Saturday, February 26, 2011

Book Review: Marked, by P.C. Cast & Kristin Cast

Authors: P.C. Cast, Kristin Cast
Paperback, 306 pages
Published by St. Martin's Griffin, 2007
Genre: YA vampire romance, paranormal romance, urban fantasy

Having greatly enjoyed The Twilight Saga, I am now forever hooked on the young adult genre, especially where vampire romances are concerned. I have therefore been browsing ever since, hoping to find similar romance novels.  Thus I discovered the House of Night series, among others. 

I finished Marked, the first book in the series, about a month ago; I have actually been putting off writing this review, because I have again come across a book which has inspired very mixed feelings.  I both like and dislike this book.

The premise for the vampire world in this series is definitely a very original, intriguing one: some people have inherited ‘the vampyre gene’; their transformation begins when they reach a certain age, and are then singled out by a Tracker, a vampyre (this is how the authors spell the word) whose special assignment is finding and marking new fledglings. 

So it is that Zoey Montgomery, sixteen-year-old normal, average high-school student, is Marked, when a Tracker suddenly appears at her locker one afternoon.   Pointing a finger at her, he recites the formal words that identify a new vampyre fledgling.  The Mark appears on her forehead at once – a sapphire-colored, crescent moon.

Zoey’s life is completely changed.  She has to deal with the reactions of her mother and stepfather, and ends up running away to find her Cherokee grandmother, who, far from condemning her, lovingly accepts the change, and takes her to the House of Night, a special boarding school for those who have been Marked. 

Zoey leaves everything behind – her old school, her friends, even her family, for they have rejected her - to begin an entirely new existence.  She now has new friends, entirely new school subjects, a new name – Zoey Redbird -- and even a new religion.

The book reeled me in from the start, immediately immersing me in Zoey’s world.  I related to her right away, as I remembered my own rebellious struggles with my parents, as well as the injustices of high-school social life.

My first inkling that I would not wholeheartedly love the book came in Chapter Two, in which the authors first drop the F-bomb -- twice.  I couldn’t help cringing, as well as feeling a surge of anger toward P.C. and Kristin Cast.  I completely dislike coming across this word, whether in young adult or adult fiction.  However, I feel that it’s even more inappropriate in a YA novel.  Unfortunately, this book is peppered with the word.

Then, just after Zoey is admitted to the House of Night, she unwittingly gets a sordid little glimpse act of oral sex taking place in a darkened school hallway.  True, the Casts don't go into details, but they write enough that the reader knows what's going on.  I realize that they were trying to make a certain character look manipulative, shallow, and despicable, as well as to highlight, in contrast, Zoey's innocence and noble character.  Subsequent incidents in the story bring out this contrast in a completely satisfactory manner, however, so this scene is entirely unnecessary, not to mention inappropriate for a YA novel.      

I plunged ahead in spite of these things, since I was, indeed, intrigued and fascinated by the story.  Then the next problem surfaced – bigotry.  This is a charge commonly leveled at right-wingers and Christian Fundamentalists.  Ironically, left-wingers and minority religious groups are rarely accused of it.  Yet, we are all human, whatever our politics or religion may be, and thus, all equally susceptible to the errors of the human species. 

I was thus extremely disappointed to discover an anti-Christian bias in this novel, while at the same time, there was heavy proselytizing for Wicca.  The authors, who are a mother/daughter team, don’t call Christians by name, identifying them as “People of Faith” instead; this is, ironically, a rather beautiful title.   Their portrayal of anyone who is Christian is stereotypically negative – all Christians are intolerant and narrow-minded.  What is most offensive, however, is the characterization of all Christian men as “pedophiles”.  Here’s the actual quote, from page 27 of the book, so anyone who doubts me can look it up for themselves: 

“…by another equally hysterical call that would activate the dreaded People of Faith prayer tree.  Within thirty minutes our house would begin to fill up with fat women and their beady-eyed pedophile husbands.”  (emphasis added)

My enjoyment of the storyline was entirely marred by these things, but that’s not all I found objectionable.  Equally irritating is the authors’ constant attention to political correctness, as well as their preachy way of presenting it.   There’s a token gay vampire, as well as a token black one.  The Wiccan religion – which, in this book, contains some very beautiful rituals in honor of the Greek goddess Nyx, the patron of all vampyres --  is presented as a much more preferable alternative to Christianity. 

There’s certainly nothing wrong with presenting political or religious views in fiction.  It’s the way it’s done, however, that makes the difference.  A fiction writer should never allow these views to get in the way of telling the story.  That’s just what the Casts have done here.  The plot is intriguing, fascinating, to the point that I was compelled to finish the book, but I had to grit my teeth while reading, most of the time.

The way Wicca is tied into the story is quite effective.  I found it totally fascinating, especially as Zoey emerged as a strong leader, a very likely contender for the title of High Priestess.  I especially liked the way she refused to be cowed by Aphrodite, and took matters into her own hands to deal with the challenges she was inevitably confronted with.  I found her to be a very likable character.  If it weren't for her anti-Christian bias (indeed, she seems to be a spokesperson for the authors' own feelings), I would have added her to my roster of favorite fictional heroines, right next to Jane Eyre and Bella Swan.    

