So…you’d think after banishing an immortal being and a fallen High Priestess, saving Stark’s life, biting Heath, getting a headache from Erik, and almost dying, Zoey Redbird would catch a break. Sadly, a break is not in the House of Night school forecast for the High Priestess in training and her gang. Juggling three guys is anything but a stress reliever, especially when one of them is a sexy Warrior who is so into protecting Zoey that he can sense her emotions. Speaking of stress, the dark force lurking in the tunnels under the Tulsa Depot is spreading, and Zoey is beginning to believe Stevie Rae could be responsible for a lot more than a group of misfit red fledglings. Aphrodite’s visions warn Zoey to stay away from Kalona and his dark allure, but they also show that it is Zoey who has the power to stop the evil immortal. Soon it becomes obvious that Zoey has no choice: if she doesn’t go to Kalona he will exact a fiery vengeance on those closest to her. Will Zoey have the courage to chance losing her life, her heart, and her soul? Find out in the next spectacular installment in the House of Night Series, Tempted.On the last episode of The Worst Thing Ever, we hit rock bottom when Zoey did a whole lot of nothing for dozens of pages, then allowed a serial rapist into her inner circle, and banished Kalona and Neferet with the power of love. Tempted picks up moments after the end of Hunted, with Zoey and her party scrambling to tie up loose ends in the aftermath of the fight.
CONTENT WARNING FOR SEXUAL ASSAULT/RAPE
While Zoey rushes Stark to the infirmary to get his stupidly-shaped burn looked at, Stevie Rae is left in charge of both the fledglings and narration duties for the first time.
Yep, Tempted is the book in which the series begins to split the narrative perspective between Zoey and the rest of the cast. We get full chapters with other characters at the wheel, including Aphrodite, Heath, and Stark, but most of the focus shifts to Stevie Rae, who’s being maneuvered into a sort of co-protagonist position with Zoey.
I have to say, I think this was a really good decision. For one, it helps to feel like more shit is actually happening in this installment. Not to say that Tempted isn’t still extremely decompressed – I swear this thing reads like a monthly comic series in the worst possible way – but we at least have multiple storylines running, so that our downtime between the start and climax at least seems like it’s filled with things besides Zoey’s boy troubles.
For two, we get to spend time outside of Zoey’s head. Whole chapters, you guys. You wouldn’t think that the effect would be that significant, because it’s still the same author, and the writing and characters are just as obnoxious in the non-Zoey chapters as they are normally, but holy shit, going from third-person perspective following Stevie Rae or Aphrodite around to one of Zoey’s first-person chapters is like getting in a big lungful of shit-scented air before having your head dunked back into raw sewage.
I really can’t emphasize the difference enough. I’m not a fan of Cast as a writer, but you don’t realize just how much Zoey’s voice contributes to the insufferability of this series until you’re given a chance to experience it from someone else’s perspective.
Anyway, chapter two puts Stevie Rae in the driver’s seat for the first time, and she promptly makes a hard left out of fucking nowhere.
Stevie Rae moved before she remembered even making the decision. When she reached him, she only hesitated for a second. He’d passed out facedown, so it was a simple thing for her to move his wings aside and grab him under his arms. He was big, really big — like, as big as a real guy, and she’d braced herself for him to be heavy, but he wasn’t. Actually, he was so light that it was super-easy to drag him, which was what she found herself doing while her mind screamed at her: What the hell? What the hell? What the hell?Enter Rephaim, who had like one line in the last book, and is now looking like he might have been bumped up to series regular. He’s introduced as “Kalona’s favorite son”, his lieutenant, because of course this is House of Night, and he couldn’t just be a rank-and-file Raven Mocker. He also has a normal dude voice, so that when Stevie Rae finds him badly injured after the battle, and he asks her to kill him, it hits Stevie Rae right in the “I-don’t-kill-people-unless-they’re-homeless” feels. Against all established canon and reason, she doesn’t finish him off; instead she drags him back to the nunnery and stashes him in a gardening shed, tending to his wounds, and taking on her own dirty little secret.
What the hell was she doing?
Stevie Rae didn’t know. All she knew was what she wasn’t doing. She wasn’t killing the Raven Mocker.
It’s a contrived-ass decision, to be sure. Tempted is all about loudly justifying Stevie Rae’s choice so that it doesn’t feel plot-mandated, jumbling out some stuff about how Stevie Rae’s not a killer, and sees herself in the Raven Mockers, but right off the bat it feels plot-mandated. I mean, neither we nor Zoey and her pals have been given any reason to see the Raven Mockers as anything but mindless bestial monsters. Zoey certainly had no problem killing them in the last book – remember how she roasted that one alive back at the train station?
Anyway, this provides majority of the material for Stevie Rae’s storyline. It’s mostly about keeping Rephaim from her friends while angsting about sparing an enemy, and is the decision that sort of “justifies” this new formatting, giving Stevie Rae a redemption plotline of her own to pursue that Zoey doesn’t know about.
The books are really building Stevie Rae as a red analogue to Zoey – she’s been called the red fledgling’s “high priestess” for a while now, even though they’re pretty vague on what that means or entails – but now she’s got her own plotline, her own narration duties, her own secrets, and, oh yeah that’s right baby, she’s embarking on her own little love triangle with her own morally ambiguous immortal!
But we’ll save that for later.
Meanwhile, Zoey’s getting in on that whole making random-seeming decisions. The start of this book has her finally accepting that she’s A-ya, even though it seemed to be at least partially in doubt or whatever in the last one. She leaves Stark in the infirmary, and goes to speak with her grandmother.
I sat beside Grandma, tucking my legs up under me, trying to be careful not to jostle the bed too much. Her face was bruised and burned from the airbag that had saved her life. Part of her lip and her cheek had stitches darkening them. She had a bandage on her head and her right arm was swathed in a scary-looking cast.“Oh Zoey, I’m an old women broken and battered and bruised all to hell, but your fee-fees are hurt, let’s talk about you, you’re the most important thing ever!”
