By the way, HUGE fucking content warning for sexual assault/rape.
Zoey meets back up with Stark not long after returning to the House of Night. The first time it’s in a sort-of fight with Kalona, mostly unimportant except that it establishes Stark as a bodyguard(?) of Kalona, and results in him running off angstily in a fit of bloodlust, crying about being a monster or some shit. Zoey and Darius run into him again about ehh, fifteen to thirty minutes later outside the entrance to the girl’s dormitories, and that’s when shit gets real.
What Stark was doing was a twisted mockery of the good-night kissing that usually went on there. He was holding a girl in what could have been an embrace, had it not been obvious that, just seconds before his teeth had locked on her neck, she’d been trying to get away from him. I watched, horrified, as Stark, oblivious to our presence, continued his attack on her. It didn’t matter that the girl was now moaning with sexual pleasure. I mean, we all know that’s what happens when a vamp bites someone: The sex receptors in both the “victim” (and in this case she was definitely his victim!) and the vamp were stimulated. She was physically feeling pleasure, but her wide, terrified eyes, and the rigidity of her body made it obvious she would fight him if she could. Stark was drinking in huge gulps from her throat. His moans were feral and the hand that wasn’t holding her tight against his body was fumbling at the girl’s skirt, lifting it so that he could situate himself between her legs and–Yeah. Yeah. The next time Zoey runs into her brand spanking new love interest, he’s seconds away from raping someone. To her credit, Zoey is horrified, and when an enraged Darius rips Stark off the girl, Zoey leads her aside a bit while Darius leaps the world’s lowest bar to prove he’s the only decent fucking character among Zoey’s entourage.
“Perhaps no one has explained to you that vampyre males do not abuse females, be they human, vampyre, or fledgling.” Darius spoke calmly, as if he were having an ordinary conversation with a friend.
“I’m not a vampyre.” Stark pointed to the outline of the red crescent moon on his forehead.
“That is an inconsequential detail. We”—Darius motioned from himself to Stark—“do not abuse females. Ever. The Goddess has taught us better.”
Stark smiled, but the gesture lacked any real humor. “I think you’re gonna find that the rules have changed around here.”
“Well, boy, I think you’ll find that some of us have rules written here”—Darius pointed to his heart—“and rules written there aren’t subject to the changing whims of those around us.”
Oh shit, was that Stark getting fucking told? Yeah, I think it was.
“Your bloodlust is controlling you,” Darius said. “If you weren’t under its control, you wouldn’t have had to force yourself on that fledgling.”Notice that Stark is all about not giving a shit here. I feel that it’s vital to point out that despite the monster-ish nature of unchanged Red Fledglings in the book, there’s no indication that Stark isn’t physically in control of his actions. This isn’t an Angelus situation, he hasn’t lost his soul, he isn’t being possessed by any kind of demon, this is Stark having a moral crisis and choosing to buy in to the vampire superiority schtick, to not give a shit about anyone but himself.
“Yeah? Ya think so? Well, you’re wrong. I happen to like my bloodlust! I liked doing whatever I want with that girl. It’s time vampyres stopped slinking around. We’re smarter, stronger, better than humans. We should be in charge, not them!”
Stark goes to shoot Darius, but Zoey intervenes, and just as they’re heading back into the dorm, Zoey’s IBG acts up. She sends Darius inside and steps out to talk to Stark aloooooone.
I faced Stark. I knew I was taking a chance with what I was going to say to him, but I kept remembering Kramisha’s poem and the line that said, “Humanity saves her / Will she save me?” I at least had to try.They talk for a bit, and then:
“I think you can still choose what you are, or at least what you are becoming. Stevie Rae chose her humanity over the monster. I think it’s up to you.” I know what I did next was stupid. I’m not even sure why I did it. I mean, I already had unresolved issues with Erik and Heath. The last thing I needed was another boy complicating my life, but at that moment there was only Stark and me, and he was himself again—the guy who had agonized over the gift Nyx had given him because he had accidentally caused the death of his mentor; the guy who had been horrified at the thought of hurting anyone again. The guy I’d felt such an immediate and deep connection to I’d thought that just maybe there really were such thing as soul mates, and had considered, at least for a few brief moments, that he might be mine. That’s all I was thinking about as I stepped into his arms. When he bent and hesitatingly pressed his lips to mine, I closed my eyes and kissed him softly and sweetly. He kissed me back, holding me so gently it was as if he thought I might break.Yeah, that’s Zoey kissing a dude not ten minutes after he tried to rape another girl. Yep. This is what we’re doing.
