One month into her junior year, sixteen-year-old Violet McKenna transfers to the Winterhaven School in New York’s Hudson Valley, inexplicably drawn to the boarding school with high hopes. Leaving Atlanta behind, she’s looking forward to a fresh start–a new school, and new classmates who will not know her deepest, darkest secret, the one she’s tried to hide all her life: strange, foreboding visions of the future.Haven is…a strange book. It’s one of those patchwork novels that (rather shamelessly) borrows from a number of other sources, and then tries to tweak them just enough so that, when someone calls it on it, it can point to those tweaks say “Nuh-uh, my book’s not like that, because this part is different”.
But Winterhaven has secrets of its own, secrets that run far deeper than Violet’s. Everyone there – every student, every teacher – has psychic abilities, ‘gifts and talents,’ they like to call them. Once the initial shock of discovery wears off, Violet realizes that the school is a safe haven for people like her. Soon, Violet has a new circle of friends, a new life, and maybe even a boyfriend – Aidan Gray, perhaps the smartest, hottest guy at Winterhaven.
Only there’s more to Aidan than meets the eye – much, much more. And once she learns the horrible truth, there’s no turning back from her destiny. Their destiny. Together, Violet and Aidan must face a common enemy – if only they can do so without destroying each other first.
I certainly understand taking cues from other stories that you love – God knows my first foray into novel-writing was a painfully blatant rip of James Cameron’s Dark Angel – but…you have to do more than tweak a few things here and there, because when it gets down to it, the elements that it seems Kristi Cook borrowed here are still recognizable.
Probably the worst part is that Cook ties this all together with a plot held together with scotch tape and a protagonist whose attitude (towards the supernatural, at least) is almost archaic in this Twilight and Buffy-saturated world. This whole book feels about twenty years too late – in the early ’90s, I imagine this would have been new and innovative and relatable. Now, it’s almost unbelievably dated.
But let’s start from the beginning, eh? Haven is the story of Violet McKenna, a sixteen-year-old girl with visions who, naturally, despises them and wishes she was a normal girl. To be fair, her visions have caused her a lot of emotional trauma, since they tend to only feature the people she loves getting hurt, and she has trouble getting said people to heed her warnings. It’s a classic Cassandra complex, but I appreciate the emotional baggage Cook includes here, since a lot of the time our protagonists-with-powers don’t really have very good reasons for despising them.
Anyway, as the story begins, Violet is still dealing with her guilt over “seeing” – but not being able to prevent – the death of her father. Her step-mother receives a job offer in New York, and Violet tags along, which is how she ends up at
The two are naturally drawn together by virtue of being the main characters, and they have that awkward courtship that always follows when half of the couple doesn’t really want to participate. Aidan initially is hesitant to be with Violet because – SPOILER – he’s a vampire, and that’s what vampires do in teenage romance novels. They play hard to get, hot and cold; they’re super-into the heroine one minute – despite their best judgment – because they just love them so much, then they’re ignoring and avoiding them the next because it just isn’t safe.
Unfortunately, Violet and the reader don’t find out Aidan is a vampire til about halfway through the book, so for a long time he just comes off as a douche. He even uses his telepathic abilities to manipulate Violet into not asking questions about him while he gets information from her, so for the first quarter of the book, I honestly thought he’d turn out to be the bad guy. I don’t read the summaries for these Simon and Schuster galleys, okay?
Anyway, Violet eventually puts the kibosh on the manipulation and starts getting the requisite OBVIOUS HINTS that Aidan is a vampire. You know, she has visions of his face covered in blood and thinks he’s dying, but he laughs it off and jokes bitterly that his death is unlikely. He has extra abilities (like teleporting) that no one else does. He spends time in the chemistry lab like 24/7 working on a mysterious project, and, probably the best hint ever, the heroine is randomly sent a cross necklace by her grandmother’s intuitive housekeeper “for protection”, and Aidan flat-out tells her that this person has good instincts. Oh, yeah, and he goes to the Halloween dance dressed as a vampire.
The most frustrating part comes right after this dance, though, when Aidan ditches the heroine yet again, and she gets one of her patented “feelings” to go find him in the lab. She accidentally cuts herself along the way, and when she finds Aidan, his eyes turn demon red, and his fangs come out. She leaves at his insistence, but she comes away from the experience at war with herself, Despite the fact that Aidan is OBVIOUSLY A VAMPIRE NOW HELLO YOU’VE SEEN HIS FANGS, she refuses to believe it. And if, oh God, he were a vampire, then he would be a monster!