“Ironic, isn’t it, that my wounds look so terrible, but they are far less painful and far-reaching than the invisible wounds inside of you,” she said.
No wonder Zoey’s such a fucking narcissist.
Zoey chats briefly about about her A-ya fee-fees, and then goes to make sure everyone’s settled in all right, during which she has her first actual A-ya flashback. It’s a weird bit of flip-flopped pacing, in that it would have made more sense for her to resign herself to her past life if this had happened sooner, but whatever. She remembers the moments just after she trapped Kalona, and it’s about fifteen different kinds of fucked-up.
“Oh, Goddess, no! Do not let this be!”This is so gross. So so so so fucking gross. I mean first, see how quickly she shifts the blame for Kalona’s actions away from him? “You were not meant to walk this world. That is why you have been so unhappy, so insatiable.” = “It’s not his fault he’s a raping, murdering monster! It’s this world’s fault, totally circumstance, you understand. SUCH A POOR, TRAGIC, MISUNDERSTOOD WOOBIE.”
It was Kalona’s voice, and my immediate reaction was to cry out and struggle blindly away from him, but I wasn’t in charge of my body and the words that came from my mouth were not my own.
“Sssh, do not despair. I am with you, my love.”
“You trapped me!” Even as he cried the accusation, his arms tightened around me, and I recognized the cold passion of his immortal embrace.
“I saved you,” my strange voice responded as my body settled more intimately against his. “You were not meant to walk this world. That is why you have been so unhappy, so insatiable.”
“I had no choice! The mortals do not understand.”
My arms wrapped around his neck. My fingers twined through his soft, heavy hair. “I understand. Be at peace here with me. Lay down your sad restlessness. I will comfort you.”
Then there’s this: “I understand. Be at peace here with me. Lay down your sad restlessness. I will comfort you.”
So many questions. One, why the fuck is A-ya even sentient? If her only purpose was to trap Kalona so that he couldn’t rape or murder anyone anymore, why does she need to be self-aware or have a soul AT ALL? Why wouldn’t the Ghigua women just make some beep-boop mud robot who detonates upon penetration and leave it at that?
Two, if you are going to make her self-aware, why would she be so ~understanding~? She was created by members of the VERY COMMUNITY Kalona tormented for years, why the fuck would they create a trap that would want to comfort him? You’d think if anything she would be programmed to hate him, spend eternity tormenting him, maybe have some vagina dentata going on. THAT would make more sense than her makers programming her to be all “AW POOR BABY, LET ME COMFORT YOU WITH MY COOCH.”
Finally, since the plot has decided that she is a sentient woman with feelings and shit, WHY OH WHY is it HER RESPONSIBILITY to comfort Kalona? WHY? I mean I get in a literal sense that she’s a living trap for his dick, but in a thematic sense, why have the Casts decided that it’s a woman’s responsibility to rehabilitate the immortal murderer-rapist?
I hate this idea so much. It came up with Stark and Zoey in Hunted, Kalona and Zoey later in this book, and even Stevie Rae and her immortal bad boy – this idea that it’s somehow these women’s mystical duty to reform these guys, who are, for some convoluted reason or another, totally not responsible for their actions. They’re all just so tragic and hurt and sad, oh, if only they had someone to pat them on the back and tell them everything was going to be okay, they would obviously stop being monsters, right?
That line of reasoning is so fucking dangerous. The idea that because a dude is in pain, it’s not his fault when he lashes out at other people, the idea that the “right” woman can fix a broken, violent man, that a “good” woman SHOULD, that the choice to “do good” can and should absolve anyone of their past sins, no matter how destructive or violent, and that anyone who might hold a grudge after that is unreasonable and harsh.
This series and its godforsaken “moral themes” are so steeped in rape culture and rape apologia that it’s really, really hard to stomach sometimes.
Anyway, back on plot: Zoey settles everyone in and begins making her multiple-chapters-long trek to bed, during which she tries to sort out her boy problems, because god forbid we not get right on that.
We’ll start with Stark, whom she checks up on in the infirmary. He’s not doing super great.
“He’s been hurt — like I was — and he has to have blood to heal, just like I did. Well, why didn’t you say something before? Crap!” I kept babbling on as my mind raced, “I don’t especially want him to bite Aphrodite, but—”I mean, he’s a rapist, I wouldn’t want him touching my girlfriend, either.
“No!” Darius interrupted, looking more than a little upset at the thought of Stark drinking from his girlfriend.
“Well, hell! Let’s get him a blood baggie or whatever, and I guess I could try to find a human he could bite…” My voice trailed off. I hated, hated, hated thinking about Stark drinking from anyone else. I mean, I had already had to deal with his extracurricular biting before he’d pledged himself as my Warrior and gone through the Change. I had hoped that the days of his biting other girls were behind him. I still hoped it! But I wouldn’t be so selfish that my feelings kept him from getting what he needed to heal.Extracurricular fucking biting, ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT HIS RAPING, ZOEY? ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT BEING JEALOUS OF THE GIRLS HE FUCKING RAPED, ZOEY?
As Darius and Zoey try to figure out a practical way to heal him, we get some more in-depth info on their SUPER SPESHUL warrior bond.
“I’m your Warrior. You can trust me with your life. That means you can also trust me with your secrets.” I met his eyes, and he continued, smiling sweetly at me. “We’re Oath-bound. That’s a stronger tie than what happens between an Imprint or even between mates.”I can’t roll my eyes hard enough at how all of Zoey’s boyfriends have to have some super amazing spiritual bond with her in order to justify their presence. These books amp-up the level of creepy intensity and commitment required from these goddamn infants every time a new love interest spawns.
