Sunday, November 13, 2011

Book Review: Isle of Night, by Veronica Wolff

Title: Isle of Night
Author: Veronica Wolff
Format: Trade Paperback, 302 pages
Publisher: NAL Trade
Publication Date: Sept. 6, 2011
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance

Naturally, it was the cover that first drew me in.  I especially like the right-hand side of said cover.  The model chosen definitely has the requisite mesmerizing, sultry eyes... Unfortunately, a gorgeous cover is not always a guarantee that the story hidden inside will be equally appealing.

I usually enjoy reading vampire romances, especially those of the young adult variety.  Not this time. 

The reason for this has a lot to do with the unethical underpinnings of this particular tale.  The novel includes kidnapping, forced detention on a gloomy island far away from even the remotest civilized area, and brutal murder.  I totally detest blood and gore when it's treated as just part of the way things are supposed to be.  You simply grin and bear it, or you might just end up very, very dead.  Kill or be killed.  Well, that's just not my cup of tea, which is why I've avoided reading The Hunger Games so far.  However, it goes beyond not being my cup of tea.  It's simply unethical, and totally immoral.

I do like the way the plot is handled, paradoxically enough.  The novel is very well-written, and the main character is very likable.  Annelise Drew lives in Florida, USA, like me, although she hails from a very small town by the name of "Christmas".  She's a genius, too.  Not that I'm claiming to be one, but I can definitely relate to her love of learning.  I can also relate to her lonely existence.  She's an outcast at school, where she's deemed a freak, a weirdo.  Sounds familiar...

What is not so familiar is her family background of abuse.  Her father is physically and emotionally abusive, her mother is dead, and her stepmother is emotionally abusive, although she herself gets slapped around by Annelise's father.  

Annelise has been dreaming of the day she would escape to college, and she's ready when that day finally arrives.  She slips out of the house unseen, driving north to Gainesville, where she plans to register at the University of Florida.  Her plans are altered, however, by an unexpected glitch, and she is unable to complete the registration process.  To make matters worse, her car suddenly won't respond, and a mysterious-looking, sexy guy who's been watching her offers to help.  She reluctantly accepts, and, not long afterward, finds herself being whisked away on a private jet.  She can't understand how she was able to go along with this, but later realizes that the man's mesmerizing, emerald-hued eyes, together with his light touch on her arm, must have somehow hypnotized her, clouding her judgement.  Nevertheless, she's flattered that he would want to take her away with him.

Her romantic little fantasy bubble abruptly explodes when she boards the plane, to find two other girls already seated inside.  Then she finds out the awful truth -- she has in fact been kidnapped, and is being taken to that strange island I mentioned earlier.  She has an inevitable feeling of having been betrayed...

It turns out that she has been 'enrolled' at a special type of school at which girls are trained to be Watchers.  These are vampire companion/helpers whose main purpose is to assist vampires on their secretive, dangerous missions. 

Annelise is wildly attracted to Ronan, the young man who 'recruited' her for this school.  He's a Tracer, which is someone who locates and brings in girls (and boys) to be trained at the school.  Throughout the novel, there's sexual tension between Annelise and Ronan, but he remains aloof, unapproachable, especially since he's her teacher in two subjects -- fitness and swimming.   Her hopes of having a romantic relationship with him are continually dashed.  Perhaps this will be expanded on in the sequel, Vampire's Kiss.  It's quite obvious that Ronan does care for Annelise.  Although he's stern with her at times, at other times, he advises her on how to excel so that she will survive, for not many girls make it to Watcher status.  Many die during the training process.

One of the other girls on the plane is the inevitable cruel, Playboy Bunny-type stereotype who immediately becomes the heroine's nemesis.  Her name is Lilac von Straubing, although Annelise dubs her "von Slutling" in response to Lilac's own nickname for Annelise -- "Charity Case.   

As the novel continues, we meet other characters, and a few of them are surprisingly appealing.  There's Yasuo, a Vampire Trainee (only boys and men can become vamps in this paranormal world, an incredibly sexist situation no one seems to even notice), Emma Sargent, a kind-hearted fellow classmate of Annelise's, and Josh, another Vampire Trainee, who looks deceptively like a jock.  He was a pre-med student at Harvard when he was picked up by a Tracer.

The brutal murder I have referred to takes place pretty early in the novel, shortly after Annelise arrives on the island.  Although the murder itself is totally shocking, the way it's dealt with by the school authorities is just as much so -- the body is disdainfully disposed of, and the victim is never mentioned again, by anyone.  Of course the girls present all scream, but there is no hysterical, mass attempt to escape.  I suppose they realized the futility of such an attempt, but still, their sense of human decency should have prompted them to try.