Then I felt him stiffen and he pulled away, taking a staggering step backwards. I was sure I saw tears in his eyes before he yelled, “You should have forgotten me!” Stark picked up his bow and bolted away into the roiling darkness of the stormy night.I dunno, that’s a good fucking question, Zoey. But hey, I’m glad you realized how insanely fucked up that was. You recognized that it was a mistake, and maybe we can move on from this whole terrible fucking ordeal.
When he was gone I stood there staring after him, wondering what the hell was wrong with me. How could I have kissed a guy who had been attacking someone just minutes before? How could I feel a connection to someone who might be more monster than man? Maybe I didn’t even know myself anymore. I sure didn’t know what I was becoming.
HAHAHAHAHAHA, yeah, right.
So Stark runs away and Zoey goes to bed, and then Zoey wakes up, and guess who’s lurking around her bedroom? That’s right, Edward fucking Stark! Except I think we can say with full confidence that Stark is about infinitely more of a creep than Edward Cullen, because James Stark is a literal rapist.
Zoey asks why he’s skulking around her bedroom, and Stark says:
“They’ll make you hate me,” he blurted.Nah, nah man, I don’t think anyone has to tell her you’re a goddamn monster, I think you proved that plenty yourself.
“Who’s they? And no one is going to make me feel anything.” […]
“They—Everyone,” he said. “They’ll tell you I’m a monster, and you’ll believe them.”
“I gotta think that maybe you doing stuff like biting Becca and hanging around Kalona with your I-can’t-miss-anything-I-aim-at bow strapped to your back and ready to shoot might have a little something to do with making them think you’re not such a nice guy anymore,” I said.Raping. He was in the process of raping Becca, Zoey. But otherwise, yeah, basically.
His eyes flashed and I saw a red light in their depths. “She would have liked it. If you and the warrior had come along five minutes later, you would have seen her all over me.”
OUR LOVE INTEREST, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. GATHER ROUND, SEE THE WALKING PILE OF SHIT MASQUERADING AS A PERSON. Seriously, I don’t understand how you could write a character to be this vile and expect anyone to accept him as a viable love interest after this. This is fucking deplorable, like, there is nothing worse that Stark could possibly have said in this situation, and nothing he could ever possibly say to make up for having done what he’s done, and then uttering this sentence. Absolutely nothing.
To her credit, Zoey doesn’t let him get away with it. She calls bullshit, Stark gets defensive, insists that he “is what he is now and nothing can change that” and tries to walk away…and then Zoey pulls this crap:
“You can change that.”Yes Stark, you’ve violated and very nearly physically raped a girl, and, it’s implied, have done this multiple times with other girls, but all that can be forgiven if you just choose good! Choose good, and you’ll never have to be held accountable for what you’ve done! It’s all in the past! Just ask Stevie Rae! She killed a person, and now it’s just a cute little joke between us, hahahaha!
I said the words softly, but they seemed to shimmer in the air between us and wrap around Stark, pulling him to a stop. He just stood there for a while, fists clenched at his side, head slightly bowed as if he was fighting with himself. With his back still to me he said, “See, that’s what I mean. When you say things like that to me, you make me feel again.”
“Maybe that’s because I’m the only person who’s telling you the truth right now.” As I spoke, I got one of my gut-deep feelings that let me know I was saying the words Nyx would have me speak. I drew a long breath and tried to center myself, and even though I was tired and hurt and confused about many things, I followed the thread that had been unraveled before me and tried to sew together the shredded cloth of Stark’s humanity. “I don’t think you’re a monster, but I also don’t think you’re just a nice guy. I see what you are, and I believe in what you could choose to be. Stark, don’t you understand? Kalona and Neferet are keeping you like this because they’re using you. If you don’t want to turn into a creature of their creation, then you’re going to have to choose a different way and fight against them, and against the darkness they surround themselves with.”
And yeah, this spiel, this offer? This is Nyx-approved. Not just Nyx-approved, this is Nyx-designed. Nyx gave Zoey the poem about redemption, Nyx gave Zoey the farts until she counseled Stark seconds after he almost raped one of her “children”, Nyx gave Zoey this choice to relay to Stark, and to top it all off, Nyx is the one whose “refusal to interfere” allowed all of this shit to happen! Nyx let this go on in her place of worship, and is now offering absolution to a fucking sexual predator.
EVERYONE INVOLVED IN THIS SERIES IS A MONSTER, RIGHT UP TO THE GODDAMN DEITY.
