House of Night Series Review: Marked, Part One – Zoey and the Land of Internalized Misogyny

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Back a couple of years ago when we started this blog, we reviewed the first book in the House of Night series, Marked. The review was mostly positive, praised the characters, and ultimately ended in a recommendation.

We deeply, sincerely apologize for that.

We could own up to the fact that we were young, dumb, naive reviewers who didn’t yet understand what constituted a good book, and to whom the concept of things like “internalized misogyny” were foreign and unfamiliar, but well, we read Marked around the same time we read Evermore, a book so depressing and angsty that Zoey’s chipper idiocy seemed like a welcome respite. So we’re just going to blame that instead: from now on, Evermore shall be known as “the book that made House of Night seem better by comparison”.

Ahahaha, no, but really, the point is that that was a huuuuuge error in judgement. We’ve spent the past few years using the blogosphere to form some semblance of critical standards and social cognizance, and these have allowed us to realize what any literate fourth-grader really should have: House of Night suuuuuuuuucks. It is straight up, unapologetic crap slapped together with a cover and called a “book”. Not only is it crap, but it’s exactly the kind of awful, hate-mongering, insipid crap that we’ve grown to despise. And we recommended it.


So, to atone for our sins, we’ve decided to re-read and review the entire House of Night series from the beginning – all nine books, both novellas, and five comics – so that we can take a look at and discuss exactly what makes them so awful.

We are reading and blogging these one at a time, but to cut down on the amount of repetition, we’re going to use our first few posts to illustrate some of the overarching problems we remember having with the series, as exemplified in Marked. After that, we’ll focus on the specific issues of each individual book – plot elements, characters, and whatnot – and hopefully have minimal reference back to the original issues.

Finger crossed this is the only time we’ll have a three-part review and quotefest for one book xD

So if you’re ready –

Joker: here we go

Like before, we’re going to start the review off with our protagonist, Zoey Redbird, a character who possesses just the right balance of Divine Special and Unrepentant Asshole to make us want to constantly punch her right in the face. As obnoxious heroines go, Zoey blows every other irritating character we’ve ever read about out of the water like a fucking hurricane.

Allow us to rant elaborate: Zoey is a raging Mary Sue. Sure, lots of protagonists are, in some way or another, but Zoey ticks nearly every box on the Mary-Sue checklist, and then ramps it up to eleven. She’s beautiful, “exotic”, supposedly smart, virginal, doesn’t drink, smoke, do drugs, or even *swear*, and is at fault for absolutely nothing. Anything bad going on in her life or around it is wholly because other people who are out to make her life miserable – her stepdad, the mean girl at school, etc. From the word “go”, she is a super-speshul “vampyre” snowflake, in large part due to her Cherokee heritage, and she is literally the only vampyre in the history of FOREVER AND EVER to be as magically gifted as she is. Boys fall at her feet in waves, everyone important loves her, and the ones who don’t are canonically evil.

Yet despite having these super-special magical powers, Zoey really doesn’t bring a whole lot to the table. In practice, she’s not particularly smart, insightful, charismatic, or physically adept, and as a heroine, her agency is almost nil. Zoey may be super special awesome, but she doesn’t do a whole lot – bad things happen, eventually the fix magically presents itself, and Zoey somehow winds up being the hero.

This alone would be enough to make her an eye-rollingly annoying heroine, but as usual, Zoey turns it up to eleven by eschewing any semblance of a likable personality.

We don’t even have to go past the first chapter before Zoey’s showing us just how stuck up, snobby, and pettily judgmental she really is. In fact, it’s probably her defining personality trait. You can’t go two pages without Zoey spouting out some snide comment about a group or individual that she finds inferior to herself; one of the first things she says about anyone is that her best friend is shallow, dumb, and prone to “annoying K-babble”. This is her best friend, okay, and yet both Zoey and the book waste no time in showing us how this is going to play: our heroine is better than everyone.

