Passion by Lauren Kate

Passion is the third book in a YA series about a girl, Luce, who falls in love with a fallen angel, Daniel. And this isn’t the first time she’s fallen in love with him either. She’s been reincarnated countless times, and in each life, she loves Daniel and spontaneously combusts. The first book is about her first meeting with Daniel (in this lifetime) and falling in love with him, then finding out about the fallen angel stuff. Much of the second book is about Daniel trying to protect Luce from crazy cosmic angel stuff that’s going on, and her getting frustrated with him not telling her every single thing about their past lives. Finally she gets so fed up with that situation that she leaves and goes back in time to find out for herself. I had been kind of lukewarm on the first two books, but I liked that decision enough to pick up Passion.

I don’t know how anyone ever writes about angels and heaven and hell and all that. Conventional, sentimental portrayals don’t interest me, not since I was about four and my favorite book was The Littlest Angel. I don’t know how you could ever write these topics well without totally reinventing them, and that involves having an entirely original metaphysics and cosmology. The one good example I can think of is Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, which rewrites the story of Adam and Eve, shows God dying, and ends with the establishment of “The Republic of Heaven.” So I guess in one way I have to salute Lauren Kate for having the guts to take on the topic. But the result was pretty conventional, if not sentimental.  Reading the scene in Passion where the Fall happens and the angels pick sides between God and Lucifer was so weird for me. “Is that really what you think God is like?” I kept wanting to ask Kate. “How can you possibly know?” 

Beyond the portrayal of matters beyond human comprehension, there is much that is bad and worthy of mocking in this series. Lauren Kate has written a definite successor to Twilight in that the romance is over-the-top and at times poorly written. Some examples:

  • Luce envied the water, envied the sand. Envied everything that got to touch Daniel when she was stuck up in this tree (167).
  • Daniel’s love for her was one long, uninterrupted stream. It was the purest form of love there was, purer even than the love Luce returned (256).
  • “No mortal man, no slab of stone can obstruct a love as true as ours. I will always find you” (377).

Another annoying thing was this Jiminy Cricket type character, a gargoyle named Bill, who guides Luce through the past. As soon as he turned up I groaned. It was obvious that he was there purely as a vehicle for exposition and a conversation partner for Lucy. And that he was going to betray her, because why would a good guy appear in the form of a gargoyle? Of course, he turns out to be Satan, encouraging her to cleave open her soul to end the curse.

When I put on my grad student and feminist glasses and look too closely at the books, I am uncomfortable with the way they connect love and death. Luce keeps dying in the midst of a first passionate kiss. Spontaneous combustion is great as a metaphor for how a really amazing kiss feels. But when it actually happens to a character again and again, it’s not just a metaphor. Luce annihilates herself through loving Daniel. In her search for the truth about her past, she seeks that moment of annihilation out. After merging with a past self and having a near death experience, she describes it this way: “she was happy when she died. I was happy. Ecstatic. The whole thing was just so beautiful” (227).

My issue is this: when you take these ideas into the real world, as teenage readers will long to do (I know, I was one), they get kind of scary. I don’t like the idea of young girls reading these books and wanting to “lose themselves” in a kiss, and then in a relationship, until they don’t know who they are without a man. I’m not sure whether or not love is really worth dying for, but I know a lot of teen suicides sure thought so.

I had many of these same qualms about Twilight. (Someday I’ll have to write extensively about Twilight here.) Despite all these philosophical issues and my annoyance with Meyer’s verbal tics and graceless sentences, I enjoyed Twilight because there was something viscerally compelling and appealing about it. I find this series less compelling than Twilight, but still worth reading in a guilty pleasure way.

I will read the next books in the series because I want to see if Luce and Daniel eventually establish some kind of relationship of equals. There seemed to be potential for it, given the way the second book ended. I think there’s room for Kate to do something interesting and even progressive if she has it in her. Perhaps the next book will reveal that of course the whole annihilating-yourself-for-a-guy thing was a bad idea because look, Satan was encouraging it.

A much better book about a couple who meets again and again in different reincarnations is My Name Is Memory, by Ann Brashares (author of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants). Although again, the guy (also named Daniel) remembers everything about the past lives and the girl (named Lucy, no joke) doesn’t, they are more equal in that they’re both human, and there are no angels or phenomenal cosmic powers. Brashares also does a better job with the various historical settings than Kate does.


15 thoughts on “Passion

  1. Groan, those lines you pulled! But I like your reading of it, that she annihilates herself for love. I’m very, very curious why this particular undoing appears to appeal so much to the current generation of young readers. I’ve not read Twilight, but know enough about it to see the similarities.

    • I’m curious too. It’s not just young readers either–many of Twilight‘s biggest fans are in their thirties and forties. I kind of get about half of it–I mean, death and danger are sexy, adrenaline and bad boys, etc. There’s a reason they call it le petit mort. But the other half, the part where the character literally dies for love, that’s where the trend loses me. Corpses are not sexy.

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