Anyway, Zoey insists that Stark could ~choose good~ and Stark keeps baby-whining about what a monster he is, wah, wah, I have absolutely no agency in this decision, wah, wah, except oh wait, I totally do, wah, wah, everyone should feel bad for my dark, tortured, rapist soul.
So they’re having this whole discussion in Zoey’s bedroom, just after Zoey’s awoken from another erotic Kalona dream, and it’s here that Stark drops one of the stupidest fucking plot contrivances I’ve ever fucking read in this kind of novel.
“I want to tell you something, but I don’t want you to think I’m making it up just so I can hit on you,” he said.
“What is it?” He was looking massively uncomfortable, as if what he was about to say made him really nervous.
“It’s harder for him to get into your dreams if you’re not sleeping alone.”
I stared hard at him. He was right. It sounded like something a guy would make up to get into a girl’s bed (and panties).
“I wasn’t sleeping alone the first time it happened,” I said.
“You were with a guy?”
I felt my cheeks start to get warm. “No. I was with my roommate.”
“It has to be a guy. It’s like he doesn’t want to compete or something.”
His sigh was heavy and long-suffering. “I’m telling you the truth. Why do you think it doesn’t keep him away if you’re just sleeping with a roommate? You have to be touching. A guy and a girl. I guess a guy and a guy would work, too, if it was like Damien and his boyfriend. Or even a girl and a girl if they were into each other.”This is that hackiest fucking thing I’ve ever read. This is so blatantly ridiculous and transparent, I can’t even– Cast just wants them to get in bed together. That’s it. And yet she’s created this situation in which that isn’t just dumb and rushed because these characters barely know each other, but is fucking repulsive and dangerous, because Stark is a goddamn rapist. But she needs some “legit” reason for him and Zoey to sleep together, and so we get THIS.
Which is why it is now House of Night canon that sharing a bed with someone who is romantically interested in you will keep the boogeyman away, because he doesn’t like competition.
What the ever-loving fuck?
But the sleep-together ploy works. You know why? Besides author fiat, of course.
And suddenly I knew my response to him could be what tipped him over in the struggle for his humanity. The last two lines of Kramisha’s poem echoed through my mind: “Humanity saves her / Will she save me?” I knew what I had to do.Because Zoey is being made responsible for saving this rapists’ soul. Her goddess has put this all on her. Zoey wants to say no. She even tries saying no, but Stark persists, and she remembers this line, and decides that if she establishes the boundaries that she is MORE than entitled to establish, she will condemn Stark to being a bad guy forever, and that’s not what her goddess wants.
So they sleep together, and Stark makes Zoey promise to burn him up if he ever becomes a “real monster”, which imo should trigger immediately, right, because how much more fucking monstrous can you get? But Zoey refuses, because he’s ~not a monster~ just a narcissistic rapist that needs Zoey to ~save his soul~.
She wakes up in the morning and he’s gone, leaving an incredibly dangerous broken arrow that could totally maim and/or kill her lying on the pillow riiiiight next to her head. Both Zoey and Stark insist that it’s some kind of symbolic gesture, but I’m pretty sure that it was a failed assassination attempt.
Zoey comes downstairs to find the Twins waiting for her.
I tried not to sound massively guilty when I said, “Stark? What about him?”So Zoey’s friends are actually surprisingly reasonable through all of this. They recognize Stark’s act as an attempted rape, and react appropriately.
“The buttball walked through here while you were still upstairs. All like he owned the place and didn’t care who knew he’d been raping and pillaging some poor helpless pod girl,” Shaunee said, still keeping her voice down.
“Yeah, right. I still remember how you were the night Stark died. He got to you. But you have to remember the Stark that’s strutting around here, acting like he’s all that, and basically using girls and throwing them aside after he fucks with their minds even more than their bodies, is not the guy who died in your arms.”Christ, can we please drop the euphemisms? He tosses them aside after he rapes them. But otherwise, yeah, I’m glad we all agree that he’s a scumbag, except for Zoey, apparently.
Not as worthy of praise? The characters’ treatment of Becca, the girl Zoey and Darius stopped Stark from raping. It’s actually worse, sooooo much worse than you would have expected, even from a fucking House of Night novel.
“Yeah, you should have seen Becca. She panted after him like a terrier,” Erin said.Wow, yeah, that girl was bitten against her will, which is a kind of rape in itself, mind-controlled to make her feel as though she wanted it, and shit would have gotten even worse if Zoey and Darius hadn’t come along and stopped it. Furthermore, the guy who did that to her is not just the most popular guy in school, but was walking around her fucking dorm room the next morning. That is some emotionally devastating shit, how about a little less judgement and a little more empathy, Shaunee and Erin?