Unfortunately, I cannot give this novel my enthusiastic endorsement, because of the reasons stated above.  In spite of their excellent story-telling skills, the Casts' inclusion of these disturbing elements created too much of a barrier to this reader's full enjoyment of the book.  If the rest of the books in the series contain similar elements (and they probably do), then I know I will not want to read them .



  1. Hmm, I actually read the whole of the series so far. It gets better in the next two books and then goes into a serious slump. I couldn't get through the last three books, especially the new one, Awakened. (OMG, I just couldn't get through it) I can't fully agree with the anti-Christian thing either, but maybe it's just that Zoey's experience with them and her stepfather makes her think that way? I hate the language thing though. I sort of really liked that token gay vampire though :p

  2. Hi, Ani! You know, I think I'll give the book three stars. The plot is very original, after all -- I've never read a vampire novel in which some people become vampires as a normal part of their growth, nor have I ever come across "a vampyre goddess".

    As for Zoey's experiences with her parents making her feel that way, well, I just get the feeling that Zoey is a spokesperson for the authors. She's just too adamant about her hatred of Christianity. Why would a 16-year-old girl lump all Christian men together that way? I could understand it if a Christian man had raped her. When someone is attacked by a member of a particular group -- whether male or female, Christian, or whatever -- that person does tend to lump everyone in that group into the same category. Nothing like this has ever happened to Zoey, however. So why would she make such a comment?

    As for the token gay, I don't mind having him in the story. It's just that the authors keep making it so very obvious that he's gay. They try too hard to be "politically correct". The same thing goes for the black female vampire -- they make sure the reader doesn't forget that there's a dark-skinned vampire in the House of Night. Now I ask -- why just ONE gay vampire, and ONE black vampire? Why aren't there more representatives of these two groups? They're just tokens the authors have placed into the story, to assure the reader that they're card-carrying members of the left wing.

    I loved how they tied Wicca into the story, and the whole goddess thing. I just didn't like how they bashed Christianity in the process. It wasn't necessary to do that in order to extol the beauties of the Wiccan religion.

    Thanks for visiting and commenting!! : )

  3. Now that I consider it, I've never really thought about the anti-Christian perspective of the book. Since I'm not Christian I can't comment on that either. What I do know about this series is that it gets mind-numbingly dragging as it progresses. (Though, actually, more gay characters do come to surface) I don't think I'll be continuing with it after ditching Awakened halfway.
    Thanks for the comment on the blog :):):)
    (ooh, and Aphrodite's actually the only character I sort of liked later on in the series. And Stevie Rae. So it's not the usual kind of series after all. If only it had been better done and fitted the YA genre properly...)

  4. I think this overgeneralization is appalling even if the reader is not Christian. It's prejudice, plain and simple. However, it does bother me more precisely because I happen to be a Christian. I know that there are very intolerant Christians out there, but not ALL of us are like that! The authors don't know if their readers belong to the religion they (the Casts)are so biased against, so they shouls have been more careful.

    Although Christianity does frown upon witchcraft, there are still those of us Christians who feel attracted to their accompanying spiritual worldview. So, if some of us are, indeed, open-minded enough to read a novel containing Wiccan rituals, then the authors shouldn't lump us all together into an intolerant bunch.

    Interesting that more gay characters surface, later on in the series. Maybe the Casts were criticized on this point.... I have to say, while I have nothing against gays, I would not want to read a love scene between two such characters. After all, gays wouldn't be interested in reading a love scene between two straight characters, either.

    OMG!! You actually LIKED Aphrodite?! Well, maybe she mellows out in later installments of the series, eh? I CAN'T STAND her, in this book!! I think Zoey handled her very, very well -- that's one of the things I DID like about the book. In fact, Zoey was a class act! As for Stevie Rae -- she's one of my favorite characters in this book! She does seem a bit stereotypical ar first, but then she seems to expand and grow as a character. She's a GREAT friend to Zoey!!

    It's really too bad that this book, because of the things I have mentioned in my review, does not quite fit into the YA category, although most of the characters are teens. Actually, REAL teens DO use bad words, and are quite knowledgeable about sexual matters. I guess I'm comparing any YA book I read to The Twilight Saga. Since Meyer's books do not contain these things (well, there was an occasional bad word or two along the way...but NEVER the F-bomb!), I guess I now expect ALL YA books to be just as clean. But heck, YA authors should set an example, I think! These books are often read by pre-teens, too!

    Oh, well....thanks for commenting again, and yo're very welcome for the comments I posted on your blog! : )

  5. I've bought the book some time ago and still have not read it. Now after reading your review, I'm not sure I'll ever going to read it. I don't like f bombs in books either. But male writers like to use them a lot.

  6. I have read the entire House of Night series, and I love it! I thought Aphrodite was a hoot from the beginning - you've got to have someone you love to hate, and she only gets better, lol. Eventually she becomes pretty cool.
    The books do actually get better as they progress.
    Gena Robertson


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