Yep, it’s that time again, where we get to subject ourselves to the mind-numbing crapfest that is House of Night, and blog about the ensuing mental breakdown. This time around, Betrayed!
Fledgling vampyre Zoey Redbird has managed to settle in at the House of Night. She’s come to terms with the vast powers the vampyre goddess, Nyx, has given her, and is getting a handle on being the new Leader of the Dark Daughters. Best of all, Zoey finally feels like she belongs – like she really fits in. She actually has a boyfriend…or two. Then the unthinkable happens: Human teenagers are being killed, and all the evidence points to the House of Night. While danger stalks the humans from Zoey’s old life, she begins to realize that the very powers that make her so unique might also threaten those she loves. Then, when she needs her new friends the most, death strikes the House of Night, and Zoey must find the courage to face a betrayal that could break her heart, her soul, and jeopardize the very fabric of her world.Oh god, this book was so boring. Okay, yes, some of that comes from having read it already, but it’s not like there aren’t books that can stand up to a good re-read and still be compelling. Betrayed…does not.
There are, well, several reasons for this. The simplest is probably the goddamn expository recaps. The book opens on a jarring, rambling rundown of the few relevant events of Marked, the first of many, and it’s not so much the content or presence of the things that bug, as it is the way they’re related. Hey, look, we get wanting to refresh old readers for the new book, or bring new ones up to speed, we do. But there’s a way to do that without littering the narrative with big, awkward bombs of redundant information, so direct and unsubtle and lacking in any sort of literary craftsmanship that they might as well be breaking the fourth wall. It’s like having a “previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer” segment every time a recurring plot point comes up. It’s a shit tone to set for the story to come.
The second problem is that, yet again, the bulk of the novel is devoted to a subplot that just isn’t relevant. A good three-quarters of Betrayed ostensibly follows Zoey’s continuing quest to reform the Dark Daughters, while progress on the over-arching plot takes a backseat until the last few chapters arrive and it’s time for something CLIMACTIC to happen. The key issue with this is that the book doesn’t actually give a shit about the reformation of the Dark Daughters – it’s just something for Zoey to be “doing” when she accidentally sees or overhears something she shouldn’t have. It’s inconsequential busy work so that she’s not just standing around while the conflict builds.
Here’s the thing, though: Betrayed just as easily *could* have had a subplot that mattered. Zoey just as easily could have been given a reason to investigate the strange goings-on in the House of Night, instead of tripping over them as she did in the actual story. This would have improved so much, it would have made Zoey a more active heroine, and Betrayed a more interesting, critical installment of the series. But instead, the story settles for treading water with catty school drama for like two hundred pages. Zoey could literally be doing anything to pass the time here, and the book knows it, so it doesn’t expend too much effort on making this sub-plot emotionally or intellectually relevant.
Naturally, this means that what little that we see come out of the Dark Daughters subplot is superficial and mind-numbingly stupid.
The gist is that now that Zoey’s taken over leadership of the Dark Daughters from Aphrodite, she has no idea what to do with them. They’re basically just a legitimized clique – supposedly the leadership is somehow supposed to train you to be a high priestess (although how and what skills you would need to function as a high priestess are never really touched on), but everything else is just window dressing. So Zoey sets out to turn the group into something that will “bring people together” and isn’t “stuck-up and so exclusive that only a few from a chosen clique can join”.
Remember that, because it’ll be pretty ironic in a moment.
So after a THRILLING trip to the school library, Zoey comes up with this truly ground-breaking concept:
“Well, I like the way this private school called Kent runs their student leadership group.[…] The Senior Council and Prefect System is an integral part of life at Kent. These students are chosen as leaders who vow to be role models and to manage all aspects of student life at Kent.” I used my pen to point at the computer screen. “See, there are several different Prefects, and they are elected to each yearly Council by votes of the students and the faculty, but the final choice is made by the Headmaster – which would be Neferet – and the Senior Prefect.”We don’t know what’s sadder: that Zoey had to go to the library to come up with the idea for a student council, or that everyone else commends her for coming up with such a truly brilliant and original idea.
“Which would be you,” [Loren] said. […]
“Yeah. It also says every May new Council members are ‘Tapped’ as possible appointees for the next school year, and there’s a big service held to celebrate.”
