My Love Lies Bleeding
by Alyxandra Harvey, fantasy (2010)
Bloomsbury, £6.99, ISBN 978-1-4088-0340-0

Alyxandra Harvey's My Love Lies Bleeding is published in the USA as Hearts At Stake. I don't know about the American version, but the packaging of the UK edition is geared towards attracting fans of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight saga. From the cringe-inducing synopsis at the back cover that reeks of Mary Sue gone wild to the shameless blurb assuring me that any fan of Stephenie Meyer's books will love this one, My Love Lies Bleeding scared me so much that I was afraid to even look at it at first. However, the title is intriguing, and I kept thinking about how much I like the poetry of it. After one too many listens of soundtracks of emo people, I figured that I wouldn't contract a terrible disease or anything like that if I gave this book a try. What can go wrong?

Well, how about me morphing into some vampire-obsessed teenager? It scares me how much I'm starting to like all these stories of fifteen-year old girls running around chasing after vampire boyfriends, and My Love Lies Bleeding doesn't make it easy for me to stay cynical.

This story can't be any further than the sparkling stories of Stephenie Meyer. If we want to compare this book to some established popular young adult vampire series, I'd say that this one shares some superficial similarities to Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy series with some lighthearted humor thrown in.

Imagine the Cullens armed to the teeth with guns and other weapons and you will get the Drakes. The Drakes are one of the most esteemed vampire families in the Raktapa Council, which are made up of a special type of vampires - vampires who are born, not made. Like the rest of her brothers, Solange Drake is born human until her sixteenth birthday, when she will then sicken and undergo a death-like episode. Nourished by blood, she has to stay strong and break out of this episode with her sanity intact. Failing to do so means that she will never wake up or, worse, turn into a berserk type of vampire called the Hel-Blar.

Solange has a problem never faced by her brothers: she is the only female vampire born to any noble family in the last 900 years. As her sixteenth birthday approaches, she doesn't just have to fret about overcoming her body's transformation into a vampire - her body exudes pheromones that has every male vampire coming out to court her. This includes the dreaded vampire uber-villain Leander Montmatre. These vampires aren't courting her or trying to kidnap her out of affection. An ancient prophecy foretold a queen born into an ancient family that will rule all the vampires, and Solange is the only person who fits the bill. It is due to this prophecy that the Drakes have been exiled by the current acting ruler Lady Natasha because she views Solange as a threat to her power.

The Drakes currently live in a farm, isolated from most people. Their neighbors are the Hamiltons. Lucky "Lucy" Hamilton's parents are hippie types and both her mother and Solange's mother go way back even before Helena Drake was turned into a vampire. The two families are very close to the point that Lucy isn't just Solange's best friend, she is considered an honorary Drake by Solange's family. Solange often thinks that Lucy will make a better vampire than she - Lucy is courageous, outgoing, tough, and resourceful.

In My Love Lies Bleeding, all hells break loose as Solange's sixteenth birthday approaches just around the corner. Someone has put a bounty on her head, and this someone could be anyone, from Lady Natasha to the human vampire-hunting organization called the Helios-Ra. When Solange is kidnapped during a trip to Lady Natasha's court, Lucy and one of Solange's brothers, Nicholas, find themselves being unlikely allies in a race against time to rescue Solange - especially as Solange will be rendered helpless when she enters the transformation phase.

Sorry, fans of alpha males, Nicholas is as beta as can be. He is actually quite amusing. As he is eighteen to Lucy's fifteen-going-on-sixteen, the relationship doesn't feel too unbalanced or creepy. These two bicker, argue, and poke their elbows into each other's ribs, but it is obvious that they like each other way too much. They work very well together too, and I especially love how Lucy is an active partner in the whole operation to rescue Solange. She is resourceful, she comes up with good ideas, and she has a thing for weaponry. Of course, she is outmatched, physically, by vampires who possess great strength and such, but she's not helpless and she doesn't lay dead and give up that easily.

Solange exhibits a different kind of backbone. She is raised to be the proper lady and her family is so protective of her that she's never going to kick rear ends like Lucy, but she isn't the kind to play the victim waiting to be rescued. Her strength lies more in her willpower and her determination to keep going despite the fact that her body is betraying her. She has an unlikely blossoming relationship with an 18-year old Helios-Ra recruit who remains by her side as they try to seek safety.

Because this story is told from the alternating points of view of Solange and Lucy, the guys are not as well-drawn as the ladies. But there are enough moments to make the romance take flight: for example, Nicholas's unexpected confession that thinking of Lucy keeps him sane during his transformation and Kieran feeding Solange his blood during a penultimate moment. These scenes actually work very well without coming off as mawkish or silly.

Make no mistake, this is not a sedate love story. There are plenty of skirmishes, fights, and decapitations (don't worry, there is no gore here as vampires turn to dust the moment they die). It isn't just the men who do all the heavy-duty fighting, mind you. As the Drake men kick rear ends, Helena Drake is chopping heads and staking the unworthy like a regal queen. The vampire society is in many ways matriarchal - a queen rules them all - and the women participate in a fight as much as the men. I like that. Solange doesn't take part in fights here, but she has a good excuse as she's unconscious by that point, heh.

My Love Lies Bleeding is action-packed and totally enjoyable, with the added bonus of laugh-out-loud lines, fun romantic tension between kids who may not always be wise, and strong female characters. I wasn't expecting anything but some corny Twilight rip-off when I opened this book, but by the last page, I'm utterly ashamed of my initial preconceptions and I want to read the next book now.

Rating: 91

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