Pages: 549 (Paperback)
Series: The Dark Heroine #1
For Violet Lee, a chance encounter on a darkened street draws her into a world beyond her wildest imaginings, a timeless place of vast elegance and immeasurable wealth where a decadent group of friends live for pleasure alone. A place from which there is no escape…no matter how hard Violet tries.
Yet all the riches in the world can’t mask the darkness that lies beneath the gilded surface embodied in the charismatic, sexy and very dangerous Kaspar Varn.
Objectively the worst book I have read, not just since I started thinking critically about books or reviewing, but ever. Dinner With a Vampire combines all the worst traits of paranormal romance – a bratty and self-absorbed female narrator, an unlikable physically, emotionally, and sexually abusive love interest, vampires who are ‘perfect’ with no faults or weaknesses, the human character being somehow more ‘special’ than other humans, barely fleshed out side characters, forbidden love etc. etc., you name it. Just a few of these would be bad enough on their own even if written competently, but instead we have them mushed together nonsensically into a big mess where basic principles of writing such as ‘plot’, ‘continuity’ ‘character development’ and ‘worldbuilding’ seem unheard of. It’s a genuinely terrible book, and one I wouldn’t recommend to anybody (and would advise people who have ever been raped or in an abusive relationship to steer well clear of) but somehow I couldn’t bring myself to actively hate or abandon it. It’s so bad that I had to keep going, just to see how much worse it could get (the answer: lots) but too bad for me to hate it. Rather than resent her poor writing, I can’t help but feel rather sorry for the teenage author (I certainly wouldn’t like my teenage writings published!). This is, essentially, a first draft of a book that should never have got past the publisher’s slush pile, let alone seen the light of day as a published novel and as such it feels very harsh to judge it even by the basic standards of what I expect in a published work.
The reason why it did get past, of course, is obvious: ’17-year old Abigail from Brixham, Devon is already an online sensation, whose writing has attracted over 16 million views on Wattpad. None of her fans have yet to discover the breathtaking end to the novel and there is a huge anticipation to read the finale.’ There, right on the back of the Advance Review Copy is the only reason this is being published: to cash in on a huge ready-built online audience by forcing them to buy a copy if they want to read the ending. Shame on you HarperCollins, shame on you. This is, presumably, also why the book doesn’t read like it’s had a proofreader, much less a competent editor – it has to be rushed off the press before the fickle online audience move on and abandon it. Continuity and worldbuilding issues abound. As an ARC I’m meant to ignore basic spelling mistakes and typos that won’t get past publication (‘would of’ instead of ‘would have’ was one particularly frustrating example but there were many more) what I can’t forgive the editor though is allowing some of the dreadful, confused, and often contradictory writing to slip through. In only the third chapter we have this gem ‘The sun was beginning to rise, and I glanced at my watch’ followed in the very next paragraph by ‘it … was approaching sunrise’. Basic, basic mistakes – later being able to feed without killing forms a major part of Violet’s decision to turn into a vampire, except…well she should already know that from right near the begining. Elsewhere we have bizarre phrasing – ‘her skin draped in her coat’ does not sound like a description of a living person, much less an appealing description of one. Has she been flayed? No. Then surely what’s meant is that the coat was draped over her skin. And that’s far from an isolated incident, there are innumerable sentences and phrases that just sound wrong. The sort of basic ‘wait a sec…did you really mean to say this?’ stuff that should be so so easy to correct but have just been left to lie because, y’know, 16 million readers already hooked, right? No need to bother spending time to make it a quality product! Again, shame on you HarperCollins, shame on you.
Not, however, that this book could ever have been made into a truly good book. The phrases could have been tightened, the basic mistakes corrected, but this was always going to be a horrible book due to the poor plot and dreadful characters. Credit where credit is due, I suppose, the author tries to steer clear of the ‘vampires are sexy but not remotely scary’ trope that’s slipped into vampire fiction recently. The vampires murder and rape without the slightest compunction, they’ve been ‘defanged’ instead by forcing them to act like the stupidest, most immature, and most petty sort of teenagers imaginable. When you have a man supposedly in his hundred’s threatening his older sister that he’ll tell daddy when she lost her virginity well…it’s hardly dark and sinister and it’s certainly not ‘charismatic and sexy’.