So with six empty seats to fill with “model students” that everyone should worship and adore and strive to emulate, who does Zoey choose for the job? Why her four sidekicks and vampire boyfriend, of course! Fuck that “bringing people together” shit, Zoey’s essentially just trading her clique for Aphrodite’s, but it’s TOTALLY OKAY this time, because she’s the good girl! It’s not like she and her friends are snarky, judgmental assholes who talk shit about everything and everyone, even people they supposedly like! Oh, wait:
“Thankfully, she’s Sarah Freebird’s roommate.” Damien nodded toward the petite girl with seriously black hair who was showing the lost-looking new kid around the dining hall, his sharp, fashion-wise gaze checking out the two girls and their outfits – from shoes to earrings – in one fast glance. “Clearly her fashion sense is better than Sarah’s, despite the stress of being Marked and changing schools. Maybe she’ll be able to help Sarah out with her unfortunate ugly shoe propensity.”Hahaha, yeah they are.
But it’s okay, see, because Zoey’s going to let one student who isn’t already completely under her thrall into the group, so that’s something, right?!? Right? That’s only a six to one majority! Except that, you know, this never happens, because not even the book gives a shit about this inane plot.
But wait, it gets so much better! Those ideals the council is supposed to embody?
“The Dark Daughters and Sons should swear to be authentic for air, faithful for fire, wise for water, empathetic for earth, and sincere for spirit.”
AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA OH GOD, OUR STOMACHS. Putting aside here that Zoey & co are perhaps the least authentic, wise, empathetic or sincere characters we’ve ever read about, is that not the cheesiest horse shit you have ever laid eyes on? OH GAWD YOU GUYS WE HAVE TO BE, LIKE, AUTHENTIC. FOR AIR! PFFFFFFFFFFFTTTTTTT. Please, Zoey, do tell which preschool sing-a-long show you copped that from? And oh god, everyone loves it just so much, they fawn over this like Zoey’s spouted the wisdom of the ancients, like it’s so SUPER SRS BSNS, being wise for water. Jesus Christ, what does that even mean?
Loren’s reaction to this declaration is the best:
“The Dark Daughters and Sons should swear to be authentic for air, faithful for fire, wise for water, empathetic for earth, and sincere for spirit.”That man said that to Zoey with a straight face, give him an OSCAR. Seriously, how could he react like that to “sincere for spirit” and not be laying it on Zoey pretty thick? lol DEAD GIVEAWAY.
“Beautiful and intelligent and innocent,” [Loren] whispered.
Speaking of Loren, Betrayed is where we first start seeing Zoey’s perpetual love decahedron take its shape. In this book, she’s got Loren, an older “vampyre”, teacher, and skeeving cheeseball, Heath, her “imprinted” human ex-boyfriend that she enjoys dry-humping, and Erik, her supposedly for-reals fledgeling boyfriend that we’ve seen her spend exactly no time with. Loren is, well, pretty obviously Up to Something, showering Zoey in poetry and innuendo, like any pretentious college douche hounding on high school girls. Heath is still a dumbshit, his relationship with Zoey an awkward, confused allegory for lust and burgeoning teenage sexuality (he literally carries a razor in his wallet like a condom, “just in case”), and we know absolutely fuck-all about Erik, as a character, except that he’s OMG HAWT and supposedly a “dork” because he likes the Star Wars movies, and doesn’t that “nerdy” flaw just make him so much more approachable, how he loves one of the most mainstream sci-fi film series ever? Next you’ll be telling us that liking Indiana Jones makes him an archeology nerd.
At any rate, there are some serious double-standards at play here, justifying Zoey and her boy-harem. Other women, well, they so much as wear revealing clothing and they’re slut-hos for life, but Zoey? It’s okay that she flirts with her teacher, because he makes her “feel like a woman”; and that trumps, idk, honesty or fidelity or common sense. With Heath, her sexual feelings are TOTALLY NATURAL AND SANCTIONED BY THE GODDESS for like, FEEDING AND STUFF, OKAY? And Erik, well, er…the other guys were an accident?
Look, we don’t really give a shit that Zoey has three boyfriends. Hell, we might even cheer her on, if they were open, honest relationships. The problem is not the boys. The problem comes when the book makes excuses for why it’s okay for Zoey to have multiple boyfriends and experiment with sex, but demonizes any other girl who might. No really, which is it, book? You can’t cheerfully endorse the heroine’s sexual freedom one moment and then slut-shame the next, it doesn’t work like that.
But hey, without the slut-shaming, the characters would have nothing to talk about, seeing as how they’ve got all the depth of a rapidly-evaporating puddle. Despite this being the second book in the series, Zoey’s friends continue to revel in their one-dimensionality. Stevie Rae = Okie, Damien = Gay, Shaunee and Erin = …Stupid? While we generally expected this given our previous read-through, what we didn’t remember was how very much the book harped on these singular personality traits. We’re reminded of them constantly, and while this in itself would be obnoxious as Hell (yes, we remember that Stevie Rae is from the country without you constantly referring to her as an Okie, Zoey), when you get around to the minority characters, it becomes both obnoxious and problematic.