From there, nearly every character we meet is treated similarly. Here’s a short list of the people Zoey encounters and/or mentions throughout the first chapter, and the impressions we’re given of them:

  • Kay, her BFF – stupid, shallow, and – it’s implied – promiscuous
  • Heath, Zoey’s ex – a dumb, alcoholic pothead
  • Dustin and Drew, Heath’s friends – closed-minded hillbilly rednecks
  • Zoey’s mother – weak-willed and dependent on her husband
  • Zoey’s step-father – a controlling religious zealot
  • Zoey’s nameless older sister – a “slut” and “Barbie”, whose supposed promiscuity Zoey uses against her mother in an argument
  • Kevin, Zoey’s little brother – lovingly deemed a “troll”

Yeah. It’s always a good sign when a book has to turn its supporting cast into cartoonishly awful caricatures of human beings to drum up a little sympathy and source of angst for its heroine. Zoey is probably supposed to look like a saint in comparison, but all we saw was a judgmental asshole who liked to talk a whole lot of shit. A whole lot of misogynistic shit, at that.

The misogyny is one of the most infuriating aspects of House of Night. These books take a laundry list of every awful, misogynistic idea that women have about each other, and gleefully perpetuate a world in which they are true.

A sampling of just a few of the lovely things we get to hear the girls say about other girls in Marked.

“No, Mother. The truth is that because of him you haven’t paid any attention to your kids for three years. Did you know that your oldest daughter has turned into a sneaky, spoiled slut who’s screwed half of the football team?”
Actually, instead of being afraid it was more like I was an observer, as if none of this could really touch me. (Kinda like those girls who have sex with everyone and think that they’re not going to get pregnant or a really nasty STD that eats your brains and stuff. Well, we’ll see in ten years, won’t we?)
“The Dark Daughters,” Stevie Rae said, and I noticed she automatically lowered her voice.

“Think of them like a sorority,” Damien said.

“Of hags from hell,” Erin said.

“Hey, y’all, I don’t think we should prejudice Zoey against them. She might get along okay with them.”

“Fuck that. They’re hags from hell,” Erin said.
I lined [my eyes] with a smoky black shadow that had little sparkly flecks of silver in it. Not heavily like those loser girls who think that plastering on black eyeliner makes them look cool. Yeah, right. They look like scary raccoons.
Her body was tiny, and the way she stood reminded me of those girls who obsessively take dance classes so that even when they’re not in ballet they stand like they have something stuck way up their butts.
“Nice dress, Zoey. It looks just like mine. Oh, wait! It used to be mine.” Aphrodite laughed a throaty, I’m-so-grown-up-and-you’re-just-a-kid laugh. I really hate it when girls do that.
Lovely. Even when it’s unnecessary, even when it’s irrelevant, even, as in that second-to-last quote, when she’s making an incidental observation about a professor, Zoey’s default response is to slam other girls. These girls hurl sexist slurs at one another by the fistful, in nearly every line of dialogue referencing another female character. The hatred is palpable.

The worst part is, this is canon. This isn’t about interrogating or subverting or disavowing this kind of internalized misogyny. No, Marked revels in it, it agrees with everything Zoey and her friends are saying, and goes to great lengths to prove them right. Any girl Zoey doesn’t like? A “slut”, “hag”, “ho”, “cow”, or “bitch”. Canon! The major antagonist of Marked is Queen Bee Aphrodite, and she and her band of followers are quickly relegated to the land of “gross/slutty/jealous evil bitches”. The characters are barely developed beyond their “hagness”, but why would they be? House of Night isn’t about promoting empathy or understanding between girls/women – it’s about stoking the flames of rivalry and jealousy, and demonizing characters who embody traits that the narrator – and presumably the reader – are supposed to hate.

