I needed a break from my hard-hitting summer reading list this weekend, so I dug out my copy of Abigail Gibbs’ The Dark Heroine: Dinner with a Vampire (2012) for a little escapist change of pace. It’s a novel of love and adventure between human teen Violet Lee and vampire royal, Kaspar Varn, with whom she has a chance encounter one night in London and ends up drawn into his dangerous world.
This is basically the WORST thing I’ve ever read, with the exceptions of Fifty Shades of Grey and Beautiful Disaster. If I’d known a few things about the book and its author last year, I would never have spent one red cent on it in the first place. And I might have set the display table on fire for good measure. For instance:
- Apparently Gibbs is a Twilight fan who craved something more “bloody and edgy”, and started her own story. But if you thought you were done with Twilight’s trademark longing glances, brooding and possessive love interests, and forbidden touches, don’t worry. It’s all here.
- The Dark Heroine‘s original incarnation, Dinner with a Vampire, took form on Wattpad, a fan fiction website, ultimately reaching 17 million hits before the book’s publication. Fifty Shades of Grey, the original bane of my existence, also started as Twilight-inspired fan fiction. ‘Nuff said.
- Gibbs started writing The Dark Heroine at 14 and finished at 16. Now, I’m not saying that someone aged 14 to 16 can’t write a good book. I just think that someone who’s experienced about 0% of life is probably not going to write “the sexiest romance” I’ll read this year, or know anything about “a passion that transcends separate worlds” as the back cover would have me believe.
And even if none of that were true, the actual content is reason enough to avoid The Dark Heroine like the proverbial plague. Human teen Violet Lee and vampire heartthrob Kaspar don’t share a “chance encounter” so much as she is actually kidnapped and held hostage by Kaspar and his misunderstood vampire buddies after witnessing them mass-murdering a bunch of slayers in Trafalgar Square. I’m apparently supposed to like these characters, but they’re both annoying after the first few pages, and by the end the best I could muster is apathy.
Kaspar describes Violet a few times as “feisty” which, when paired with a book title containing the word “heroine”, gave me the impression that Violet must be kind of kick-ass, and a definite handful for the vampire prince trying to keep her captive. But no, she mostly whines about being held prisoner, rationalizes Kaspar’s rough handling of her, and runs back to him when he actually gives her a chance at freedom. I’m pretty sure the alternate title of this novel should have been Stockholm Syndrome: A Case Study.
And then there’s Kaspar Varn. I’m at a complete loss as to why he’s the love interest and why I’m supposed to like him and his constant douchebaggery. He’s a total ass hole and creep who can’t decide one minute from the next whether he wants to kill Violet or bone her, and just generally insists on roughly grabbing her arms and wrists and slamming her into walls and such. In one scene, not long after she’s almost raped and drained by a different vampire, he slaps her hard across the face to snap her out of her hysterics. Violet herself considers this action “effective” and says nothing.
And let’s not forget that in this world, a vampire’s bite is excruciatingly painful and the recipient is just supposed to lie back and think of England. So when Kaspar tucks in and bites Violet while they’re having sex, her screams are more of agony than bliss. He knows it, but he keeps doing it anyway because it’s just so satisfying. There is just no measure to how much it creeps me out that this deliberate infliction of pain is being interpreted as passion by those who, I can only assume, have had elective lobotomies.
What I’m getting at is that this book is purportedly some kind of sweeping, epic romance, but what Violet and Kaspar really seem to share is a twisted, one-dimensional facsimile that perpetuates the same messages I seem to keep encountering these days:
- Women should be flattered by and attracted to men who wield their strength and power against their foes, and even themselves, in the name of love and what’s best for them, and
- That a woman’s love has the transformative power to turn abusive and manipulative ass holes into more mellow, well-adjusted individuals.
I can’t even begin to truly articulate how disturbed I am by this apparent trend of idealizing the misogynistic content and abusive relationships represented in popular young adult fiction like Fifty Shades, Beautiful Disaster and The Dark Heroine. I’m not talking about consensual BDSM relationships, because as far as I’m concerned that is NOT what you’ll find here. What these works of fiction are trying to pass as “realistic” and “edgy” romance would in real life earn a call to the cops, but people are just eating it up. And then you see things like this on Twitter:
This from young women whose poor judgement is undoubtedly influenced somewhere along the line by these books and their derivatives. There is a serious problem when women are writing this kind of shit for young adults, and I can’t understand why there aren’t more of us speaking up about it. It makes me feel like I’m living one of those dreams where I’m screaming and screaming but no one can hear me.
Doesn’t anyone see how women just keep tearing themselves down with this shit? How are women ever supposed to be treated with true respect when we’re so quick to embrace the people and things that disrespect us?