“That bond is more than just an oath. Since ancient times Nyx has blessed her High Priestesses and the Warriors who serve them. The two of you are linked through the Goddess’s blessing. It gives him intuitive knowledge about you that makes it easier for him to protect you.”Yeah, it’s basically the exact same thing that Rose and Lissa’s have in Vampire Academy. Stark can feel Zoey’s emotions, and Zoey’s blood can nourish him.
“A Warrior can absorb his Priestess’s emotions. He can also absorb spirit from her, especially if his Priestess has a strong affinity. Often he can tap into that affinity.”I’ll never stop being floored by how attracted she is to a man she personally stopped from raping someone, but whatever. Zoey offers to feed Stark, but he declines because he doesn’t want to use up the energy she needs to continue healing, and I’m genuinely surprised that the Casts are able to resist this opportunity to sex things up.
“What in the hell does that mean, Darius?”
“It means he can literally absorb energy through your blood.”
“Are you saying it’s me Stark needs to bite?” Okay, I’ll admit that my heart started to speed up at the thought. Seriously—I was already mega-attracted to Stark and I knew sharing blood with him would be a very hot experience.
They talk a little about Stark’s creepy new ability to psychically spy on Zoey, and that plot thread from like two books ago about how Stevie Rae is probably hiding extra red fledglings, and then Zoey continues her trek to her room, only to run right smack into Erik. He tries to play the suave boyfriend, and when she doesn’t have time for it, he goes into Angry Douchebag mode.
He’d stopped moving toward me and his eyes narrowed. “So how’s Stark?”Yeah I mean look he’s not wrong. He’s being a dickbag, but Erik has made it pretty clear for books now that he wants the two of them to be monogamous, and Zoey’s ignored that entirely. Granted, plot and goddess have manipulated her into connecting with these other dudes to an extent, but she’s had ample reason and opportunity to rid herself of Stark at least, or just let Erik go, and hasn’t.
“He’s hurt. Bad. But Darius says he’ll be okay.” I kept my voice guarded. His attitude was making me feel seriously defensive.
“And you just came from his room, didn’t you?”
Clearly frustrated, he ran his hand through his thick dark hair. “It’s just too much.”
He threw his arms out to the side in what looked to me like a well-practiced dramatic gesture. “All of these other guys! I have to put up with Heath because he’s your consort and just when I’m trying to get used to that, this other guy shows up—Stark.” Erik said the name with a sneer.
But that gets rectified real quick.
“No! It’s my turn to talk. We’re done, Erik. You’re too possessive, and even if I wasn’t exhausted and stressed out of my brain—two things that apparently don’t matter at all to you — I still wouldn’t be up for tolerating your crap.”Let’s all bask in the irony of that possessiveness comment Anyway, Erik was a dick, but once again it chaps my ass that Zoey’s made to look blameless in all of this, because she totally isn’t.
Oh well, at least we’ve gotten rid of Erik! Check him off the list and collapse the pentagon into a square, kiddies!
Meanwhile, Heath has basically rolled over on the whole multiple boyfriends thing. He bickers with Erik a bit at the start of the book, but when he’s with Zoey he’s just sort of resigned and sad.
“I don’t even know what to do about you.”I’m not an expert on like, healthy polyamorous relationships or anything, but I feel like this is not the path to that?
“There isn’t anything to do about me. I’m with you. That’s it.” He paused and then added quickly, like he wanted to get the words out of his mouth, “If I have to share you with the vampyres, I will.”
Still in his arms, I leaned back so I could meet his gaze. “Heath, you are entirely too jealous for me to believe it’s okay with you if I’m with another guy.”
“I didn’t say it’s okay with me. I definitely won’t like it, but I don’t want to be without you, Zoey.”
He sighed. “I said I’d share you with the stupid vamps if I had to, but I didn’t say I’d like it.”Smash cut to Zoey sleeping with Stark.
I shook my head. “You’re not sharing me with anyone tonight. I’m just going to make sure Stark’s okay, then go to my own bed. Alone. By myself. Got it?”
Kidding, kidding, she has a dream about Kalona first.
At that moment the island was the color of aquamarines, but I could imagine how it would look as dusk approached and the sun no longer ruled the sky. The blue would deepen, darken, and change to sapphire.Oh Zoey, your narcissism is perpetually grating.
My dreaming self smiled. Sapphire . . . The island would turn the exact color of my tattoos.
Kalona joins her pretty quickly, and spends the majority of the dream sexually assaulting Zoey in a way that Cast writes as uncomfortably erotic.
He didn’t say anything for a long moment. He only studied me silently. Then, with a slight smile curling his full lips, he reached out and caressed the side of my face with his hand. “You play a dangerous game, my little lost love.”Eugh, okay, I mean for starters, Zoey’s ability to consent here is dubious as fuck given her connection to Kalona and his power as a walking, talking aphrodisiac, but even when she does manage to say no, Kalona doubles down in a real rapey way:
My body froze.
His hand slid slowly from my cheek down the side of my neck, searing a path of cold heat across my skin.
“You toy with me. You think you can act the schoolgirl who understands nothing more than the next dress she will wear or the next boy she will kiss. You have underestimated me. I know you, A-ya. I know you too well.”
Kalona’s hand continued down and I sucked in a shocked gasp when he cupped my breast. He rubbed his thumb across the most sensitive spot there and a frigid stab of desire shook me. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t keep myself from trembling at his caress.
“Stop?” He chuckled again. “It seems you have lost your truth. You do not wish I would stop. Your body yearns for my touch. You cannot deny it. So shake off this foolish resistance. Accept me and your place by my side. Join me and together we will create a new world.”NAH MAN, YOU TOTALLY WANT IT, I CAN TELL. I mean it’s not just me, right? This scene is creepy. Zoey’s having her titties descriptively groped by an ancient immortal rapist pedo, in this, a book for teenagers. I’m all for honest and frank depictions of teenage sexuality, but this is squicky for me in like six different ways and I dun like it.