The book is trying so very hard to be “inclusive”, with its OMG black and gay characters, how progressive, but goes about it just…so badly. Instead of giving either character a well-rounded personality, it makes their “other-ness” their one defining characteristic. With Shaunee, the book harps on her varying-shades-of-coffee skin, and when she does get a line that isn’t the start or end of something Erin’s saying, it’s something like this:
“You can also tell him that if he wants a little brown sugar in his Juliet he need look no farther than right here.”
It’s similar with Damien:
“Oh, Zoey! You’re going to be an awesome High Priestess.” Damien was all misty-eyed and his voice cracked adorably. “I feel like I’m in the court of a great queen.”
“Or you could just be a great queen,” Shaunee said.
“Her Majesty Damien…hee hee,” Erin said, giggling.
There was a pause, and then Damien said, “I nominate Erik Night.”
Shaunee rolled her eyes. Erin said, “Okay, how many times do we have to explain this to you – the boy is not on your team. He likes breasts and vaginas, not penises and anu-“
“So why don’t you just take your favorite pair of jeans and see if you can reproduce the pattern yourself? I can’t be that hard, you know,” Damien said logically (and very gayly).
Damien sniffed, looking offended and superior and gayer than he usually looked (even though he is definitely gay).For CHRIST’S FUCKING SAKE, can Damien say anything that isn’t immediately tied back to his gayness? Nope, because that’s what he is! He’s gay, and therefore everything he says must somehow also make reference to the gay!
And oh god, his boyfriend Jack… Not that we weren’t glad to see Damien getting some play, considering how virginal and de-sexualized he’d been up to this point (and, well, continues to be compared to everyone else), but seriously, Jack fucking Twist? Or, as the Twins explain:
“Jack Twist is yummy Jake Gyllenhaal’s totally gay cowboy character from Brokeback Mountain.”How very subtle, book. Really, why not just name him “Gay-y McGayguy”, or “Damien’s Love interest, Also Gay”? Yet again, this guy is defined by his sexuality, to the point that he’s even named for it. Worse, he’s perhaps the most actively servile of all the characters, running around and doing things to gain Zoey and her friends’ approval like a little puppy dog from the moment he’s introduced. A strong personality Jack is not.
“And just please! Anyone who chooses that name and who looks all geeky cute like that is totally, completely playing for Damien’s team.”
And hey, for shits and giggles, let’s finish that conversation that Shaunee and Erin were having up there with Damien, shall we?
Shaunee rolled her eyes. Erin said, “Okay, how many times do we have to explain this to you – the boy is not on your team. He likes breasts and vaginas, not penises and anu-“Really, book? Love how it’s TOTES OKAY for Shaunee and Erin to drool all over Erik, but not Damien. Christ, Shaunee and Erin. Our teeth splinter from the force of the gritting their dialog inspires. We didn’t know it was possible to hate two sidekicks so much. They contribute nothing of value to the story. Most, if not all of their dialog consists of hating on women or admiring cute boys, while finding stilted ways to call one another “Twin”. Why are they even there? Oh right, inclusion, and Zoey’s little elemental circle requires four bodies.
“Stop!” I absolutely did not want to get off on this subject. “I think Erik Night is a good choice, and not because he likes me or, well…”
“Girl parts?” Stevie Rae offered.
“Yes, girl parts versus boy parts. I think he has the qualities we’re looking for. He’s talented, well liked, and he’s really a good guy.”
“And he’s totally drop dead …” Erin said.
“… gorgeous,” Shaunee finished.
“It’s true; he is. But we’re absolutely not basing membership on appearance.”
Shaunee and Erin frowned, but didn’t argue with me. They’re actually not real shallow; they’re just kinda shallow.
But actually, that brings up a different, more literal question: why is Shaunee there? They make a big deal in this book – and the last, but here it actually gets a related diatribe – about how Shaunee is from snowbound Connecticut, right? So why is she in the House of Night in Oklahoma? Is that the only campus in the US? Really? Then why the fuck is it in Oklahoma? Was New York or Seattle or IDK Chicago or Philadelphia just too posh? We’d buy pretty much any one of those before Tulsa.
