by Sarah Beth Durst, fantasy (2012, reissue)
McElderry Books, $8.99, ISBN 978-1-4424-2374-9
Dear people, this review will contain references to the major plot developments in this story. Yes, there will be major spoilers, so be warned. I hate to do this, but this book is such that I can't talk about my reaction to it without touching on these major plot points.
First, the story itself. It's like how some people love to eat beef, but the moment they work in a cattle ranch, they become very fond of the cows and, before they know it, they can't even look at a plate of corned beef without weeping for poor Bessy who died to sate the hunger of the cruel carnivores in us all. That's what vampire Pearl Rose Sange goes through with human cattle when a freak encounter with an actual unicorn ends up with her gaining the ability to walk in the sun and look at her reflection in the mirror.
Her parents are the hosts of the annual ball for the King of Vampires, and the King and his courtiers require, er, more food than usual. So what they decide to do is to enroll Pearl in the local high school, have her make some new friends, and lure thee friends into inviting her and her family into their abode for a drink. Okay, that's bad, but you know what I mean. It's not so hard to trip up teenagers, but to Pearl's horror, she is starting to like her new friends a bit too much. She's a vampire - she thinks of humans only as food... food that makes her laugh, feel like she has finally found a family that understand and accept her. There's Evan Karkadanns, who is probably the only human that has her thinking "Bite me!" in a manner that doesn't end up with him in a morgue.
What is poor Pearl to do? She will actually die - her family isn't exactly the Addams family, all warm and loving - if she goes against her people, but can she go along with her family's plan to turn the folks at her new school into party drinks?
Now, there is nothing particularly awful about this story. It's, in fact, a very readable story. I can't put it down once I start reading. The story is nowhere close to being as "snarky" and "anti-Twilight" as it is hyped up to be, but it is a solidly paced story with solid build-up. The teenagers populating this story are stock stereotypes, and there are moments when I feel that I am reading an enthusiastic fan's take on some Buffy crossover tale with a Faith-like protagonist. Still, it's one very enjoyable read.
However, I groan - loud - when the author drops the revelation of the true nature of Evan and some of the other people in this story. Here's the thing. Unicorns - the author can either go the predictable "cute, ooh!" pink-ribboned route or just go all out and turn up the crazy so that I have no choice but to embrace the camp and get all giddy with the flow. Unicorns as vampire slayers - now, that is something that is so absurd yet so brilliant that I could just love the concept. The love interest as a were-unicorn? It's crazy, so crazy that it feels so right.
But I groan because the author doesn't go all out enough to make this aspect of the plot work. The story is, for the most part, rooted to common vampire and teen angst tropes, and it doesn't stretch far enough. The unicorn thing is so crazy that it's brilliant, but the rest of the story is nowhere as crazy. In fact, the depiction of vampires in this story is disappointingly standard and uninspired - it's like a pure evil version of Anne Rice's vampires, so evil that they resemble Scooby Doo villains sometimes. Therefore, the unicorn's big stake stands out for all the wrong reasons - it's like a constant beacon reminding me how fabulous this story could have been if the author had pushed the envelope completely off the table.
The envelope remaining mostly un-pushed ends up working against the story considerably. Pearl starts out pretty good as a 180 of a typical heroine = she's bad-ass, cold, mean. But it's pretty evident soon enough that she's just a lost and confused lonely Goth girl, designed to appeal to any reader who fancies herself the outsider among her peers. I'm fine with this, but I'm at the same time confused by the author's intention when it comes to Pearl.
Pearl commits at least one action that, from what I can gather, is considered unforgivable by some readers. I'm okay with Pearl doing things that are beyond the pale because, remember, she is a vampire raised to think of humans as food.
What I am not entirely fine with is how disappointingly predictable and even conventional Pearl's character arc is once she's had her terrifying epiphany on how she's losing control of herself while trying to sort out her conflicted feelings. I can see why Pearl feels that she needs to betray the humans to her family in a need to gain their forgiveness even if they treat her like crap - they are the only world she knows up to that point, and Pearl is a young vampire, lost and scared. But the author has Pearl being really naïve to the point of stupidity in order to "redeem" Pearl after her betrayal. It's how clichéd this turn of event is that I find disappointing. I've seen enough movies and read enough books where this thing always happens, and I feel that this story and the heroine deserve a fresher approach from the author.
Also, I'm surprised that Pearl is okay with the fact that she is, basically, Evan's social experiment right from the start. Evan and his friend have pulled a very reckless, very stupid even, stunt with Pearl, but I guess it's okay because, in the end, nobody that matters dies! This is the second book by this author that I've read, in which the main characters' reckless stupidity is often waved aside because everything turns out okay in the end, and I wonder whether this is going to be a pattern. Also, Evan doing what he does also means that he basically mind-rapes Pearl into being what she is without her permission - but no one seems to want to, or dare to, acknowledge this at all.
Mind you, the issues I pointed out in the last few paragraphs would have worked wonderfully if the author had written this story in a more outrageous manner. For example, have Evan being less of a bland Mr Perfect guy stereotype and more of a less likable, more ruthless anti-hero unicorn that only cares about getting his desired outcome from his actions - that would make his role in Pearl's transformation from emo vampire bitch to the vulnerable lost lamb less of an unfortunate implication on the author's part. Don't tell me that Pearl is bad-ass only to chicken out by having Pearl behaving more like a familiar misunderstood little girl.
Basically, the author should have owned and accepted the most disturbing undercurrents of her story, and just run away with them. Less predictability and safety, more crazy. The plot and the heroine deserve that.
Drink, Slay, Love is more than adequate for a day of fun with a book, but I never feel that it is anywhere as great as it could have been.
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