Friday, December 09, 2011

The Honeymoon's Over: Jessica Rules the Dark Side by Beth Fantaskey

No, the vampire concepts of history, legacy, and birthright didn't hit home until I saw that heritage measured out in stakes.

"Lucius, that is..." Amazing? Unbelievable? Disgusting?

The room was small, but what that chamber lacked in size, it made up for in weaponry. Almost every square inch of wall held a bracket that in turn held a stake, point down, so that the entire room looked like the upper jaw of a great white shark. I felt like I was being eaten alive.

I'm in a museum of destruction.

Lucius stood still and silent, allowing me to explore. So much history--and so much old blood.

And eye was caught by another familiar name, next to the only stake encased in glass.

I turned to Lucius, baffled. "Why is Raniero's stake here? He's alive. He was your best man."

It's hard times in Transylvania. Anastasia (nee Jessica Packwood) has married her vampire prince and is now embedded in an icy castle in the middle of the gloomy, snowy Carpathian mountains, surrounded by spies, conspiracies, double-agent cousins, and more blood than even a newly-bitten vampire princess wants to see...ever!

No sooner does Jessica get settled in as co-ruler of the vampire kingdom than her cool but hot husband Lucius Vladescu finds himself accused of the grisly murder (by stake, natch) of his uncle Claudiu. Nobody at court actually misses Claudiu, mind you, a duplicitous Draculian scoundrel, it seems, but still, that's Lucius' own stake still wet with the victim's blood, and Claudiu's murder must be avenged by destruction of the offending vampire under law.

With her Lucius in the dungeon and no other vampire claimants to the throne at hand, Jessica has to become the ruler and call for the trial of her own husband, confined in a subterranean cell without a bit of blood to drink to keep him sane. Her look-alike cousin Ylenia seems to be auditioning for the job as her new BFF, but the fortifying vintage blood she brings the princess to drink tastes suspiciously evil, even to a relatively new vampire. Being a Mathlete and a recent graduate of Woodrow Wilson High School hasn't prepared Jessica for any of this.

So Jessica does what any vampire princess new to a difficult job would do--she calls up her real BFF Mindy Sue on her pink Motorola and begs her to come over for winter break. Mindy arrives with everything necessary to rescue a vampire princess--dozens of shoes, her rolling carry-on of cosmetics and hairstyling gear, a supply of TastyCakes, and a lifetime of wisdom garnered from reading Cosmo. Whew! Things are in good hands at last. Now the reader can relax!

But hard behind Mindy Sue comes her old boyfriend Raniero Vladescu, sometimes Buddhist surfer/slacker dude, onetime vampire assassin, Lucius' cousin and a potential pretender to the throne. Lucius trusts him, but Jessica is not so sure, and Mindy is on the horns of the dilemma, too. Is Raniero her ex or not? After all, he never offered to bite her, like Lucius did for Jessica, and how's a girl to know if it's true love without that immortality-granting big hickey? Not to mention that he confesses that he already lost his first bite virginity to the sneaky Ylenia. Was it love at first bite, or just a one=night nibble? Mindy, with her chick-lit education, rightfully suspects Ylenia as having her hopes set on making Raniero king and becoming his consort queen in the Vladescu dynasty.

It's a Gothic vampire mystery slash teen love triangle tale that makes the Twilight saga, with its straightforward rogue vampires and werewolves, seem simplistic. Will Jessica finally take up the reins of royalty and really reign over this bunch of unlikable fanged backbiters? The, er, stakes are high in this Draculian saga of happy-ever-after princessville.

Beth Fantaskey's long awaited sequel to the frankly funny (if fangful) first book, Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side, her forthcoming Jessica Rules the Dark Side (Harcourt Houghton Mifflin, 2012), lacks the fang-in-cheek humor of that book's juxtaposition of vampire culture with high school mores, and the grim, however fantastical, situation now facing our heroine drives out much of the wit whenever Jessica and Lucius are on-page. However, Mindy Sue flies in to save the day, bringing a humorous ironical voice to the narrative along with her reticule of coiffure and shoe possibilities, while her hot and cold romance with hottie "Ronnie" (a.k.a. Raniero Vladescu) provides the heat that keeps the reader going through the myriad candlelit crypts, secret subterranean passages, midnight grave-robbing forays, assorted bloody stakes, and the worst in-laws in the history of royal romance. (Sorry, Cinderella!)

If only Princess Diana had had a Mindy Sue on her side!

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