“And what did he do?” I asked, holding my breath.
“It was pathetic. He barely looked at her,” Shaunee said.
“Talk about being used and then wadded up and thrown away like a snot rag,” Erin said.
But the way the characters in this book interact with Becca after this experience is fucking abhorrent.
“Who are you guys talking about?” I asked, even though I was pretty sure I already knew.
“Stark, of course. He’s only the hottest guy at the House of Night. Well, if you don’t count Kalona,” Becca said.
“CFF—both of them,” Cassie said.
“CFF?” I asked.
“Completely freaking fine,” Becca said.
I realized afterwards that I should have kept my mouth shut. I mean, I was attempting to converse with what amounted to brainwashed pod people, but I couldn’t stay out of it, and yes, I knew that some of my pissed-off-ness came from a totally inappropriate feeling of jealousy.
“Uh, excuse me, Becca,” I said, heavy on the sarcasm. “But didn’t Darius and I recently save your butt from getting raped and bit by oooh! the hottest guy at the House of Night? Then you were snotting and whimpering.”
Oh my god. ohmygodohmygodohmygod, hey guys, did you know that Zoey Redbird is a pile of shit? Steaming fucking excrement. There is nothing lower on this planet than Zoey Redbird, except for maybe Stark.
Zoey Redbird knows that the way Becca’s acting, the things that she’s saying, are because of some weird campus-wide mind-control. She knows that Becca’s experience the previous night was awful and traumatizing. And yet, out of fucking jealousy, baseless, petty, twisted jealousy, she rubs Becca’s near-rape in her face like it’s an embarrassing story.
I want to slap Zoey in the face. I want to slap this book in its face. That’s one of the most deplorable things I’ve ever seen one character say to another, and it came from our fucking heroine to a rape victim, because she was mad that the girl was saying her love interest, the goddamn fucking rapist in question, was cute.
I can’t, I just I fucking no. This situation is so twisted. PC Cast should never write a single goddamn fucking word again. This is disgusting.
And when Becca sputters out a denial, what does Zoey do? She doubles the fuck down.
I clamped down on my urge to shriek at her and tried reason instead. “Becca, you’re not thinking clearly. Last night, when Darius and I broke it up between you and Stark, he was forcing you to let him suck your blood, and he was also on the verge of raping you.” I hated saying it. I especially hated knowing it was true.Fuck you, Zoey. You didn’t hate saying it ten seconds ago when you were throwing it in her fucking face in front of her friends and the entire class.
And like, it would still be awful, but it would be one thing if Zoey were in any way reprimanded or condemned for the horrible things she says, but nah. It’s totally justified, because Becca is an “empty-headed pod girl” unworthy of any respect or empathy because she succumbed to Kalona and Stark’s brainwashing, like, you know, 99.9% of the school, and also NO THANKS TO NYX.
So fast forward, Zoey heads off to the stables to meet her followers, and SURPRISE! Stark.
I trudged through the water and ice muck and tromped past Stark, who was staring at me. “What?” I said. “I was tired of almost falling and breaking my butt.”I just- can we all take a moment to appreciate the irony in Zoey comparing Stark the rapist’s kiss to Erik’s favorably, based on intrusiveness? Like, hi Zoey, remember how intrusive he was not twenty-four goddamn hours ago when you found him SEXUALLY ASSAULTING ANOTHER FLEDGLING? HUH? But nah, he’s gentle with Zoey, so fuck it, right?
“You’re really something, you know.” He grinned his cocky, cute Bad Boy smile, and before I could blink, he pulled me into his arms and kissed me. It wasn’t a groping, intrusive kiss filled with possessiveness like I’d been experiencing with Erik. Stark’s kiss was more of a sweet question mark, which I answered with a definite exclamation point.
I could only imagine the freak-out it would cause among my friends. Not to mention the zillion pissed-off pod girls who would…Raping, he was fucking raping them, Zoey.
And thinking about the zillion pod girls Stark had been biting and whatnot —
“No. You stay over there and I’ll stay over here. We need to talk and that’s not going to happen if you’re close to me,” I said.Victims, you mean. Those are his victims you’re referring to so scathingly.
“Because you can’t keep your hands off me?”
“Oh, please. I’m managing to keep my hands off you just fine. I’m not one of your pod girls.”
