Feast of Fools by Rachel Caine
I’ve said before that the Morganville Vampires series is one of the better Twilight copycats out there. It has a strong heroine, menacing villains, shifting alliances, plenty of suspense, and decent mysteries. However, it does suffer from the endless-series problem that the Southern Vampire Mysteries also has.
In the first half of the book I was kind of annoyed with the cliched dynamic between almost-seventeen Claire and her overprotective parents, who ironically haven’t protected her from much of anything. There’s an awkward and overdone scene where her father goes on about how he’s not comfortable having his daughter living in a house with two slightly older guys, and she needs to move home with them immediately. Of course, boyfriend Shane’s respect is the only reason they haven’t had sex yet, because Claire sure is raring to go, so dad’s disapproval is misdirected. And of couse Mr. Model Boyfriend is perfectly polite while being called a future rapist. This scene didn’t really add anything to the plot and was absolutely ridiculous. What kind of father actually says these things to his daughter in front of her friends in a public place in 2009? Then as soon as this conversation is over, the characters are swept up in the action, and it’s forgotten. This scene had no business surviving the first draft.
There are too many scenes about Claire and Shane’s mutual sexual frustration. The making out is not described in a very interesting way. I got tired of hearing them both groaning about how hard it is to stop. (You know what? I’ve been there, and it’s actually not all that hard to not have sex. Sorry to destroy 80% of your romantic tension, YA writers.) Claire feels guilty about the fact that Shane gets sooo turned on but stops himself because he’s so honorable and she’s definitely jailbait, and the text doesn’t interrogate that feeling at all. She has no reason to feel guilty of course. The only reason she does is that she’s absorbed cultural messages about how martyringly difficult it is for a guy to not have sex once he’s aroused, which of course is bullshit. The text should make that clear, though the limited POV might make that technically challenging.
Claire is showing signs of attraction to her friend Michael the vampire, which may be laying groundwork for her to have a relationship with him later in the series. I see no reason for her to have a relationship with Michael, unless dramatic possibilities just start running out, as the book contract outlives the book ideas, and romantic pairings have to get shaken up just to make something happen. If these little moments of noticing Michael’s hotness are not about foreshadowing, then they’re just about reminding the reader that Michael is incredibly hot, which has really bothered me in other books because it is boring. The only other possible interpretation I can think of is that Claire is in the middle of a sexual awakening, and noticing men’s bodies in general for the first time because of that. The fact that she also checks out Myrnin supports this theory; the paucity of comparisons to Shane detracts from it.
On top of these other weird sexual things going on in the book, there’s a new evil female vampire in town who’s got her eyes on Shane. Her scenes just seem implausibly theatrical. Claire witnesses this lady practically humping Shane in the middle of the grocery store. For real. She uses mind control or something. He feels all dirty and violated afterward. When he’s forced to escort her to a costume party, she makes him dress as a submissive in leather and a leash. It’s kind of interesting how these interactions feminize Shane, but that doesn’t make them any more believable. I think they’re also supposed to arrouse Claire’s jealousy, but they don’t really. She doesn’t really beat herself up or compare herself to the vampire the way that Bella Swan would. She understands that he doesn’t want this seductress, and is more concerned that Shane might get raped by her or something. That clearheadedness makes me like Claire even more, but doesn’t keep me from wondering, “WTF?”
I think it was soon after that grocery store scene that Michael gave a concert in a coffee shop and had all these girls falling over him too. By that time I was starting to get sick of all the women falling all over these two guys, and all the tantalizing hints of oh-so-forbidden sex. It was overkill, and again, it didn’t advance the plot.
Obviously, the weakness of this book was its sexual issues. The strength of this book, and the series, is the suspense from the mystery of Claire figuring out what’s going on in this dangerous vampire-run town and using clever strategies and pluck to survive. In this book, there’s a powerful new vampire in town who’s threatening all kinds of people. There’s a party coming up that seems both exciting and sinister. Myrnin is cryptic. Characters do inexplicable things, and Claire tries do figure them out. There are chess metaphors. When the series focuses away from sex and relationships and onto power dynamics, it’s at its best.
In the first half of the book I was considering giving up the series. But the exciting action and inevitable cliffhanger got me by the end. I’ll give Morganville at least one more shot.