UGH. Two things: one) HOW DO YOU NOT BELIEVE HE’S A VAMPIRE? You yourself are a PRECOG. YOUR FRIENDS, hell, your entire SCHOOL, IS PSYCHIC. THERE ARE SHAPESHIFTERS WHO CAN TURN INTO FOG. But vampires, whoa, now that’s just going too far, buddy. And two) what teenage girl in this day and age thinks “My boyfriend is a vampire, ew! MONSTER.”? Seriously? This is the age of Bella and Edward, Sookie and Bill and Eric, Elena and Stefan and Damon, Buffy and Angel and Spike, and hell, even Lestat. Vampires are no longer terrifying creatures of legend, they’re a turn-on. And teenage vampires are the least intimidating of all – they’re all emo seventeen-year-old boys looking for soulmates to chastely romance. I realize my perspective may be biased, since I’ve spent quite a bit of my life reading paranormal romance, but I’m thoroughly convinced that any modern young woman’s first reaction to “My boyfriend is a vampire” would not be “EEK!”, but “Do you sparkle?”
I honestly want your opinions on this, guys – how would you react to finding out your boyfriend was a vampire?
This is a huge part of what dates this book for me, and why I was frustrated with the heroine for so long. Twenty years ago, “EEK A VAMPIRE” might have been an appropriate response, but even then, most of the stories involving girls finding out their boyfriends were vampires had the girls giving the guys a chance to explain because they knew/loved them. And most of them weren’t psychic. Here, Violet herself has supernatural abilities, yet after the episode in the lab she completely shuts Aidan down. It’s not that I disapprove, necessarily, it’s just that it doesn’t feel like a real response. It feels like a response intended to increase drama and suspense.
And speaking of transparent writing techniques, let’s talk about Violet’s “feelings” (psychic, not emotional), shall we? We first encounter this particular issue when Violet chooses to attend Winterhaven in the first place. She does so on instinct, on a feeling, and it turns out to be a school for psychics. WHAT LUCK. But this luck is not specific to Violet – nearly all the students of Winterhaven ended up there this way. They don’t get an owl. It’s not on the brochure. They’re not recruited. Nobody tells them anything at all, they just feel like they belong there.
It’s not an intrinsically lazy or terrible concept, it could even be interesting, but coupled with several other instances of the plot moving along due to someone’s “feeling”, it quickly becomes contrived. I’m sorry, but “feelings” are another pet peeve of mine – character actions should be logical, the story should flow with them because it makes sense, it shouldn’t be the other way around. When it is, the result is jarring and distracting. Perhaps the best example of this is when Violet decides to visit her step-mother for the weekend.
On a spur-of-the-moment urge, she asks the headmaster for a weekend pass, even though she wasn’t planning on going anywhere prior to their meeting. She then gets on the train, but doesn’t call her mother to let her know she’s coming because it “feels” wrong. She proceeds to ride the train much further than she intended, walk in the wrong direction for several miles (into the bad part of town), all because of a “feeling”. This so that she can witness the fulfillment of that vision she’d been having of Aidan for weeks prior, which finally “confirms” that he is indeed a vampire.
Just…what? Was there really no logical way you could put her in that position without this “feeling”? Cause I can think of several just off the top of my head. Usually, the “feelings” allow a character to make a leap in faith or logic that doesn’t necessarily make sense, and that’s bad enough, but here it actually takes control of the plot for several pages. Later, when discussing Violet’s rather stupid actions, Aidan suggests that it was some sort of manifestation of latent psychic abilities, or even that she was fated to be there, to be attacked, so that he can save her, to which I say WELL ISN’T THAT A CONVENIENT TIME FOR A POWER/COSMIC INFLUENCE THAT’S NEVER BEEN PRESENT BEFORE TO MANIFEST (the Winterhaven thing doesn’t count, because supposedly that happens to everybody). It’s like the author realized what a transparent plot device this whole scene was and had to find more of a way to legitimize it. Guess what? Still doesn’t work.
Following this encounter, Aidan takes Violet home with him, and they spend the weekend together (which is why it was necessary to prevent her from telling her mother she’d be coming down). Here, Aidan – who, let’s make it clear, has barely spoken two sentences together for the entire book prior to this – gets an expository conversation several pages long. This includes his origins, history, race rules, and explanation for being so attracted to Violet in the first place. Taking a leaf from Vampire Diaries playbook, it turns out Violet looks just like the vampire girl he was in love with when he was turned (but not the one who turned him, because that’s a random plot twist we’re going to save for later!). But it’s okay, see, because rather than this being a random occurrence, like it was in the Vampire Diaries novels, there’s a reason Violet has her face, which we’ll get to in another hundred pages or so! Suffice to say for now that Aidan feels guilty because he loves Violet but will probably hurt her, can’t help wanting to drain her dry, but can’t stay away, blah blah blah, but they’re going to try and be a couple anyway.
Only one issues of actual importance comes up during this conversation: Aidan is working on a cure for vampirism, and has already succeeded in creating an elixir that weakens its effects (which is why he can go in the sun and stuff). Apparently this is the ~only way~ his and Violet’s relationship will work out, because the idea of becoming a vampire doesn’t even enter her mind (I swear to god, not once), and there’s like, no way she’s still going to be dating a 17-year-old when she’s 25. VIOLET IS NO COUGAR. Yes, this is our series conflict, people.