All of this is, of course, closely tied to the book’s portrayal of teenage sexuality. Granted, the series’s attitude towards sexuality flails wildly back and forth depending on which book you’re reading and who’s doing the sexing – double standard, yo – but in Marked, at least, sexuality in the female characters is shamed, and is something only “bad” girls acknowledge. See: Kayla’s “boob shirt”, or Aphrodite’s “skanky” dancing and “inappropriately sexual” laugh (lol wut?). Even Zoey chides herself for acting “like a slut” every time she has a sexual feeling/action. Oh, yeah, and she also spouts out shit like this:

Yes, I was aware of the whole oral sex thing. I doubt if there’s a teenager alive in America today who isn’t aware that most of the adult public think we’re giving guys blow jobs like they used to give guys gum (or maybe more appropriately suckers). Okay, that’s just bullshit, and it’s always made me mad. Of course there are girls who think it’s “cool” to give guys head. Uh, they’re wrong. Those of us with functioning brains know that it is not cool to be used like that.
Right, of course, because only girls with malfunctioning brains (nice) give guys blowjobs! Women who might enjoy doing this for their partners? Don’t exist – they’re just being used, and they’re too dumb to notice. So, not only are we sluts, but we’re stupid, too.

fuck you

This is the crux of why House of Night is exactly the kind of shit teenagers shouldn’t be reading. It’s literary junk food – no, worse, it’s candy full of teeth-rotting acid. It offers nothing of substance and plenty of poisonous HORSESHIT that’s awful for developing minds. House of Night legitimizes, and glorifies every nasty stereotype that people have about other people. We want to shout it from the rooftops – this is not okay. This is not how empathetic, decent human beings treat one another. Zoey and her friends are awful, awful role models and human beings – and not just to other women.

Join us tomorrow, when we continue the review by taking a look at Marked and incredibly sensitive handling of delicate social issues.

laugh

Hahahaha, we’re just kidding, it fucks up so bad.

 

16 Responses

  1. Bekka

    June 9, 2012 1:05 am, Reply

    Oh my god, this SO MUCH. I loved Marked when I first read it — before I started blogging. And now that I’ve grown as a reader and a reviewer, I shudder at the thought that I’ve actually recommended this garbage. Thank you soooo ooo oo much for pointing out what horse shit this series actually is. I will be reading every installment! Can’t wait!

    • RogueFiccer

      June 17, 2012 6:30 pm, Reply

      Have you ever heard of the Suck Fairy? You know the Suck Fairy has visited a book you loved when you were younger because when you re-read it, suddenly it’s full of Mary Sues, misogyny, crappy writing, and the like, and all you can do is exclaim, “Man, this books SUCKS! Why did I ever like it?” *G*

    • Kayla + Cyna

      June 18, 2012 3:45 pm, Reply

      I’m pretty sure the Suck Fairy has taken a massive dump on most of the books we liked as a kid. But Marked doesn’t get that excuse, we were waaaaaaaaaaay old enough, we should have been able to see how shit it was :/ More like the Brain Fairy finally showed up and left some under our pillows S:D

  2. Maverynthia

    June 18, 2012 9:11 pm, Reply

    True Zoey is an asshole, but I don’t really like it when you start going into the Mary Sue part. Foremost because calling a character a “Mary Sue” is used to dismiss and disregard them. Secondly, the word itself “Mary Sue” is gendered female. Why? Mostly because the characters that get cut down the most are female characters. Iron Man is never called a “Mary Sue (Gary Stu)” A good number of the main male heroes in pretty much any shounen (boys) anime (which is pretty much the only anime these days that is on TV) is never broken down like this. It is a term reserved ONLY to female characters.

    So we have another gendered term being used against mostly female characters to dismiss them for, what? Being a female power fantasy? I think women need their over the top, perfect, power fantasies too.

    A good number of male characters fit into being “the mary sue”. They are perfect, everyone loves them, their power is always unexpected and grand and impresses all the friends and foes alike. And these characters are considered AWESOME and “I wanna be that character.” Characters like Harry Potter, Iron Man, Naruto, Ichigo (Bleach), James Bond, etc. However flip the genders and suddenly “Oh it’s just a Mary Sue character. DISMISSED!”

