Rating: 4.75 stars
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Louis Von Graves has had an unusual childhood. His family name is Krekowski, but his parents named him Louis Von Graves. It’s almost as though they knew what would happen to him. You see, Louis’ family are indentured servants to vampires, specifically the Countess, and have been for more generations than can be remembered. When he was younger, Louis’ name was picked out of a hat filled with the names of children from all the servants. Why? So that the chosen one would be turned on his 17th birthday and become a vampire, a child of the Countess. It doesn’t matter what the child wants, it’s wham, bite, death, and you’re a vampire.
So here he is, 17 and a new vampire. He has been taken away from his family and friends in England and given over to a foster sire who will teach him how to be a vampire and all the rules and regulations that go along with it. But no one told him he would have to go to America, and no one told him he would have to go to school. With a bunch of American high school kids no less. So what is a sullen, pouting, teenager to do when his world has been turned upside down, he has powers he doesn’t know what to do with, and a overwhelming desire to drink his classmates blood? Why be given a guidebook of course.
But the book, Vampirism and You (A Beginner’s Guide to the Change), that his foster-vampire sire Duncan gives Louis can’t prepare him for everything. A new vampire appears at the house he shares with Duncan and while Eli appears to be friendly, Duncan hates him and tells Louis to stay away from Eli at all costs. And while Louis wants to eat the girls around him, he doesn’t want to date them. Does that make him a gay vampire? Louis isn’t sure what the answer is, but increasingly all the questions about his sexuality seem to have Duncan as their focus.
But soon Louis learns that life is not all vampire fun and games. There is great intrigue, and evil court politics to contend with. Plus, Louis is having nightmares that keep getting more vivid all the time and the answers seem to lie in his past. Louis must contend with unexpected evil, horny cheerleaders, and the possibility he just might be gay all at the same time. Hopefully the guidebook can help him. Now only if he could remember to read his homework!
I have found a new addiction and it’s not one book or even two. It’s a new series from Missouri Dalton and Torquere Press’s YA Press, Prizm Books. The Guidebooks series revolves around a group of supernatural guidebooks, each a part of a series for a group of supernatural practitioners and/or supernatural beings. Whether it be necromancers or vampires or something more, each book is delivered or given to a teenager as they come of age (whether it is being turned or coming into their powers). The first book in the series, Vampirism and You (A Beginner’s Guide to the Change), is given to one Louis Van Graves shortly after he is turned on his 17th birthday.
What a spectacular idea for a series! And with Missouri Dalton, an author I have come to throughly enjoy, as it’s creator, the series has really taken flight into the realm of classic storytelling. Louis Van Graves is that typical teenager who has been made to do something he never wanted to do. Of course, we aren’t talking woodshop here. Louis has been made into a vampire, through no true choice of his own. Not only was his name picked out of a hat, but he also was promised something huge by the Countess if he agreed to be turned. In exchange for his mortal life, the Countess agrees to let his sister live a normal life and his family leave her employ to become “normal” once more after centuries as indentured servants. But that meant that Louis had to become the sacrificial lamb for his sister and family, something none of them even tried to stop. So Louis’ feelings here are more than the normal sullen, pouting teenager. In Dalton’s hands, we have a young intelligent man, separated forever from his family, forced by love to become something he never wanted, and removed to the American Midwest, a foreign place in every way, including culture, no matter that we both speak “English.. Louis is profoundly hurt, not that he would ever let on, and he is trying to figure out what it all means. Just as any teenager is trying to do but in extreme circumstances. The character of Louis manages to come across as not only a believable teenager going through the appropriate stages of emotional growth, but also as a realistic young vampire trying to figure out his newly dead and supposedly long lasting status. Such a dichotomy, to walk the halls of high school, navigating the social cliques of that age, but having to walk hallways full of newly categorized food.
Louis has to contend with not only relocation and new status as a vampire, but a foster sire as well. Duncan (another marvelous character) has taken control of Louis as the Countess is not “terribly maternally.” This is Louis’ first introduction to Duncan his foster sire. Louis has been shipped off in a coffin, wearing clothes more suitable to a 18th pirate than a teenage boy:
Then again — the hearse went over a particularly large pothole, knocking my head into the lid of the coffin. It didn’t budge so much as a centimeter, seeing how I was locked in. Apparently her ladyship thought I might try to make a run for it. How right she was. The hearse quite suddenly rumbled to a stop. I heard the doors open and close. And then my coffin was being lifted and carried. An odd sensation I’ll admit.
There was the sound of doors — sliding doors, sucking sounding, like at the market. Footsteps echoed outside the coffin, not wood floors, tile probably.
They didn’t take me to a morgue did they?
Another ten minutes of jostling and my coffin was set down — not far down, probably on a raised surface. There was a jingle of keys and click of one turning in a lock before the lid was pushed open. I rolled over and sat up, and was met with the speculative look of a man much better dressed than myself. His dark hair was slicked back neatly, and his striped blue button-down shirt was tucked into pressed black slacks.
“Hello, Captain,” he said, blue eyes hiding laughter rather unsuccessfully.