I swayed toward him, but managed to whisper, “I can’t.”
“If you do not join me you will be my enemy, and I will burn you with the rest of the chaff.” As he’d been speaking his gaze had moved from my face down to my breasts. Now he cupped both of them in his hands. His amber eyes had gone all soft and looked unfocused as he caressed me, sending icy waves of unwanted desire through my body, and sickness through my heart, my mind, and my soul.
Anyway, Zoey draws on Nyx and reminds Kalona that he’s a rapist and evil and shit, and he goes into sad woobie mode:
It was Kalona who finally looked away, Kalona whose voice was suddenly halting and unsure. “I don’t have to be like this. For you, I could be more.” His eyes met mine again. “I could choose a different path were you by my side.”BABY I CAN CHANGE, I SWEAR. IF YOU JUST LET ME TOUCH YOUR TITTIES A LITTLE MORE, I SWEAR I’LL NEVER RAPE ANOTHER WOMAN AGAIN.
Zoey brings up Neferet, and it gets even more awkward.
He frowned. “What of her?”BABY DON’T WORRY ABOUT HER, SHE DOESN’T MEAN ANYTHING. NOW LET ME OUTLINE MY SIXTEEN-POINT-PLAN TO #KILLALLHUMANS– BABY WHERE ARE YOU GOING?
“You say I’m supposed to love only you, but you’re not even free. You’re with Neferet.”
Some of his easy confidence disappeared. “Neferet is not your concern.”
His words made my heart squeeze and I realized that a big part of me had wanted him to deny that he was with her—to tell me that was over. Disappointment lent me strength, and I said, “I think she is my concern. Last time I saw her she tried to kill me, and that was when I was rejecting you. I say yes to you and she’s going to lose her mind—what’s left of it. On me. Again.”
“Why are we discussing Neferet? She is not here. Look at the beauty that surrounds us. Consider what it would be to rule this place at my side—to help me bring back the ancient ways to this world that has become far too modern.”
Zoey literally throws herself off a cliff to get away from him, which is really the only reasonable response to this kind of hackneyed romance novel shite. She wakes up screaming and finds Aphrodite, her convent roommate, also screaming, because she’s had another plot device. This one was about Neferet trying to convince seven vampires who were “all obviously High Priestesses” that Kalona is Erebus, and killing all the ones who don’t fall for it, along with all of the humans, and dissenting vampires and fledglings.
And I mean, we all know what’s going on, right? Because I’m pretty sure that a mere one book ago there was talk about how Neferet was a threat to the vampire High Council, and now Aprhodite’s seeing her talking to a group of High Priestesses, and yet no one, not even any adults, can put two and two together to make the connection. Nobody. NOBODY. IT’S A MAGICAL GODDAMN MYSTERY.
Aphrodite goes on to talk about seeing alternate scenarios in which Zoey either joins up with or destroys Kalona, and Zoey gets weirdly hung up on the presence of a wheat field because of Kalona’s one, really fucking common line about “separating the wheat from the chaff”, and then Zoey has to explain to Aphrodite what a wheat field is, and my brain starts leaking out of my ears.
My chest felt tight and my stomach hurt. “He said he was going to separate the chaff from the wheat, and burn the chaff up.”WHY DOES THIS MATTER? IS KALONA GOING TO BURN EVERYONE IN THE WORLD TO DEATH IN A LITERAL WHEAT FIELD? DO YOU GUYS UNDERSTAND VISUAL SYMBOLISM AT ALL? OH MY GOD, I CAN’T TAKE THIS.
“What the hell is chaff?”
“I don’t know exactly, but I’m pretty sure it has something to do with wheat. Okay, try to remember. The field they were burning in—did it have tall golden grassy stuff in it, or was it green, like hay or corn or something, well, not wheatlike?”
“It was yellow. And tall. And grassy. I suppose it could have been wheat.”
Then Stark shows up, mercifully interrupting the conversation so that I can try to funnel the puddle of brain on the floor back into my head.
I wrenched [the door] open to find Stark leaning heavily against the doorframe. “Stark? What are you doing out of bed?” He was wearing hospital scrub pants and no shirt. His chest was covered by a huge white gauze Band-Aid that wrapped all the way around his torso. His face was the color of bone, and a veil of sweat beaded his forehead. He was drawing short, ragged breaths and looked like he was going to fall over any second.Can you– can you carry a bow notched with an arrow in one hand? It’s not like, secured on there, you have to hold it with your fingers–
But in his right hand he clutched his bow, and it was notched with an arrow.
Why would you run holding something like that?
Anyway, Stark stays the night, just as Zoey ironically swore he wouldn’t. Aphrodite gets a perspective chapter as she runs off to find comfort in Darius, and she has some fleshing out that I kind of appreciate, in that it gives her some dimension, but is also very “a guy loves me, therefore I must be a worthwhile person”. We learn that despite what Aphrodite says, she and Darius haven’t had sex, because sex is for dirty slutwhores and Aphrodite is a Good Guy, so she doesn’t do that anymore.
Darius pledges himself as her Warrior forever and ever for the rest of their lives, and presumably all is well until they break up in like a month or two and it gets super awk, which is probably the destiny of every relationship in this series TBH. These kids are making LIFETIME COMMITMENTS YO, hope none of you regret that at any point during the next three hundred years of your lives.
The next morning we flip back to Zoey. She goes downstairs to get breakfast and I’ll speed things up soon I swear, but this line killed me:
To find the dining room I followed my nose and my ears. All down the hallway leading to it, I could hear familiar voices laughing amid the clanking of plates and silverware and I wondered briefly if the nuns were really cool with what amounted to an invasion of teenage vampyres-to-be.IT IS JUST NOW OCCURRING TO ZOEY THAT PUSHING A BUNCH OF TEENAGE VAMPIRES ONTO A GROUP OF NUNS WITHOUT WARNING OR PERMISSION MIGHT HAVE BEEN A DICK MOVE!
