Meg Cabot is best known for her young adult and kids’ books, particularly her ten-strong The Princess Diaries series, but she’s a prolific author of light, often romantic stories which do also manage to grapple with the difficulties of teenage life (well, if you happen to be American and wealthy, anyway). Her heroines tend to be fairly ordinary girls, though they don’t ever seem to have money worries and they have happy family lives, even if they have talents which make them worth writing a series about. The protagonists of her adult novels are a bit more realistic, struggling with early-career jobs and relationships; I do rather like The Boy Next Door and Boy Meets Girl, partly for the inventive method of narrative – told in emails, messages, scribbled on receipts and menu cards – as well as the rather sweet love stories which enfold along with the rest of the plot. They’re light, humorous and fluffy reads which don’t pretend to much depth, but are well-written enough to propel the characters through often fantastic plots.
Insatiable jumps on the vampire-lit bandwagon, but Cabot does something a little more interesting with it. Meena Harper (yes, the nods to Dracula are intentional: her brother’s called Jon…) is a thirty-year old dialogue writer for a trashy daytime soap opera called ‘Insatiable’. She’s also a psychic who, after meeting someone, can tell how and when they’re going to die. The reader is introduced to Meena on her way to work, on the subway, encountering a tourist from Eastern Europe whom she knows will die by the end of the week: in a perhaps vain attempt to change the girl’s fate, Meena gives her a card and tells her to call if she needs any help.
In Romania, however, an academic at the University of Bucharest, Lucien Antonescu, discovers that girls are being killed in New York who appear to have been drained of blood. Since the Prince of Darkness has forbidden the Dracul to kill humans (though not to stop drinking blood), he makes the trip to the States to stop what’s going on. Naturally, he meets Meena and they fall in love, but their happiness is complicated by a plot against him, the dispatching of the Palatine Guard (a detachment of vampire and demon hunters which are part of the Vatican), and Meena’s superiors at the network where she works.
Cabot subverts expectations a little – although Meena does fall in love with Lucien (rather quickly, as tends to be the case in Cabot’s novels), and thinks that he’s not the evil incarnate which the Palatine Guard – and Alaric Wulf, in particular – regard him – she is shocked by the revelation, and is never tempted to give up her humanity for ‘twoo wuv’. Similarly, although Lucien is very powerful, he gets things from his relationship with Meena which couldn’t be provided by anyone else. Still, Cabot doesn’t pretend that there’s no power imbalance in the relationship, and Meena acknowledges this. She’s a believable character, too, and her relationships with her brother and best friend Leisha (as well as her more uncomfortable relationships with her boss and socialite neighbour Mary-Lou) are realistic.
Insatiable is quite a long book, with the story being told in the third person from several points of view (primarily Meena’s and Lucien’s, but also from other characters), and it dials up nicely to a big confrontation climax at the end, but leaving it open-ended enough to set up a sequel.
And sequel there is, Overbite (which has to be the worst title for a vampire novel ever). It’s a good deal shorter (300-odd pages compared to Insatiable’s 500-some), and deals nicely with the ramifications from the previous novel, being set six months later. Tourists are disappearing in New York, and the Palatine Guard’s attempt to investigate leads to the discovery of infiltration and conspiracy. The friendship between Alaric and Meena is further developed, and Jon gets a chance to be less than the loser he appears in Insatiable.
I thought this was a good sequel, though I’m not sure it would make much sense without having read Insatiable first, since it ends the story arc nicely and in an organic way, but Cabot has left a tiny hint of openness should she want to return for a third book.
The two books make a nice twist on the recent trend for paranormal romances, while acknowledging some of the problematic elements of the vampire lover fantasy.
Insatiable (Harper Voyager ebook 2012)
Overbite (Harper Voyager ebook 2013)
Thanks for the review Ela – this genre remains outside of my ‘comfort zone’ to be honest but so many of my friends love these, so one day …
My favourite vampire novel is ‘Sunshine’, by Robin McKinley, but Cabot’s isn’t a bad addition to the genre.