    So for Zoey, she is a female power fantasy, albeit a misogynistic, fat shaming, judgmental, racist, (etc?) power fantasy and I think she is made of fail based on that more than just being able to cast a circle without much practice.

    • Kayla + Cyna

      June 20, 2012 4:17 am, Reply

      Oh, fair enough. We weren’t really thinking about the larger implications of the term, and we wouldn’t want anyone to think we’re dismissing Zoey for being a woman. We’re dismissing her for being an asshole.

      That being said, I think the power fantasy aspects are still a big issue for us in Zoey. It might be different if Zoey had a single redeeming characteristic, but the fact that she *is* a misogynistic, fat shaming, judgmental, racist asshole is made even worse by the fact that the book worships her, grants her enormous power, makes her the standard by which women are judged, etc, essentially validates her and her attitude. Not cool :/

  3. Maggie

    October 15, 2013 4:57 am, Reply

    Thank you! I picked up “Marked” when it first hit the book stores, devoured it in one night, and thought that entire series was the best thing since sliced bread. I think I finally gave up reading them around the 5th or 6th installment because I had grown as a reader, and I got really tired of Zoey Redbird’s awful bullshit. Not to mention that the House of Night’s basis of religion was (looooosely) adapted from Wicca,an ACTUAL RELIGION, and I now realize that they shat all over it. P.C. and Kristen Cast have actually been worse than Silver Ravenwolf herself with the whole fluffy bunny stuff; “we’re special little snowflakes because of our flowery ‘paganism’ and oh myyy would you look at those typical shallow-minded Christians continuing to persecute us aren’t they just a bunch of silly little ducks.”

    I think in some ways, House of Night was actually worse than Twilight.

    • Cyna Cyna

      October 16, 2013 4:47 pm, Reply

      Ah, we had a similar experience with the series – funny how you go back after so long and just kind of gape in horror at all the awful stuff that just kind of slide by your notice, you know?

      Oh my god, I’m pretty sure Ravewolf and various other PNR books were Cast’s sole research sources, because her vampire-wicca is basically a cliffnotes cartoon. BUT LOOK IT’S REALLY PROGRESSIVE OK BECAUSE WOMEN OR SOMETHING, WE’RE PRETTY AND CHRISTIANS ARE UGLY, THAT’S ALL THAT MATTERS.

  4. wattpad user

    November 26, 2013 2:52 am, Reply

    Is it just me, or is it anyone who finds criticism with this series starts to find it around book 5? Cause i did, and by god i am horrified that i liked this steaming pile crap.

    Zoey is annoying to say in the least. I mean, I can understand the whole “We shall not kill the villain’s who have killed are loved ones, because killing is wrong” Trope, i just don’t like it. Also, I can understand why some people have an aversion to swearing. I read Catcher in the Rye and it made me want to clean my mouth out with soap the next time i dropped the F bomb. Using liberal words like ‘fudge’ or ‘shitake mushrooms’ is a pretty good substitute that i willingly understand and use often. BUT BULLPOOPIE?! Are we in the fourth grade?! Let alone how she uses the word ‘hell’ every know and then as an expletive.

    The slut shaming is wonderful in this work as well, and know i feel shamed for ever loving this train wreck. Honestly though, get rid of the pop culture references, slut shaming and add a few more ‘twist’ to the ‘religion’ so it’s your own. Drop the continued use of stereotypes and add a little bit of character, and this book has loads of potential. But right now, it’s basically a fanfiction, and a bad one at that. I don’t even think I have addressed the female on male rape at all, but I would probably just get a seizure discussing it.

    The sudden introduction of being the most unique priestess ever? Played horribly. She is the CHOSEN ONE! B**** please! The Cast can’t set up a plot decently, and they aren’t able to keep a straight plot. Too many cliches, to lopsided, too hypocritical and overall it’s a sedative to the mind. The pages are probably filled with tiny little spikes that have a numbing (or dumbing if you prefer) agent hidden inside the hollow spines. I seriously wish they’d meet a few actual people they try to describe, especially Damian and Jack.