The vampire rules are pretty much your standard set, but there are two additions I found humorous and would like to share. First, people can only be turned into vampires by vampires of the opposite sex. Violet’s immediate reaction to this revelation is something along the lines of “Well, is that because turning someone has to be related to the pleasure derived from sex?” to which Aidan very smarmily replies “Well, that would imply all vampires are heterosexual, wouldn’t it?” To which I say, well yeah, it sort of does, doesn’t it? I’m willing to bet money that Aidan’s comment was probably one Cook got in the process of beta-reading, and added in there to lampshade that particular vampire rule.
Second, Aidan reveals that, because he was changed at 17, he will always have the maturity of a 17-year-old. He says there’s a big difference in someone turned at 70 and 17, because no matter how long they live, they never mentally mature. Which is vampire-rule speak for “EVEN THOUGH I’M ACTUALLY LIKE 200 YEARS OLD, MY LOVING A 16-YEAR-OLD GIRL IS NOT CREEPY BECAUSE I AM STILL 17 NO REALLY I AM I SWEAR.”
Anyway, at this point you’d think the story has nowhere to go, right? She knows he’s a vampire, they’re trying to make it work, the only conflict left to resolve is the cure. Well you would be ABSOLUTELY CORRECT! However, resolving the cure plot would mean that there couldn’t be a second or third book, and we can’t end the book where it is, so what do we do? Well, we introduce a completely new conflict totally out of nowhere!
Yes, upon their return to Winterhaven, Violet begins having visions of being forced to stake Aidan, and he decides to drop a bomb on her to keep the story going: she is a vampire slayer. I’m completely serious, halfway into the book, he just announces this out of nowhere. Apparently he’s heard legends about them, and one of their big powers is the ability to read a vampire’s mind. Nobody else (not even other telepaths) have this ability, but what do you know, Violet does! She must be a vampire slayer, one of only three girls in the world with the powers necessary to slay vampires!
Sound familiar? But it’s not exactly like Buffy. I mean, there are three of them, and they don’t get their powers til they turn 18. So it’s only kinda like Buffy.
This becomes the drama for a while, with Aidan attempting to train Violet (even though her abilities at this point are limited), and her coming to terms with the fact that, once she turns 18, her instincts will be ~too much~ and she won’t be able to resist killing him (because apparently in this world, natural instincts override years of emotional connection and logic). The Big Bad for this book is the person who will put Violet in the position of having to stake Aidan in the first place, which, it turns out, is his long-lost rival that we haven’t heard anything about up to this point, and his group of rogue vampires who want to repopulate the earth with vampires. They don’t want Aidan to find a cure, because it could be used against them.
The only other ~big deal~ involves Violet discovering (thanks to Plot-Convenience Character whose presence is never explained) that, rather than simply resembling Aidan’s former lover Isabel, she looks exactly like her. When she confronts Aidan, he spouts out that theory I mentioned earlier, which is that she is either Isabel reincarnated (but probably not), or that all vampire slayers are born with a face that represents someone from a vampire’s past. Which is the single most USELESS power ever. You know why? IT ONLY WORKS ONCE. If this were really such a big advantage when it comes to slaying vampires, wouldn’t it be more useful for her to just be born, I dunno, a SHAPESHIFTER? Oh wait, I forgot, this is just to justify her resemblance to Isabel and Aidan’s attraction to her in the first place, after centuries of self-imposed isolation.
From here, the twists come fast and random. I’m not even going to bother listing them, because they’re ultimately unimportant and GUESS WHAT? Violet is passed out for most of their resolutions anyway. They try to stop Violet’s vision of having to stake Aidan coming true, but after a lot of elaborate Ocean’s Eleven-style planning and page time devoted to setup, it all comes to nothing. Fail!Plan is thwarted in about half a page, and Violet is only saved from having to stake Aidan (despite, I say again, EIGHT SUPERNATURAL FRIENDS ON HER TEAM) by Plot-Convenience Character. She then passes out and wakes to find everything is ALL ALRIGHT.
I just…this book is a mess. It’s poorly paced, the glue and tape holding it together are plainly visible, the plot and world elements are all taken from other, better books and shows, the heroine is frustrating and dense, the hero is a douche until you find out he’s actually a cliche, and the villain is only brought in at the last minute to keep the story going. Plot threads are introduced that are never resolved (most obviously the girls harping on a “Dr. Hottie” for the last five chapters, who we NEVER SEE), and more important plot threads take place and are resolved completely off-camera. The supporting cast wasn’t terrible, but I never once believed any of them had lives while the heroine wasn’t present, and the love story between the two leads is insubstantial and poorly developed. Aidan is flaky and indecisive, and Violet is such a petty, jealous girlfriend that I’m not sure she should have a boyfriend at all.
There were some good ideas here, but ultimately the execution just didn’t work for me.