But of course it’s Zoey, and because Good People do whatever Zoey wants without complaint, the nuns and teenage vampires are instant BFFS.
Zoey runs into Erik, who’s validating all of Zoey’s paranoid girlhate from the last book by showing up with Venus. Zoey is predictably misogynistic as fuck about it, shaming Venus for her attention, and Aphrodite once again proves she’s drunk the Kool-Aid.
“Hey, Venus, I have two words for you,” Aphrodite said.
Venus hesitated and glanced over her shoulder at her ex-roommate. Aphrodite smiled her best mean-bitch sneer and said, “Re. Bound.” She paused and gave a bitchy smirk and then said, “Good luck with that.”
I choose to interpret Venus’ hesitation as translating to “Oh man, I really don’t want to hear my former best friend shit on my life choices to defend her new BFF, that’d really hurt me,” because THESE GIRLS USED TO BE SO CLOSE THEY CHOSE MATCHING NAMES WHEN THEY WERE MARKED. But we’s gotta have the Bitches, right?
Fuck you, book.
Why couldn’t breakups be easy? Why couldn’t Erik just not be a butt? Because you really hurt his feelings flitted through my mind, but I was sick of being worried about Erik’s feelings. He’d been a possessive jerk! And what a damn hypocrite. He’d called me a ho, but it’d taken him less than a day to hook up with someone else. Jeesh.Sick of being worried about Erik’s feelings.
I hate her. I hate her so much.
They get into discussing Aphrodite’s vision, and Kramisha informs the group that Nyx has gifted her with YET ANOTHER hackish plot riddle. They decide to head back to the House of Night before discussing it in full, mercifully granting us a few chapters’ reprieve before having another decipher-Nyx’s-obvious-puzzle scene. Instead, we get a “traveling-on-horseback-to-the-House-of-Night” scene, in which Stark picks up another obnoxious character trait:
“You know,” he said. “If you could forget all the craziness the storm is causing, and the whole Kalona-Neferet mess, the ice really does look cool. It’s almost like it’s taken us out of the real world and transported us to a weird winter land. Like someplace the White Witch would really like.”You mean…a person…reads…books…? For…fun…? That’s so ~befuddling~.
“Oooh, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe! That was a great movie.”
He cleared his throat. “I didn’t see it.”
“You didn’t see it?” My eyes widened and I glanced over my shoulder at him. “You read the book?”
“Books,” he said, putting special emphasis on the plural. “C. S. Lewis wrote way more than one Narnia book.”
“I read,” he said.
“Huh,” I said, feeling befuddled (as Grandma would have said).
“What’s wrong with that? Reading’s good,” he said defensively.
“I know! It’s cool you read. Actually it’s hot that you read.” And it was. I loved it when cute guys showed they had brains.
“Really? Well, you’d definitely be interested in the fact that I just read To Kill a Mockingbird.”
I smiled and elbowed him. “Everyone’s read that.”
“I’ve read it five times.”
“Yep. I can quote parts of it.”
And then Stark, my big, bad, macho Warrior, raised his voice, put on a little girl’s Southern drawl, and said, “ ‘Uncle Jack? What’s a whore-lady?’”
“I do not think that’s the most important quote from that book,” I said, but laughed anyway.
“Okay, how about: ‘Ain’t no snot-nosed slut of a schoolteacher ever born c’n make me do nothin’!’ That one’s really my favorite.”
WHAT A PRIZE. WHAT A FUCKING PRIZE. REMEMBER HOW HE’S A RAPIST, GUYS? And now we’re all LAUGHING while he talks about snot-nosed sluts? OH STARK, YOU ARE A TREASURE.
They get back to the House of Night to find that one of their adult allies that I don’t remember ever having even had a line has died.
I knew it was a picnic bench because even though it was burning, the structure was still completely recognizable, as was the body that lay on top of the table. Professor Anastasia, the beautiful wife of our Fencing Master, Dragon Lankford, had been dressed in something long and flowing and covered by a white linen shroud.A couple of things worth noting here. A) Oh wow is this a big walloping dose of MANPAIN. It’s all about how sad and terrible it is for Dragon that his wife died, oh man, never spoke to her before, but Dragon’s sad, so that’s all that matters.
B) “Professor Anastasia, the beautiful wife of our Fencing Master, Dragon Lankford, had been dressed in something long and flowing and covered by a white linen shroud.”
It really bugs me that this is how she’s summed up in death, as the “beautiful wife of a dude”. Not “the talented and intelligent spellcrafting teacher”, not “our empathetic and wise Professor”, not a word about her personality or character, just “pretty” and “important to a dude”.
It’s this sort of shit that makes House of Night’s feminist aspirations so fucking laughable. The Casts are so entrenched in patriarchal bullshit they can’t even conceive of a matriarchal society in which women’s physical appearances are not the most important goddamn things about them.
Anyway, Zoey finds that even though Neferet and Kalona are far away (something she Just Knows, Because), the majority of the faculty and students at the school remain under their spell. She goes to the infirmary to speak to the students who resisted, to try and Heal Them With Spirit, or whatever, and try and puzzle out why they managed to buck Kalona’s compulsion. They come up with absolutely nothing on the latter because they’re all just, incredibly dense, and the Spirit Healing takes enough out of Zoey that Stark feels the need to toss her a Heath snack before bed.
And I suddenly understood that I’d only been partially right. Stark had gone to get me blood, but instead of it coming from the side-by-side, stainless steel kitchen refrigerators, my blood was coming from the cutie football player Heath.I like how she says “cutie football player” to describe Heath as though we’ve all just met him and need to be reminded of his defining trait.
And just as an aside, this is literally the FOURTH TIME this book has ended a chapter on “Ah” or “Well, hell”.