And the author tries to have it both ways, ‘Kaspar is dark and sinister, but he’s also a gentle little puppy waiting for the right woman to turn him into a noble prince’. Those other vampires may be cruel and vicious, but he’s just misguided. And what better way to emphasise it than by using rape as cheap drama. Now Kaspar may have threatened to rape Violet, he may have sexually harassed her several times, but when another vampire violently assaults her he’ll come rushing to her rescue. What a hero! Oh wait, no, he still kidnapped, assaulted, harassed, and threatened to rape her. In fact, even after they have (surprisingly explicit) consensual sex, his pillow talk consists of telling her how he plans to rape the daughters of his enemies. No matter what ‘nasty’ vampires in this book you compare him with, Kaspar will still never be ‘charismatic, sexy‘ or even likable. I can fall for ‘evil is sexy’ in my fiction, what I can’t fall for is a character written to sound exactly like the sort of bloke who would rape you and then feel sorry for himself when you didn’t like it. It’s not compelling evil it’s petty evil and it’s sadly all too common in real men, it doesn’t need romanticising in fiction.
And then the whole ‘rape as a tool to push two characters together romantically’… oooh boy do I hate that trope. I don’t object to rape in fiction; it’s a real thing, it happens, frequently, and it needs to be discussed openly and not made taboo. The test though is in how an author deals with the after affects. What rape in fiction should never be is simply an easy excuse to scare a female romantic lead away from all men but the ‘hero’. And guess how it’s handled here? Yep, exactly that way. Before the rape; she hates Kaspar and sees through all his shit. After the rape; he rescued her and now they’re best friends and she totally wants in his pants. It’s handled so badly and so insensitively (despite a few ‘I felt dirty, I shouldn’t be acting this way’ protests from Violet that never ring quite true with everything else shown on the page) that only a few pages, and a few days, after almost dying from the attack she doesn’t mind at all when Kaspar sneaks into her room while she’s asleep, covers her mouth to stop her screaming, and then practically demands she consents to having him suck her blood. Better still as soon as he leaves his best friend comes in (the other side of the love triangle) and forces a kiss on her which she’s totally ok with. It’s just…it boggles the mind really.
I could go on about the bad things in this book forever but what, I think, they mostly stem from is being originally published serially online. Even if I didn’t know the origin of this book I’m fairly sure I could guess it just from reading it. It doesn’t read like a book, it reads like someone’s simply hit the print button on an online fiction and then just bound the pages together. Instead of natural, flowing, plot and character development this book is just a string of things happening for no particular rhyme or reason. No time for proper world building or character development, got to keep the audience coming back, can’t let up the pace! This might be tolerable when reading one chapter a month, maybe even one a week, but read it all in one go, as one reads a novel, and you realise that the tone and characterisation are just all over the place and that actually, no, it’s not ok for these things to be happening so soon after these other things. Then there’s the bits that seem obviously inspired by feedback comments from fans ‘oh you’re so Kaspery! – It’s a word I made up’, ‘I can’t die! I’ve never been to Disneyland!’ ‘It’s pronounced Sage-en, not Sagean’ (this last one is particularly dumb because the character had only ever heard the word so would have no reason to be pronouncing it with an ‘a’ in the first place). Add to this the fact that the plot doesn’t even make sense – the easiest and least dangerous thing to do would just be to give Violet back to her family, bind her to an agreement of secrecy and let her go on her way. There is also no way Violet could possibly ‘know’ the big secret she guesses blindly, and even less way that the vampires hadn’t already considered it. Then there’s the sudden shift in genre near the end of the book as well; it’s all ‘clichéd vampire romance’ WHAM! ‘Actually there are several alternate universes and Violet is the heroine who has to save them all!’. Except instead of ‘wham’ it’s more of a ‘oh shit, I forgot to do my worldbuilding earlier or set up this plot thread properly but this is totally what this book is actually about’.
And then Violet Why should I care for this character? I can feel sorry for her situation, but she’s not written to be sympathetic in any way. She’s lost her brother and that’s meant to be a big plot point for how she ended up where she did, except he barely gets referenced three times and it’s always ‘it was really sad when he died, it affected me a lot’ without ever actually seeing it affect her. Her ex-boyfriend cheated on her but that again gets about three references, and her little sister has cancer, but she’s too busy drooling over Kaspar to think of her family more than about twice and then acts like a total bitch to them at the end. She slut shames all of the previous girls Kaspar has ever slept with, deciding they must be ‘whores‘ (as far as I can tell none of them are sex workers and Charity, the girl particularly demonised by Violet actually did fancy and want a relationship with Kaspar, it was him using her purely for sex), she pretty much slut shames her best friend (never mentioned again) in the first chapter, does the same to Kaspar’s sister, and continues to call all Kaspar’s exes ‘whores’ as she is physically shagging him. Why should I like her? She’s a judgemental bitch and her Stockholm syndrome isn’t written in anything like a believable enough way to stop her just looking like a complete idiot.
In short, it’s simply too bad for me to bring myself to hate it with the same fiery passion I hate better written novels, I just feel kind of sorry for it. Terrible writing, terrible editing, and a terrible plot. 0 stars.
Thank you to Waterstones for sending me an Advance Review Copy.