Vampires Are SO Last Year
By Lauren Kate
Delacorte Press/Random House Children’s Books, 2009
|There are many people counting on the success of Lauren Kate’s new book Fallen. There’s Random House, who bought what is projected to be a four book series, and Disney, who have optioned the rights to the film adaptation. The buzz being generated for this new series, not surprisingly, is that it will be the next Twilight. One trip to YouTube to view the book trailer shows that it’s being marketed in just that vein. With a breathy emo tune in the background the trailer proclaims, “Two lovers. One ancient war. Cursed to endure a love that will never be.” Though it’s impossible to predict if Fallen will ignite the way Twilight has, the main ingredients are all here: average, nonthreatening female protagonist? Check. Tormented, brooding love interest with a terrible secret who constantly pushes female protagonist away? Yep. Charming interloper who wants to come between the angsty teens? You bet. While Ms. Kate has a considerable leg up on Stephenie Meyer in the writing department, it’s the adherence to this tried and true boilerplate plot, and the unfurling of the series’ mythology, that overshadows the author’s obvious talents.|
Fallen opens in promising fashion with a prologue set in 1850s England. A man sketches the face of the woman he loves, but is destined to never be with. He carries the burden that in each life he will encounter this woman only to lose her to unnamed forces. In this particular incarnation, the woman pleads to run away with him, and when they kiss the man knows that once again their love is doomed:
He alone knew what was about to happen, what dark companions were prepared to fall on their reunion. Even though he was unable to alter the course of their lives yet again, he knew.
The shadows swirled directly overhead. So close, he might have touched them. So close, he wondered whether she could hear what they were whispering. He watched as the cloud passed over her face. For a moment he saw a spark of recognition growing in her eyes.
Then there was nothing, nothing at all.
In the space of eight pages, Kate sets a moody, gothic tone that left me eager to continue reading. The cursed love promised in the trailer is present and accounted for, and there is an instant intrigue about the nameless characters.
The opening chapter, however, pulls us jarringly to a reform school in present day Savannah, GA, where teenager Lucinda “Luce” Price is late for her orientation. It’s her first day at the Sword & Cross School, where she’s been sent after a mysterious fire at a party killed her friend Trevor. Luce, who was alone with Trevor in a cabin, has no recollection of what caused the accident. What she does remember is the swirling shadows overhead right before Trevor’s death, and that the shadows have haunted her since she was a little girl. Though Luce dreads starting her senior year in a new school, she hopes that the fresh start will allow her some distance from the tragedy.
Before Luce attends her first class, she encounters the boy who will occupy her thoughts over the remaining four hundred pages of the novel. Daniel Grigori is…wait for it… gorgeous: blond, tan, and rebelling against the all-black dress code with a red scarf around his neck. He captures Luce’s attention, but not just because of his looks. She has the vague but nagging sensation that they’ve met before, and an image of them embracing flashes through her mind. Daniel does his best to dissuade Luce of any future daydreaming:
She realized they were still locking eyes when Daniel flashed her a smile. A jet of warmth shot through her and she had to grip the bench for support. She felt her lips pull up in a smile back at him, but then he raised his hand in the air.
And flipped her off.
Naturally, romantic infatuation ensues. I hoped that there would be more moments like this in the book, tweaking the stereotypical star-crossed lovers bit with a rude hand gesture. Unfortunately, the rest of the novel unfolds from this point in typical paranormal teen romance fashion. Sitting in her first class, only minutes removed from seeing Daniel for the first time, Luce attracts the attention of Cam, a flirt who gives her a guitar pick with his room number inscribed on it. The love triangle at the heart of the story is formed, and Luce spends a good portion of the novel struggling between the ease of her bond with Cam and the obsession she has with Daniel.