“Pod girls?”“BITE AND MESS WITH THEIR MINDS”, HE RAPES THEM YOU COMPLETE AND UTTER SOIL SAMPLE OF A HUMAN BEING. Oh my god, oh my god, this is it, this is where I snap my keyboard in half, I can’t, I can’t deal with this.
“You know, from Invasion of the Body Snatchers. That’s how I think of the girls you bite and mess with their minds so that they’re all ‘Oooh, that Stark, he’s just so hot! Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod!’ It’s seriously annoying.”
“I have no idea how to do what I need to do to begin to make this mess right, and to top it all off I’m falling for a guy who’s been with a crapload of the girls on campus and used mind control on them.”THIS LANGUAGE, THIS FUCKING LANGUAGE THEY USE TO DANCE AROUND CALLING STARK THE RAPIST HE FUCKING IS–
His face hardened. “You know what happened to me. I’m not going to apologize for what’s become my nature.”I cant, I can’t I can’t I can’t
“Your nature? Do you mean your spoiled-brat nature, or your slut nature?”
“You really do have feelings for me, don’t you?”This would almost be an admirable foot to put down, if she weren’t basically saying “Hey, stop raping girls and I’ll date you!”
“I do, but I can promise you I won’t be your girlfriend if I’m ashamed to be with you in front of my friends. You can’t be wrong around everyone else and right around me. What you really are is how you act most of the time. I see that there’s still good in you, but that good will eventually be blotted out by the darkness that’s there, too, and I’m not going to hang around to see that happen.”
So what does Stark do?
I’m pledging myself to you. Warriors have done it for ages—pledged themselves, body, heart, and soul, to protect their High Priestesses. I know I’m just a fledgling still, but I believe I qualify as Warrior already.”Okay, a) way to just drop that little tidbit on us, like “OH YEAH BY THE WAY THIS ISN’T JUST A BODYGUARDING GIG, THIS BOND IS STRONGER THAN AN IMPRINT, SEE HOW SUPER SPESHUL OUR RELATIONSHIP IS???
“Stark, do you understand what you’re doing?” I knew about a warrior’s pledge to a High Priestess, and it was an oath that often bound him to her service for his entire life, and was often harder to break than an Imprint.
And b) that’s it, that’s all it takes:
The air around us shimmered and there was a brilliant flash of light. Stark cried out and seemed to crumple in on himself, falling at my feet with a moan.All he had to do was pledge his life to Zoey and BAM, everything is forgiven. Stark is an adult vampire, firmly on the side of the angels as far as the book is concerned, and all of those girls he violated and manipulated and raped don’t matter one little goddamn bit, because Stark is a Good Guy now. Fuck ’em.
With a wonderfully joyous cry he looked up at me. Tears were running freely down his face, but his smile was radiant. Then I blinked and realized what I was seeing. His crescent had been filled in and expanded. Two arrows faced the crescent. They were decorated with intricate symbols that seemed to glow with their new scarlet color against the white of his skin.
“Oh, Stark!” I reached out and gently traced the tattoo that forever Marked him as an adult vampyre—the second adult red vampyre there had ever been. “It’s beautiful!”
Zoey’s friends, understandably, express some doubts:
“Okay. Well. Remember the poem?” All of my friends narrowed their eyes at me, which I didn’t think was very fair. But I continued anyway. “It said I was supposed to save his humanity? And I did. I think. I hope.”Darius u r too good for this book.
“Priestess, we caught him abusing a fledgling. How can you condone that?” Darius said.
“I don’t condone it. It makes me sick–“Oh yeah, totally, really seemed like it.
“–But I remember when Stevie Rae was fighting to keep her humanity, and she was awful.” I looked at Aphrodite. “You know what I’m talking about.”Yeah, I mean, Stevie Rae murdered someone and we forgave her, so fuck it, make room for the rapist.
“It means I trust him,” I said. “And I wish you guys would give him a chance.”He only raped a bunch of girls who go to school here, god you guys, lighten the fuck up!
This whole Stark-“arc” is fucking disgusting. I can barely express how unspeakably gross it is to use rape as a gritty line for a love interest to defiantly cross to prove that he’s super edgy, man, and dark and tortured, and only his ~true love~ can save him from his monstrous ways. I’m fucking speechless that anyone involved in the process of making this book thought it was acceptable for Zoey to treat Becca so poorly and get away with it, to have her extend more empathy and compassion towards a rapist than she does his victim. I can’t believe this is a book that fucking exists. I think we’ve hit rock bottom, kids. Between the no-plot and the racist caricatures and Stark the rapist love interest, I think this might be the very worst House of Night book so far.
No wonder so many people jumped ship on this one. Jesus.