    • Cyna Cyna

      January 1, 2014 5:15 pm, Reply

      That was actually about as far as we got before the horror set in. Maybe it just takes a bit of growing up with it xD

      Yeah I feel like most people who don’t like swearing…just don’t swear? I mean, it’s not like “crap!” isn’t a perfectly good substitute for most situations. But yeah, Hell, bitch, skank, whore, slut, the r-word, all perfectly acceptable! BUT GOD FORBID YOU START SAYING SHIT!

      Oh god yeah the Aphrodite thing, that’s such a huge ball of fucking squick…

      Yeah it’s not like there weren’t some good-ish ideas but Casts were obviously just not the people to write them. They’re just milking this shit for all it’s worth with do-nothing plots and terrible, shallow characters that appeal to the worst in us. Pretty fuckin’ gross.

      Oh, but I’m sure the Casts have a very best friend who’s gay! And he doesn’t mind! *eyeroll*

  5. Sarah

    June 28, 2015 9:01 pm, Reply

    I read until Tempted, I think. I was in my first year of college by then and realized I didn’t like the series at all. When I was a teen and reading the series, I did notice it was strange in some way and that I felt a ripple of dislike when I heard Zoey’s name, and hated the pointless many boyfriend thing. I found out what bothered me eventually. Everyone was awful and the plot went way too fast for me to have any connection with anything happening. Same went for the characters. Zoey could have eventually discovered her powers and worked hard for them.
    I didn’t know about oral sex when I read the first book, so I had no idea what Cast was talking about in that passage. I kind of felt bad when I read that bit. I was a teenager who didn’t know about it, so I wonder why she said that. Because there are no innocent teens? I guess Cast hates teenage sex acts despite giving Zoey five guys for absolutely no reason.

    • Cyna Cyna

      June 28, 2015 11:30 pm, Reply

      Cast only hates sex acts when they’re being performed by dirty slutty-slut types who are not the heroine or her friends. And yeah, for the amount of slut-shaming she lays down, you’d think that she’s either lighten up on the rotating door of boyfriends, OR lighten up on the slut-shaming. CAN’T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS, CAST.

      But omg yes, everyone is awful, that is the tl;dr on House of Night.

  6. Book Girl Elle

    August 24, 2016 11:41 pm, Reply

    I cannot express how much I agree with this and your other reviews of the series. I gave up years ago on this series when it was new and I was a teenager. I’m listening to it on audiobook and honestly, I wanted to give up again after the third book but I refuse to let it win. That being said, my friend and I have had a good few laughs over the horrible—everything. More than once I’ve caught myself thinking “This is not literature. Why did I think these were good before?”

    Also, I work in a library and Marked is in our Adult section (idk why though some branches have it YA). I was skimming the copy in house and noticed someone had circled all the grammatical errors. Usually this would annoy/bother me, but I honestly took it home and circled all the stuff the other person had missed.

  7. Cheyenne

    November 24, 2016 6:59 am, Reply

    As soon as I started reading your reviews on House of Night I couldn’t stop; this is just so AWESOME. šŸ˜€ I also started to realize how terrible the series was too. When I started reading House of Night I was only about 13 and had no idea about any of the sexual stuff happening in the books and just sort of skimmed through it…
    But now after re-reading the series (or at least trying to – only got as far as Destined before I gave up) and reading your reviews I can now see how shitty this series really is. In the first few books my head was spinning just trying to keep track of the love triangle, never mind the slut-shaming and double standards. Although I was quick to catch on that Zoey was a Mary Sue and therefore is utterly perfect and can do no wrong according to her mindless followers.
    Now I feel bad for recommending this to my friends. The only good thing to come of this cover-bound garbage is that I made one of my first friends in high school by bonding over it.
    I used to love this series but now I love to hate it and your reviews make me laugh and agree on everything that is wrong with these books (which is pretty much everything, to be honest).

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