Zoey feeds, and actually has some reasonable in-character issues with the whole sexual aspect. But by the sheer power of their wills, Zoey and Heath somehow manage to make the experience pleasurable but not excessively lustful, Because. Stark still feels the whole thing over his psychic line into Zoey’s brain, though, which makes the walk back to her dorm room awkward.
Just before he opened the door to the girls’ dorm for me, I looked up at him and said, “Thank you for being my Warrior. Thank you for making sure I’m strong, even though it hurt you.”File under: this polyamorous relationship is awful and satisfies nobody but Zoey.
“You’re welcome, my lady.” He smiled at me, but he looked old and really, really sad.
Heading up to Zoey’s room, Cast can’t fucking keep herself from writing ANOTHER goddamn confrontation between Zoey and Becca, the girl she interrupted Stark raping. It’s about as nauseating as you would expect.
I frowned. I didn’t know Becca very well. Except that she’d had a big crush on Erik. Oh, and I’d caught Stark biting and practically raping her — before he’d chosen good and sworn himself as my Warrior.So you know, no big.
Of course, Becca hadn’t remembered the raping part. She’d only remembered the biting pleasure part, again thanks to the jerk Stark used to be.PFFT, SHE DOESN’T REMEMBER, SO WHO CARES, RIGHT?
Still, that didn’t give her permission to pop this ridiculous attitude on me.THE HELL IT DOESN’T. You brought her near-rapist back onto campus, into her dorm room, now in an official capacity as the Warrior to The Most Important and Special Vampire Ever, and you think she doesn’t have the right to cop and attitude? How about fuck you?
The goddamn circular, self-justifying bullshit with Becca makes me so very angry. Cast writes it so that Stark victimizes Becca, but because Stark is the important character who needs to be sympathetic to the audience, she completely ignores any emotional or mental fallout from it, and in fact turns it around so that Becca aggressively pursues her own attacker, as though that will make what Stark did “okay”. After all, if Becca’s not upset with him, why should we be?
But it’s still canonically a result of mind control, so you would think that there would be some level of sympathy extended to her from Zoey and/or the narrative, but nah. We steadfastly ignore it, and pretend that Becca is just some generic jealous mean girl, demonizing her and pitting her against Zoey under the presumption that “her behavior” – and I can’t put ENOUGH quotation marks around that – will somehow make what Stark did less awful?
I mean, that’s basically just Cast working the shit out of the idea that it’s not that bad to rape someone if they’re a total bitch, right?
Scum of the fucking earth, you guys.
They nearly get into a fight, because Becca is understandably sick of the world revolving around Zoey, but Stark gets between them.
“Hey, Becca.” Stark was standing in the doorway to the kitchen, just behind Becca.This is so goddamn gross. Every goddamn thing about the way Cast wrote this is so gross. The flirting between Becca and Stark, the way Stark throws Erik in like a piece of meat to distract Becca, because of course the problem between them is romantic jealousy, of fucking course, and then Zoey just flinging out the “bitch!” to this girl who is being fucking mind controlled UGH.
She turned her head, tossed her hair, and gave him a flirty smile. “Hey there, Stark.”
“Erik’s free meat,” he said bluntly.
She blinked and looked a little confused.
“He and Zoey broke up,” he added.
“Oh, really?” She tried to sound nonchalant, but her body language gave away her pleasure. She glanced back at me. “It’s about time he dumped you.”
“Other way around, you . . . you . . . bitch!” I blurted.
Becca tries to do what we all feel like doing just about now – hitting Zoey – but Stark stops her, and they fuck off upstairs to meet up with Zoey’s friends.
“Okay, so, every single one of those kids down there is hating my guts.”“NOT SO NICE PAST.” REMEMBERING HOW HE ALMOST RAPED THAT GIRL, YOU MEAN. But of course they don’t say anything, because nobody dares fucking challenge Zoey’s decisions.
“Really? They were just being Stepfords when we came in,” Damien said.
“Really,” Stark said. “I almost had to pull that Becca girl off Zoey.”
I could see by the looks on Aphrodite and Damien’s faces that they were remembering Stark’s not-so-nice past. Neither of them said anything.
They discuss the disparate attitudes in the school, spitballing about how maybe the resisting students are just exceptionally talented or some shit, until Zoey has this epiphany:
Suddenly I was laughing. “That’s it! […] I found it. Found the answer. Goddess, it’s so obvious! Those kids aren’t über-gifted. They’re just kids who made the right choice.”MESS UP.
No one said anything for several seconds, and then Damien picked up the thread of my thought. “Just like in life. Nyx gives us all choices.”
I grinned at him. “And some of us choose wisely.”
“Some of us mess up,” Stark said.
“Goddess! It really is obvious,” Lenobia said. “There’s no mystery to Kalona’s spell.”I just…I don’t understand this. In a world where Nyx can give people the goddamn farts when shit is amiss, how is it EVEN POSSIBLE that the entire school wouldn’t just get raging diarrhea and know that Kalona is evil? Unless you’re telling me that an entire campus ignored their divine bowel movements and opted to pretend that Kalona wasn’t an evil monster, making Zoey and her crew the only ones “good enough” to realize the truth.
“It’s all about choice,” Aphrodite said.
“And truth,” I added.
“It does make sense.” Damien broke in. “I couldn’t understand why only three of our professors were able to see through Kalona. I’ve always thought that all of the vampyres here were special and had Goddess-given gifts.”
“And most are,” Lenobia said.
“But gift or no gift, finding the truth and following the right path is always a choice.” Stark spoke softly as his gaze trapped mine. “That’s something none of us should forget.”
I call bullshit. I’m with Fangs on this one, this is just more contrived nonsense to give Zoey and her posse the moral high ground over Kalona’s victims.
We get another plot puzzle that won’t be relevant until the next book –
A double-edged swordAnything is possible if you believe, actual literal revelatory poetry in the world of House of Night.
