Rae and Aphrodite. Stevie Rae, a sensitive, cowboy boot-wearing teen with a tender heart (she cries during Lifetime movies), she’s really the ideal best friend any adolescent girl could ask for. Aphrodite, on the other hand, Zoey’s Queen Bee adversary, is evolving from the flat villainess seen in Book 1 into an interesting, out-spoken young woman with more beneath the surface than previously suspected. So, thanks to a combination of limited POV narration (to maintain mystery and suspense), a well-developed (if not exactly mind-blowing) fantasy world, and some surprisingly memorable characters, the cliff-hanger ending of Chosen will have interested readers springing for the next volume. So, to those interested in pursuing the series further, more power to you. It’s not an outstanding series, but it certainly is turning out to be almost as addictive as candy - and just as nutritious for young, impressionable minds. Recommended for Ages 16-18 for language and brief sexual content.