It got us thinking – there’s actually quite a lot that we don’t know about the world of House of Night. Like, when Stevie Rae isn’t feeling well, the Twins chalk it up to “PMS”, and everyone else agrees. So…vampires have periods? Well, obviously at least fledglings do, since they legitimately thought Stevie Rae was pre-menstrual. So…can vampires have babies? Can fledglings? We don’t remember them ever explaining the reproduction process, even from the first time we read through the series. Why isn’t any of this touched on? It’s not a big thing on its own, but it’s just ones of those details that catches you off guard and makes you realize how little you know about how things work in this world.
Here’s another one: according to the book, humans have known about vampires for a while, right? So why is it so important for fledglings to cover their Marks and “blend in” when they go out into town? From what Zoey says, there could be major repercussions if the fledglings were recognized for what they were while hanging around outside the House of Night campus, because people like her stepfather would claim that they were involved in crime or some stupid shit like that. But…why? Humans have known about the vamps for a long time; there’s no picketing or rioting outside the campuses, and civil authorities trust Neferet enough to close airports and freeways at her word. The series has made it clear that it’s essentially inevitable that all of the vampyres will go on to become famous, rich, talented, or powerful in some way, and the media is apparently comfortable enough with them to have vampyre newscasters, actors, authors, and singers. Hell, there’re even vampire country music stars, and they’ve got like the most conservative core audience of any musical genre outside of straight-up Gospel. Think about that for a minute: people are perfectly okay with Vampyre Kenny Chesney.
Yet Zoey can’t leave the House of Night without covering up her Mark, for fear of being branded a delinquent of some sort. Almost every non-vampyre character she encounters is hateful or afraid of her. We’re not saying that this isn’t realistic to a point, but it just doesn’t make sense as an across the board reaction. There’s no variation or nuance to the world Cast has created, no real consideration for the way society might actually react or have changed due to the presence of vampires, except for what is convenient as a plot device or a passing pop culture reference. It’s a subject rife for thoughtful exploration and radical change, and yet all we get are angry not-Christians and vampire William Blake.
But fuck it, we’re putting more thought into this than it warrants. Let’s just wrap this up.
Plot-wise, we tread water with this “Dark Daughters” crap for three-quarters of the book, while Zoey deals with her boy issues and gets big-ass hints dropped in her lap, but shit doesn’t get to hitting the fan until – SPOILER ALERT – Stevie Rae dies.
In retrospect, the necessity of Stevie Rae’s death probably accounts for much of the padding in this book and the last. This is where Zoey becomes directly invested in the strange goings-on around the House of Night, and it probably wouldn’t have meant as much to the readers if Stevie Rae died back in Marked, when we weren’t as familiar the character. Theoretically, of course, because we still don’t actually care. You wouldn’t think that making the relatively shocking death of a pretty prominent character sad or meaningful or poignant in any way would be that hard, but apparently it is.
Stevie Rae’s death is a sappy, drawn-out, four-page-long scene that leaves no cheesy death scene trope unused. We get a classic twenty-minute conversation before she finally croaks, including last wishes and tearful good-byes and whatnot, as though this somehow makes it sadder, but that would all be mostly negligible, because, well, what do you expect? It’s all cheesy but tolerable, right up until the point that Stevie Rae’s death becomes completely about poor little Zoey.
The minute Stevie Rae actually dies, Zoey goes into a sort of semi-catatonic, dazed state of shock, in which she refuses to let go of her friend’s body, and has to be physically carted around by her friends because she can’t get up the will to move. It’s a more or less potentially realistic reaction, and it wouldn’t bother us nearly as much if it had been better written, or if Zoey had just ended up sleeping it off or hugging it out or otherwise coming out of it naturally. But no, Zoey’s pain over Stevie Rae’s death is just SO INTENSE that her friends have touse their magical powers to snap her out of it. The scene is SO fucking cheesy and indulgent, with the characters using their affinities to do things like “blow out the scent of death and despair”, or “wash away the sadness and pain”, and Zoey remains catatonic, narrating each of their elemental tributes, until the last one is invoked and she, oh-so-dramatically, opens her eyes, to the cheerful reception of her minions.
Seriously? It wasn’t just Zoey that lost Stevie Rae (if we can even call it that because we find out like 20 pages later that she isn’t even dead). In fact, all three of the friends who just kissed her ass out of oblivion had known Stevie Rae longer than Zoey did, and yet she is the one who warrants special care, has to be carried back to her dorm room, and is waited on hand and foot, because of her devastating loss. It’s frustrating, because Stevie Rae’s death could have been used to humanize Zoey, to bond her even more to the group of friends who are left behind, but instead, yet again, it just raises Zoey above them, emphasizes her pain and her suffering over everything and everyone else.