One side destroys
I am your Gordian knot
Will you release or destroy me?
Follow truth and you shall:
Find me on water
Purify me through fire
Trapped by earth nevermore
Air will whisper to you
What spirit already knows:
That even shattered
anything is possible
If you believe
Then we shall both be free.
Then the group sets about figuring out where Kalona and Neferet flew off to, and nobody, not even Horse Professor Lenobia, realizes that Aphrodite’s visions of High Priestesses = High Council until I shit you not, Jack shows up.
“I know where Kalona is,” Jack said, matter-of-factly. “What do you mean, you know where Kalona is?” Damien said while we all gawked at Jack. “Well, him and Neferet, that is. Easy.” He held up his iPhone. “Internet’s back up, and my Vamp Twitter has been going crazy.”He gets the information from Twitter. I still can’t decide if this is brilliant or just lazy as shit.
It does, however, get us this, as the gang prepares to head to Italy to face Neferet and Kalona:
Lenobia shot her a sharp look, but didn’t say anything to her. Instead she surprised me by looking at Jack. “I believe you should remain here,” she told him.My brain just died, it literally just fucking opened up the top of my head and threw itself out onto the carpet. Everything is awful.
“Oh, no way! I go where Damien goes,” Jack said.
“I think he should go,” I said. “He’s part of this. Plus,” I continued, following my instincts and knowing by the sense of rightness inside me that I was voicing something Nyx wanted everyone to hear, “Jack has an affinity.”
“What? I do?”
I smiled at him. “I think you do. Your affinity is for the magick of the modern world—technology.”
Damien grinned. “It’s true! Jack understands anything audiovisual or computer. I just thought he was a tech genius, but really he’s a tech genius goddess squared.”
They bed for the night, and despite Zoey sharing her bed with Heath, she has another Kalona dream. And everyone, including Zoey, is like “WAIT A GODDAMN MINUTE, I THOUGHT THE WHOLE POINT OF SLEEPING WITH A BOY THAT IS ROMANTICALLY INTERESTED IN YOU IS THAT HE KEEPS THE BOOGEYMAN AWAY. THAT SHIT IS HOUSE OF NIGHT‘S STUPID, CONTRIVED CANON, WHAT THE FUCK?
I narrowed my eyes at him. “Just exactly how can I be here again? I’m not sleeping alone, and I don’t mean I’m with one of my girlfriends. Or rather, friends who are girls,” I corrected hastily.NO HOMO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
“I’m sleeping in the arms of the human guy I’ve Imprinted. He and I are definitely more than friends. You shouldn’t be able to get in here.” I pointed to my head.And House of Night/Kalona are like “lol fuck established world rules”:
“I am not inside your head. You have never called me into your dreams. I draw your essence to me. The invasion was mine, not through any invitation of yours.”Right, plot convenience, fuck canon, moving on.
“That’s not what you said before.”
“I lied to you before. I am speaking the truth to you now.”
“For the same reason I was able to draw you here through your sleep even though you are in the arms of another. This time—for the first time—my motives are pure. I am not attempting to manipulate you. I am not attempting to seduce you. And I will speak only truth to you.”
Zoey’s understandably skeptical, and tired of Kalona’s sexual advances. But he’s in sad woobie mode for this dream, so:
His beautiful amber eyes darkened with sadness. He shook his head. “No, Zoey. You need not fear that I’ll try to make love to you. Should I attempt to shift from truth to seduction, this dream would shatter and you would find yourself waking in another man’s arms.”“Try to sexually assault you”, you mean. Also jesus fucking christ, the way this guy talks.
“I give you my oath that my skin will not burn you with the cold power of the lust I have for you.”The cold power of the lust I have for you. My vagina just zipped itself shut.
Kalona gives Zoey his sad-sack tale about how he was Nyx’s consort once, but then the bitch totally kicked him out of Heaven for “loving her too much”, which is probably Kalona code for “trying to rape her”. He fell downwell and was just really, really sad, you guys.
He nodded his head and, as if he could hear my thoughts, said, “I did terrible things. I’ve continued to do them. Falling changed me. Then, for so long I was numb inside. I searched and searched, century after century, trying to find something, someone to fill the bloody wound Nyx had left within my soul, within my heart. When I found her, I didn’t know she wasn’t real, that she was just an illusion created to entrap me. I went willingly into her arms. Did you know that when she began to shift her form back to the clay from which she’d been made, she wept?”He was just trying to find someone to fill the bloody wound in his soul! That’s why he raped all of those women, wasn’t his fault! Ugh.
He tries to capitalize on the A-ya thing, but Zoey’s like:
“I’ve chosen a different path. I can’t love evil. And that is the truth,” I said.I love how it’s like “You gotta get rid of the bitch”, first thing. Yes, because obviously Neferet is the one keeping Kalona from reaching his true potential as a force for good.
His eyes came instantly back to me. “And if I choose to reject evil? What then?”
His questions threw me totally off guard, so I blurted the first thing that came to my mind. “You can’t reject evil, not while you’re with Neferet.”
“What if I’m only evil with Neferet? What if the truth is that if I were with you, I could choose good?”
And once again, he’s putting it back on Zoey. “Just let me touch your titties! I can be good, for you!”
But again, Zoey rebuffs him:
“No. This version of you isn’t real. You’re not Stark. You’re a fallen immortal, Neferet’s lover. You’ve raped women — made people your slaves — killed people. Your sons almost killed my grandma. One of them did kill Professor Anastasia!”Is that like, a list of crimes in order of evilness?
1) Fallen immortal
2) Neferet’s lover
3) Raped women, enslaved and killed people
4) Attempted grammacide
5) Actual murder
Also, “You’re not Stark … you’ve raped women”
So they get on their way to Italy to meet the High Council to expose Neferet and Kalona, and Zoey is crowned Queen of Everything as Lenobia informs her that she is officially the High Priestess for the Tulsa House of Night, after a total of like three months as a vampire, because why not?