I couldn't keep on reading for a few, totally shocked minutes.  Then I tried to go on, and failed.  I had to put the book down, and stopped reading it for a few days. 

It was when I picked it up again that I met the secondary characters.  I also went through Annelise's cruel hazing, administered by the Initiates, girls who are further along in their studies. 

Finally, in desperation, I read ahead, to the equally shocking climax.  Annelise has completed her training, and is now an accomplished assassin....  And she is congratulated for it.

I actually had to force myself to keep reading as long as I did.  I even postponed writing this review, since I was still struggling with the book.  As I read, I could feel the heavy, oppressive, and sinister atmosphere of the Isle of Night.  This pervading feeling was one that just wouldn't go away.  In spite of Annelise's often humorous, snarky remarks, and the kind support given to her by Ronan, as well as by Yasuo and Emma, I simply had to stop reading the novel, a few chapters short of the ending.

Strange as it might sound to those who do not enjoy the paranormal genre, there are vampires who are ethical, who abhor taking human lives to slake their hellish need for blood.  The prime example is the Cullen family, in The Twilight Saga, but I have found others, such as those in the novels of Amanda Ashley, Kerrelyn Sparks, and Lynsay Sands.  The vampires in Isle of Night (and yes, I see some similarity here to the House of Night series, which is another one I detest) are, well, of the traditionally-horrifying sort.  They are ruthless, amoral, remorseless killers, and their human female aides must live with the knowledge of who it is they serve, on a daily basis.

There are PNR fans out there who love this book, who mention, in their reviews, that they "couldn't put it down".  I'm not one of them.  Not only was I able to put it down, but also will probably never pick it up again, in order to finish it.  In spite of the likable characters, the smooth writing, I can only say that, for the most part, this book was revolting.  And the icing on the cake was the appearance of the F-bomb, at least three times!  And this is a YA novel?

Needless to say, I won't be buying any of the forthcoming sequels. 



  1. good review, you stated your reasons clearly. i applaud you for finishing it.

  2. Hi, Kimba!

    Well, actually, I haven't really finished the book. I read as much as I could stomach, though. Maybe I will eventually go back and finish it. But I found it very disturbing.

    Thanks for the comment!! : )

  3. Thank you for the thorough review. I'd have never been inclined to pick this one up, based on the whole island thing - not because of the violence, but because I had a strange dystopian-buffy feel about this one.

    However, your review has actually managed to change my mind. I know I won't like the training part, because it's a bit of pointless action with no real plot, but love the way the characters sound.

    Thanks again!

    Ron @ Stories of my life

  4. Hi, Ron!

    Interesting negative review has actually made you want to read this book! Well, this has really thrown me for a loop...Lol.

    I do agree with you regarding the characters,though -- they are indeed very likable and appealing. However, I'm not sure I really like Ronan yet. He basically deceived and 'hypnotized' Annelise so that he could take her to the island. So I don't know if I like him all that much. I do think he's very sexy, in spite of this!!

    I might finish this book, just to get to all the details involved. My main beef with it is that violence and brutality are actually ENDORSED by the vampires, and, as I said in the review, the brutal murder is not dealt with at all!!! I just can't stomach this...

    If you do read and review this book, please let me know. I'd be very interested in getting your take on it.

    Thanks for the comment!! : )

  5. Thank you for the review. I have been eyeing this book and may have to pick it up soon. I like likeable characters, more than that I want to understand where they are comming from and to root for them. With the issue of physical and emotional abuse there is a lot to overcome and I anticipate that.

  6. I haven't seen this book before, and after your review, I'm not interested to read it. It's kinda sad you didn't liked the book. It's hard to read something you don't enjoy much...

    April (Books4Juliet)

  7. H, Na!

    I think the characters in this novel are very well done. As I stated in my review, my big problem with the book was the condoning of violence.

    Please let me know when you review this book, so I can compare your reaction to it with mine.

    Thanks for the comment!! : )

  8. Hi, April!

    Yes, it IS sad when one starts reading a book, and then doesn't enjoy it...I had high hopes for this one, especially since I LOVE that cover! However, I simply couldn't take the fact that violence is condoned in the training of the vampire school 'recruits', to the extent that it becomes abusive. And that murder, near the beginning of the book....UGH!!

    Thank you so much for your comment!! : )

  9. Well, thanks for this review. I love a good dark YA romancy kind of book, but given your review this would also not be my cup of tea.

  10. Hmm...I'm still torn about this book. I have heard both and reviews about it. I think if I get the chance to read it I will but as for now I have a ton of other books to read.
    Thanks for the honest review!


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