Marked, by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast
September 11, 2008
Marked is the first book in the young adult House of Night series. It’s set in an alternate world where, for unknown reasons, some teens become vampires. After being marked by a vampire tracker, these kids go to a magical vampire school where they learn about their new abilities and society. The humans have an interesting reaction to vampires. Though some are accepting, fear is a much more common reaction despite the fact that most of the world’s actors, musicians, and other celebrities are vampires. In the book, they’re actually referred to as “vampyres,” but I have an irrational dislike of cutesy alternate spellings and I just can’t bring myself to type it out that way over and over (even if I could remember to do it consistently over the course of an entire review).
The story begins when Zoey Redbird learns that she’s a fledgling vampire. Her estranged boyfriend, her flaky best friend, her emotionally-distant mother, and her zealot stepfather freak out in various ways. The only person in her life who is supportive and positive about her future is her grandmother, a highly spiritual woman who assures Zoey that she’ll still be herself no matter what changes her body goes through.
Before reaching the House of Night school, Zoey has a vision that leaves her with a surprisingly developed Mark – the mystical tattoo on her forehead that signals her progress in becoming a full-fledged vampire. This obvious difference from her peers makes her a target of Aphrodite, the most powerful girl on campus. But Zoey quickly finds friends and allies who are happy to help when she decides not to back down from the bully.
I liked the story quite a bit, and plan to read the next book in the series. I hope that the vampire school aspects get a little more attention, because those were some of the most fascinating parts to me. I enjoyed the stuff about the classes, traditions, and structure of the school, and the few interesting snippets about the interaction between vampires and humans.
But I’d also like to see Zoey face a little more of a challenge. The negative things that happened to her seemed very light, especially when compared with her new group of close friends, the hottest guy in school smoldering at her, all her classes seeming great, all her teachers being nice, the powerful priestess that chose to mentor her, and the special little cat that decided she was its human. Oh, and that whole having the potential to be the most powerful vampire priestess in hundreds of years thing. At this point Zoey is in serious Mary Sue territory.
I’m sad to say though, that I had one problem with Zoey that was more serious than her disconcerting level of perfection. It has to do with her one big flaw, though I’m not sure if the authors meant this to be a character flaw or not. She’s extremely judgemental when it comes to sexuality.
Yeah, I’m on the record as not being a fan of constant, graphic sex scenes in novels. But having a sixteen year old character be so derisive of other young women who explore sex is disturbing. It might make more sense if these were younger kids, but the other first year students seem around Zoey’s age which would mean that at least some of their classmates are nineteen, twenty, or even older.
There are a lot of references to blow jobs. I was tempted to write the first comment off as an attempt by the authors to include something that was considered a big teen issue by some in the media for a couple of weeks, but Zoey refers to what sounds like consensual oral sex as being “used.” She’s quick to consider any kind of romantic contact (and occasionally just desire) as slutty. She thinks of a former friend who is interested in her ex-boyfriend as a slut, and then wonders if she herself is acting like a slut after wanting a boy to kiss her and then kissing him goodnight after he walked her home. As the female antagonist, Aphrodite is often insulted with sexually-charged words, and the only explicit scene involves her desperately offering one of those dirty, dirty blow jobs in an attempt to win affection from a guy that claims to have moved on. It’s as if we’re supposed to know from the start that she’s a bad girl as much from her sexual behavior as from her attitude.
Vampirism has often been used as a metaphor for sexual awakening, and a main part of Zoey’s character development centered around learning to accept her rising bloodlust as a natural reaction of the changes in her body. Having her be so judgmental of the increased sexuality that comes with growing up as either a vampire or a human is disappointing. If Zoey can become comfortable with becoming a blood-drinking vampire while still thinking that normal human sex acts are gross, icky, and slutty, then I won’t be able to like her much longer.
Normally these issues would make me hate, hate, hate a book, but for some reason I still thought Marked was pretty good. I guess I’m cutting it some slack for being the start of a series, and I have reason to hope that Zoey can grow up and face more difficult problems now that she (and the reader) have a handle on her world.