The gang flies to Italy, sans Stevie Rae, who stays behind because she wants one last chance to save those extra red fledglings that aren’t supposed to exist, who chose to remain evil after Stevie Rae became an adult vampire. Her subplot that I’ve been totally skipping over because it comes to nothing except what I’m going to explain to you now, had her sending Rephaim back to the tunnels to fully recover, where he slept in her bed while presumably nursing a confusing bird boner, and became embroiled in the red fledgling’s plot to kill her.
Stevie Rae meets with the fledglings one last time before writing them off entirely, walking right in to their over-complicated plan to use Rephaim to lure her into a trap, which results in the two of them being locked up and exposed to the rising sun. Long story short they escape, but Stevie Rae is fucked up enough that she has to drink Rephaim’s blood to survive, breaking her Imprint with Aphrodite, and establishing one with him.
YEAH. That’s right kids, Stevie Rae’s dark immortal lover? A goddamn Raven Mocker. I might be jumping the gun on this a bit, but this is my FAVORITE part of the series u gais. It’s just kind of implied in this one, but by the end, they’ve got that Imprint and it’s become sexual and awkward and HE’S A FUCKING BIRD YOU GUYS. HE’S NOT EVEN A WINGED GUY LIKE KALONA, HE’S LITERALLY A BIRD WITH PERSON ARMS AND LEGS! HE’S EVEN GOT A BEAK, I DON’T KNOW HOW HE MAKES PERSON SOUNDS, but he’s Stevie Rae’s bad boy love interest and oh my god what is this series?
Meanwhile in Italy, Zoey watches Neferet and Kalona address the High Council, answering all of their direct and pointed questions in the most circuitous way possible.
“Do you expect us to believe that Erebus’s incarnation on this earth has no will of his own?”He might as well just hold up a sign that says “I’m not Erebus”.
“Whether on earth or beside Nyx in the Goddess’s Realm, Erebus is devoted to his mistress, and his desires reflect hers. I can tell you that I know the truth of these words through personal experience,” Kalona said.
The idea, of course, is that he’s “telling the truth” but not actually answering the questions, and it’s the most OBVIOUSLY SHADY THING EVER. How this Council of the seven wisest vampires on earth can’t tell that this guy is playing a child’s game of evasion is beyond me, but whatever, the Casts thing they’re being slick, and he and Neferet dramatically storm out of the meeting with most of the spectators, at least, on their side.
Throughout this meeting, Zoey kinda-sorta defended Kalona, relaying the story of A-ya with…let’s say “caveats”.
“My grandmother’s people are Cherokee, and they have an old legend about him. They called him Kalona. He lived with the Cherokee after he fell from Nyx’s Realm. I don’t think he was himself then.”He wasn’t himself then, fuck right the fuck off.
She makes the thing seem like more or less Neferet’s fault for having turned from Nyx, and it understandably makes her friends defensive, as they think she’s been taken in by Kalona’s poor-me act, which I mean, she totally has.
“That’s what I’ve been trying to do — to think clearly and to find the truth — without everyone else’s attitudes, including A-ya’s, getting in the way. Just like I did for you.”SHE’S NOT WRONG. THESE ARE ALL FACTS. But oh, Zoey had a rational fucking reaction to her boyfriend’s monstrousness, so of course she’s the asshole for saying it.
“It’s not the same thing! I wasn’t evil for centuries. I didn’t turn an entire tribe of people into my slaves and rape their women,” Stark said.
“You were going to rape Becca if Darius and I hadn’t stopped you!” The words came blurting out of my mouth before my good sense could stop them.
Stark actually took a step away from me like I’d hit him. “He’s done it. He’s gotten inside your head, and with him there, there’s no room for your Warrior.” Stark turned and walked away into the shadows.Stark pouts and throws a fit like he has every time he’s been upset with Zoey, and abandons his duty because he’s a useless, entitled piece of shit.
Zoey stalks off to have some alone time, and finally, finally we get to the end of this shitfest as Heath takes over narration for the first time. He wanders off to do something, I can’t be bothered to remember, and runs across Kalona and Neferet having a private, evil conversation. He evesdrops, Kalona catches him, and snaps his neck just as Zoey and Stark rush in to save him.
Zoey loses her shit, like for real.
“Zoey saw Kalona kill Heath and she called spirit to try to stop him, but she was too late to save him.” Just like I was too late to save her, Stark’s mind shrieked. But in the calm voice of a stranger, he continued explaining. “When she threw spirit at Kalona, Zoey knew she was too late, and her soul shattered. I know because I’m bound to her soul and I felt it shatter. Zoey’s not here anymore. This is just her empty shell.”Aw shit, that’s right, Zoey’s in a magical goddamn coma. The book ends on her wandering through the afterlife, running across a shocked Heath who tells her that she shouldn’t be there. BA DA DUM, TO BE CONTINUED!
So look. Hunted was awful, and it’s gonna be really hard to out-do it in terms of sheer vileness and idiocy and lack of anything happening. Which means that in many regards, Tempted is a step up. Shit happens, Erik is kicked to the curb, Heath bites the big one, and Stevie Rae gets a goddamn Raven Mocker love interest, I don’t know how you can top that. The switch-up in perspective provides a much-needed relief from Zoey’s awful voice and brain, and there are moments when Tempted actually begins to feel like something that might at some point resemble a book.
But, it’s still House of Night, and it’s still awful. The characters are terrible, the themes are awful, the rape apologia is oozing out of every pore, the misogyny is still cranked up to eleven, and even outside of Zoey’s head, the writing is still pretty bad.
Tempted may be the “best” House of Night book so far, but that’s like saying it’s the smallest dump your dog has taken on your pillow. Shit still sucks.