The push-pull (mostly push) of the Luce-and-Daniel relationship and her insistence that she knew him before enrolling at Sword & Cross inspire Luce to investigate Daniel’s past. Lauren Kate could’ve used this as an opportunity to flesh out Luce’s character, allow the reader to see a more proactive side and not just a doe-eyed girl moping about why a boy doesn’t like her. Most of Luce’s snooping, however, comes courtesy of her friend Penn, who, having grown up at the school as the daughter of the former groundskeeper, knows the ins and outs of the school, including how to break into the personal files of the students. Unfortunately, the only information gleaned from his folder is that he grew up in a Los Angeles orphanage. Penn continues to take the lead uncovering Daniel’s past, and alerts Luce to the existence of a book in the school’s library written by a D. Grigori, published in 1755.
This ill-fated trip to the library provides one of the most intense scenes in the book, as Luce is distracted by the shadows that continue to menace her. She manages to swat one of them away as it hovers over Penn, but their destructive nature soon rears its ugly head in a way all too familiar to Luce. While Luce waits for Penn to return from searching for the missing book, the fire alarm is set off. Separated from her friend, Luce begins to panic, remembering the night that Trevor died:
Images and sounds flooded her mind, things she’d stuffed so deep inside her memory they might as well have been obliterated. Until now.
The shocking whites of Trevor’s eyes against the orange glow. The individual tendrils of flame as the fire spread through each one of his fingers. The shrill, unending scream that rang in her head like a siren long after Trevor had given up. And the whole time, she’d stood there watching, she couldn’t stop watching, frozen in that bath of heat.
She’s interrupted from her horrible memory by a fellow classmate named Todd, and together they wind their way through the smoke-filled library and out into a hallway. As they gasp for breath in the hallway, Luce discovers a huge formation of shadows overhead and another group blocking their path to a way out. The pair is rescued, seemingly carried through the air by an unseen entity, to an emergency exit. Luce can’t shake the feeling that it is Daniel that’s saved them, and is distracted when one of the terrifying shadows attacks, throwing Luce down a flight of stairs and killing Todd.
In the aftermath of Todd’s death, the love triangle plotline escalates. Daniel continues to show interest in Luce, tersely warning her that Cam is not good enough to date her, and then pushing her away when she gets too close. After a vicious fistfight in the library, Luce finally decides that her heart belongs solely to Daniel. But even after making this choice, there is no clean break from Cam. Despite her overwhelming feelings for Daniel, there is a tiny part of her that is attracted to Cam’s charm, even as she begins to see a more violent side of him.
After catching Luce and Cam kiss, Daniel finally finds the courage (decency?) to explain his strange behavior to her. He is immortal, destined to meet and fall in love with Luce every seventeen years and must endure her death each time. Reeling from this revelation, Luce returns to her room to find that Penn has found the missing book and has left it in her room. With the help of the librarian, Luce pieces together that Daniel is an angel, though she soon finds out he is not the only one who attends Sword & Cross. This information comes far too late in the game, and leaves the author with far too little time to give a satisfying introduction to the mythology of her series. A battle between Daniel’s angels and Cam’s fallen angels rages in the school’s cemetery, but the relationships between the factions remain unclear. The battle ends in a stalemate, and the weary angels declare an uneasy truce.
As the first book in the series, Fallen comes up short in establishing the central conflict that will shape the remaining books. We know that Daniel and Luce are in love, that Luce and Cam have an unmistakable attraction, and that Daniel and Cam hate each other, all of which are fine elements on their own. But the celestial back story isn’t given nearly enough time to develop, which makes the ending less than satisfying. Also, the shadows that follow Luce are never fully explained; we’re left to assume that they’re fallen angels or working in consort with them. But something that haunts the protagonist from the very beginning of the novel deserves a bit more explanation.
The rather formulaic depiction of Luce and Daniel’s relationship is another hindrance to what is definitely an intriguing premise. The spark that exists between them in the prologue isn’t quite realized throughout. There are only so many times you can go to the Edward Cullen, cruel-to-be-kind well, and Lauren Kate spends too much time keeping the couple apart to be truly invested in their relationship. Will Fallen become the next Twilight? The audience is certainly there for epic paranormal teen romance, and hopefully the remaining books will make a stronger case for a rabid fan following.
Kristin Brower Walker received her MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College in Boston. She currently lives in Cooperstown, NY where she still can’t escape Red Sox fans.