The Society of S and The Year of Disappearances by Susan Hubbard
Now that Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series has amassed a Prisoner of Azkaban-sized following, I got curious about how the series stood up to its contemporaries. And while Meyer doesn't have any serious challengers to the teen vampire throne these days, I wondered if she should.
So first up, The Society of S series.
Ariella and her father, Raphael, live in Saratoga Springs, depicted with such a strongly gothic sensibility that it took a chapter or two to become clear that the book was set in the present, and not the 1880s. Ariella's mother disappeared shortly after giving birth, and since then, the girl's life has been extraordinarily sheltered. While her education includes Latin and the writings of Bertram Russell, she's never had a friend her own age or bought her own clothes at the mall... or eaten meat.
As Ariella begins taking stabs at a normal teenage life, she begins to suspect that she's different from other people. There's no single moment of revelation. The pieces come together over the first half of the book from her own observations, her internet research, and the stories about the past that Raphael tells her in starts and fits.
Ariella eventually discovers that she's a half-breed, part vampire and part human. While some vampire sects support the colonization of the human race, her own family belongs to the Sanguinists -- a sect of ethical vampires who do not feed on humans.
Perhaps it moves too slowly, but Hubbard's writing is so lush and lovely that I didn't mind, and I'm not usually one to be distracted from other shortcomings by nice prose.
Unfortunately, action is a problem for Hubbard because once she gets going -- here, with the grisly murder of Ariella's best friend -- the story takes off on a wild, uneven trajectory that isn't reined in until the last chapters.
This is a problem in both books. Although the premise of the series is engaging and the world of the Sanguinists is inventive, I was consistently bothered by the directions Hubbard chooses to take her characters.
Despite some missteps in the middle, The Society of S finishes strong, and leaves a lot of intriguing loose ends to be explored in the next book.
Unfortunately, The Year of Disappearances doesn't do much with this incredible set-up. Instead of learning more about herself and her unique condition by interacting with other vampire characters, Hubbard inexplicably sends the 14-year-old Ariella off to college in this book. Hubbard also weaves plotlines involving politics, environmentalism, and bio-terrorism into the fabric of the vampire sects. Much of it works better than I'd expected, but it's simply too much for one book, and spread too thin.
Though the book's violence is minimal, the body count is high. But whether the characters make it to the book's end or not, it hardly matters. The cast has gotten a little too big by this point, and the supporting characters, a little too disposable. I wouldn't suggest getting too attached to any of them.
The Society of S succeeds as a stand-alone, and is definitely worth checking out. However, the forthcoming Year of Disappearances is messy, scatter-shot, and really only for those invested in the series.