“I may take you up on that.” Without a word, he slid his arms under my legs and armpits and lifted me out of the coffin, setting me down on my feet.
“Bloody hell!” I glared, “I didn’t ask for help.”
“Uh huh.” He picked up a clipboard from a table next to my coffin, which itself was on a metal table in the gray-tiled room with gray walls and flickering overhead 6 lights. There were three other tables, two of which held open coffins.
“I see you’ve come to us from Countess Von Graves.”
“Yes.” So the Von Graves name came from her ladyship — it’s still ridiculous.
“She’s marked you as a flight risk — well, first things first, a change of clothes.” He jerked his thumb at the door. “Follow me.” Not having any other choice, I followed. The next room was carpeted, narrow, and long. A table ran along the length of the left side of the room, mirrors covered the right-hand wall — not that I could see myself in them anymore — and there was a door at the very end. The table had a myriad of things. Boxes filled with odds and ends, files, clothes, and a couple of coolers. He grabbed jeans and a plain black T-shirt from the table and tossed them to me. Of course it was black. Never mind that I looked much better in other colors. “Put these on.” He turned around, I suppose to give me privacy, and I stripped down as quickly as I could and redressed in the fresh clothes. Much better.
He turned to me and grinned. “Good.” Walking farther into the room, he dug through the clutter on the table to retrieve a small metal vial and a bracelet that had an obvious setting for the tiny vial at the front. He stepped back to me. “Now, the Countess marked your file, but I prefer to just ask. Are you a flight risk?”
“No,” I snapped.
“So yes then.” He nodded. “You get a tracking device.” He held up the vial and bracelet. The bracelet he snapped around my wrist before I could blink. Then, he bit down on his lip, drawing blood, and dripped one drop into the vial, closed it, and slid it onto the bracelet with a click.
And with that, Louis’ education begins.
I love how beautifully Dalton incorporates the typical teenage feelings and moods into a 17-year-old newly formed vampire. Louis has not just regular teenage hormones to contend with but the hyped up sexuality of a vampire. Quite overwhelming to someone who has never dated. Louis must traverse not only the pitfalls and crevasses of an American high school, but those of vampire society, each with its own dangers.
Dalton never loses track of the age of her main character or of her core audience no matter how dire the circumstances of Louis’ life or unlife becomes. Louis’ has a singular voice, so typically teenage but full of personality. He is alternately sarcastic and hopeful, wry and hurt, little sparks of youthful arrogance appearing when you least expect to go along with equal amounts of hidden humility. So engaging, that you become involved in Louis’ plight immediately as the true precarious nature of his status becomes known. And that leads us into the darker sections of this novel.
Yes, there are plenty of funny situations here but there are also just as many dire ones as well as the book continues, these are vampires after all. There are references to some horrific events, none of which are described or actually referred to in terms that I think might be warranted. There is a “blood rape” where one is bitten against their wishes. That is described but not in overly vivid terms. Dalton doesn’t need them in order for us to see and feel the horror of the event. And there is more, also either in the past or not described. But they do occur.
This is also a book about a teenager finding out not only he is gay and coming to terms with his sexuality. But it’s also about being a sexual person. OK, think of teenagers and their hormones and then multiply that. And Louis’ has to come to grips with all of that and more. It’s funny, it’s painful, and at one point horrific. And at all times, it also feels very real. There are no explicit sexual scenes here, just the wants and emotions associated with sexuality. Louis’ emotions are those we can easily understand with dealing with growing up and becoming a sexual being. It’s confusing, confounding, and can overwhelm our senses. Plus with Louis there is something more going on. The vampires or at least a contingent of them are dark, evil beings and have been so for centuries. And they want Louis. Not a good thing, trust me.
Dalton has also populated this book and her series with one memorable being after another, each a fully fleshed out (for the most part) character with real feelings and emotions backing up their actions. Her settings too ring with authenticity, from high school plays and social dynamics, to the Courts of Vampire Society that feel as real as the high school gymnasium. Not a hint of a jumbled narrative to be seen here.
My only issue is a slight one and that would be the ending. A few loose ends still frayed and lagging in the wind. They are tied up neatly in the beginning of Necromancy and You (Guidebooks #02), but still those bits here keep this from a perfect 5-star rating. This is a YA story, but definitely geared towards the older crowd. I am thinking 15 to adult, nothing younger as far as recommended age group. There are some very dark issues here that have to be addressed, not just youthful hormones. I can’t say anything further because I don’t want to spoil this book. But if you have a sensitive child, read the story for yourself first before giving it to them. Always a good idea at any rate.
I have to admit I read Necromancy and You first, and then came back to pick this one up. How do they fare? Well, I found this story to be a little darker but both are just outstanding and I will be recommending this series as one of the Best of 2013. Whether you are 15 or 50, this story and this series is for you. Memorable characters, thrilling narrative, great dialog…really it has it all. Start at the beginning and work your way through. What a marvelous journey it is going to be.
Book/Series Covers by LC Chase. Each cover is the cover of the Guidebook given to the teenager in the story. This a great idea and the covers work perfectly in every way.