We couldn’t help but notice, from there on out, how everyone catered to Zoey, and how Zoey completely expected them to. When she showers to wash away Stevie Rae’s blood, she throws her bloody clothes in a plastic bag and narrates her expectation that the “twins” will get rid of it, as though they’re somehow more emotionally equipped to take out clothes drenched in their friend’s blood than Zoey is. The next day, she pukes into a bowl in reaction to Heath’s kidnapping, and then again tells one of the Twins to “take it away”, because she’s repulsed by the smell, and by god they do all of this shit, because poor Zoey is just going through so much right now. Does Zoey ever do anything even remotely like that for anyone else? Nope. She’s the protagonist, she’s exempt from menial labor. Christ, we even see Aphrodite cater to her. WTF?
The thing is, all of Zoey’s angst, the impact of Stevie Rae’s death, it’s all for naught, because she’s “dead” for all of a few pages before we find out that she actually turned into an undead angry vampire-creature. So, you’ve got this great big overblown dramatic event, that’s retconned so fast that you don’t even really get a chance to feel it.
Dramatic impact is something that this installment has a problem with, in general. We spend the entire book waiting for some action, for something interesting to happen, and FINALLY Heath gets kidnapped, right, and Zoey’s hunting him down, and she’s rescuing him, and using her elemental powers, and then they’re surrounded by Red Fledglings. and they’re trying to escape, and it’s a tense standoff with these weird, evil, unknown creatures who would like nothing more than to rip Zoey apart and suck Heath dry, and they could strike at any moment…and then this happens:
“Not that I hold your un-human-ness against you guys,” Heath said.
I sighed. “Heath, un-human-ness isn’t a word. It’s inhumanity.”
“Zo, I’m not stupid. I know that. I was just coining a word.”
“Coining?” Had he really said that?
He nodded. “I learned about it in Dickson’s English class. It has to do with …” He paused, and I swear the creatures were even listening expectantly. “Poetry.”
Despite our awful situation I laughed. “Heath, you really have been studying!”
Tension. Killed it dead. Zoey and Heath have like THREE exchanges like this in the course of interrogating/trying to escape the Red Fledglings, and while they’re having these mind-numbingly stupid conversations, these evil vampires, you know, the ones who want to kill and eat BOTH OF THEM, just stand there patiently, listening, not jumping them, until Zoey is ready to deal with them. Which she does, burning and/or trapping them in a cave-in at her leisure.
You guys SUCK so bad. You had ONE JOB, Red Fledglings, ONE JOB.
And from there the story just drags out, with inexplicable, actually rather unnecessary explanations and plot cul-de-sacs. Like really, were we the only ones who didn’t really care why the two guys who were abducted knew Zoey? We hadn’t even considered that a loose plot thread, and yet Heath feels the need to wrap it up with quite possibly one of the DUMBEST explanations we’ve ever heard:
“No, you need to hear this, Zoey. Those things grabbed Brad and Chris because they were hanging around the House of Night, and that’s my fault because I’d told them how hot you are.” He gave me an apologetic look. “Sorry, Zo.”
So they got abducted because they were standing around outside the ten-foot-high STONE WALLS surrounding the House of Night, waiting for a glimpse of SOME random GIRL that Heath had told them was hot. Really. REALLY?
Just, just, just fuck off, House of Night. Fuck off.
Then in one last crotch-shot to our already-limited patience, Nefret zaps Zoey’s memory, erasing all that she’d seen and learned about the Red Fledgelings…and then like the very next page, Zoey uses her goddamned plot-convenience “special” elemental powers to get it back. She “blows/burns/washes/nourishes/heals” – fucking NOURISHES, what? – away all of the “darkness” from her mind, and gets her memories back. This is a conflict for all of four pages. FOUR PAGES. What the hell was the point of her even losing her memory in the first place if she’s just going to get it back FOUR PAGES later? It’s not like she even hides it from Neferet after that, either. It’s completely irrelevant.
The book ends setting up some epic rivalry shit between Zoey and Neferet, because there can only be ONE, and we just don’t care, and HATE HATE HATE HAAAAAAAAAAAATE. Why was this even a book? Why not cut out all the excess crap that carried over from Marked, and, we dunno, merge the two? Yet again, even if you ignore the obnoxious voice and slut-shaming and stereotyping, the pacing just kills this installment stone-dead. There’s nothing tight or tense about this, it’s just crap for two hundred and some-odd pages, and even when the plot kicks in, it’s just not worth the wait.
M-maybe the next will be better.
Bonus QUOTESPAM coming up tomorrow!