I've said before that if you have not discovered PC and Kristin Cast's House of Night series, please get to a book store immediately. Amid the now-dissipating Twilight frenzy and an ocean of also-ran books with a similar theme, the mother-daughter Cast duo are a pleasant surprise and richly nuanced stand-out. Their Zoey Redbird is a delightful departure from the rest of the crowd, an independent young woman who uses her head, her heart, and her gut without ever coming across as trivial, vapid, silly, or weak. Even when she's confused, even when she's embroiled in teen-angst, Zoey's choices, delivered in fresh first person, seem believable. Even better? They seem smart.
Hunted, the fifth installment in the House of Night series, arrives in a hardcover edition with a delightful surprise for those of us who can't read with a dust cover on. (The inside is worth a peek.) Zoey finds herself in exile, caught between three boys for whom she has feelings, and distracted by such trivial high school silliness as a fallen angel who works for the dark side and some Raven Mocker creatures with very bad attitudes.
And you thought prom was a nightmare.
If this series has a fault it's lag between installments, since they blend, one into the other, with fairly tight plot focus. The wait between requires the Casts to re-introduce readers to the plot in the first chapter, and leaves us hungry (and, let's be fair, a little annoyed) with a sliding conclusion. Each ends with unresolved issues and months to wait for more. In spite of this the House of Night series delivers a sharp, sympathetic protagonist in Zoey, who stays centered amid the chaos by remembering her Grandmother's love, guidance, and lessons, and by clinging to friendships among her fellow vampire students. Emerging as a new sub-group, the "red fledglings," who are closer to the traditional vampire of literature and film, present an entirely unique set of issues. Once thought to be lost souls, Zoey and her friends have found redemption for them. She has reclaimed her best friend, forged surprising new friendships, and discovered an old evil.
Kalona, a dark fallen angel with ties to her own ancestors among the Cherokee, has aligned with her old nemesis, Nerefet. If you think your high school principal is a twerp, you ain't seen nothing yet.
The most endearing quality I find in Zoey is her amazingly well adjusted sense of herself. Marked as a vampire, removed from everything she knew, and thrust into a world of danger, power, fear, and chaos, Zoey somehow approaches all her trials like any teenager who knows she is loved. And though Zoey's parents are of little use to her, her Grandmother is there, the center in the wheel of her world, guiding her with warmth and unconditional approval. This knowledge keeps her grounded even as amazing powers and terrifying circumstances swirl around her. Quite simply, Zoey is a good kid who keeps her head because, deep down, she believes in herself in spite of her teen angst and serious challenges. She may doubt her astonishing powers, she may freak out when chased by giant bird creatures, she may question her alliances and judgment. But when push comes to shove Zoey trusts the Goddess, Nix, and the woman who loved her first, best, and unconditionally: her Grandmother. With that foundation beneath her she prevails.
This series has dark themes and subject matter, but the Cast team delivers them with sparkling dialogue, wry humor, and realistic characters driven by genuine humanity. Simply put, the books can traverse murky waters, deal with serious issues, and enter very dark territory without floundering because the themes and subject matter are not delivered with brooding self-indulgence or melodrama. They are served up at an effervescent pace, never wallowing in grandiose preachiness. PC and Kristin give us vamps, gods, creatures, death, life, and teen pissyness without ever falling into the common trap of sounding like a goth teen wrote the novels.
Not naming any names, but there are a few authors out there making a lot of dough who might benefit from a healthy dose of that delightful delivery style.
If I had a complaint about this series it would be the open-ended feeling each novel leaves me with. But to give this devilish duo their due, that's the style of the series. I checked the House of Night Series web site and found no reference to the next book, but Hunted left dangling ends flapping like Raven Mocker wings, so I live in hope. (Incidentally... that may be the coolest website I have ever seen.) Though Zoey's seemingly endless choice of boyfriends does seem to spiral round and round, she also finds opportunities to think, grow, and learn about being a woman through them. Fans will have to indulge her, and the authors. And if anyone gets buzz on book 6... LET ME KNOW!
Edited by Gwen: Also, Happy Birthday to Melissa Francis, Fictionista Extraordinaire. We love you.!