Earlier this year I wrote a post about book shame. I’ve never been ashamed to read a book while I was reading it. However, I do look back and feel ashamed of books I read because I should have been reading something smarter, with more substance. One novel I had loved was 2003’s A Girl’s Guide to Vampires, which I reviewed recently. I had gotten rid of this novel, which made me sad. After I looked at reviews for the book on Goodreads, I noticed that the title included (Dark Ones #1). There were more? In a burst of aid to me of yore, I located and procured every book in the Dark Ones series — all 11 of them, plus two of the “0.5” books, which are 40-page-ish short stories from the same universe.
One of the reasons I seem further along in my 20 Books of Summer challenge is that these vampires novels are audio books, so I can listen to them while doing the dishes or laying in bed, and I’ll also read a hard copy of a different book when I feel like reading. I’ve just loved audio books like crazy lately!
Content Warning: memories of domestic violence, some fat shaming, a lot of very low-key sex scenes.
Sex and the Single Vampire (Dark Ones #2) by Katie MacAlister follows one of the characters from the previous novel, A Girl’s Guide to Vampires. It is a minor spoiler to say that in the first book, Joy ends up with Raphael, and Christian is the vampire. One fun, cheeky thing about Christian is he is the famous author of books about Moravian vampires, which women eat up like mad. Little do they know, his books might as well be autobiography.
Christian is the focus of this novel. He needs to find his Beloved to save his soul from eternal suffering. He thought it was Joy, and no one has ever heard of a Moravian being wrong about who his Beloved is. But Joy loves Raphael, so she promises Christian that she and Roxy will find Christian’s true Beloved.
Enter Allegra. She is an American summoner who has never actually summoned a ghost. Her last chance is to head to a hotel in London that has reported some active spirits. There, she finally succeeds! . . . and summons a three-legged cat. Allegra is still proud of herself, but loses focus when she has visions of a man covered in blood. She actually locates this man the next day, exactly as she had seen him in her vision, only for him to shoo her away. The nerve!
The book dips into meta-fiction like A Girl’s Guide to Vampires did when Allegra heads to a book signing by C.J. Dante in order to get a copy of the newest novel and get it signed by the author. After waiting for ages she gets to the front, and it’s the man . . . the one who was bleeding. Allegra is quickly swept away by two women, whom she learns are Roxy and Joy. They explain that they think Allegra is Christian’s Beloved and will explain everything.
Sex and the Single Vampire came out in 2004, just one year after the first book. I was not aware that the books would need to be read in order! I never commit to series. Except now I have. To not be ashamed of nineteen-year-old me. *sigh* I listened to the audio book, which is narrated by Cassie Campbell. Google tells me she’s famous and has all kinds of awards. The novel is told from Allegra’s perspective, and all I could think about when I heard the Allegra voice was sweet kittens and Frances from The Great British Baking Show.
That’s . . . not really a compliment. Frances always sounded babyish to me, and when we’re talking about the narrator’s voice, well, you want something strong, crisp, and clear.
Weirdly enough, Cassie Campbell’s voices for the Czechoslovakian Christian, British Esme, and German Guarda are all fantastic! I would say Campbell’s voice for Christian is actually better than Karen White’s in the first audio book because it’s not so slow and hesitating. Since Christian’s role was smaller in A Girls Guide to Vampires, it could be halting. As a main character, a similarly slow voice would have made the book drag.
The plot needed some love. This novel feels like the result of multiple editors all trying to have their way, which creates strong and weak moments all over the place. Awesome: Allegra and Christian communicating in each other’s minds takes the place of those annoying modern cell phones. Negative: the motives and actions of the bad guys make almost no sense. Awesome: Allegra’s choice to be stubborn is appropriate because she is the victim of domestic abuse. She only does things when she’s ready and comfortable. Awesome: this patience extends to Christian’s and Allegra’s choices in their sexual relationship. He says, “Ask me to stop and I will” and that they will wait “until the time is right” when Allegra feels comfortable. Negative: zero mention of contraceptives, though we know Moravian vampires can have babies. Negative: Allegra’s brain doesn’t want to have sex with Christian, but her body does, which implies women aren’t in control of their bodies. Let’s not do that. The diet industry will do that for us.
Also Negative: Allegra is so unsure because she was abused by her ex-husband (she’s actually physically disabled as a result), but fairly quickly develops a sexual relationship with Christian without knowing much about him. Why not put off the physical relationship for at least a week and get to know him. In passing, it’s mentioned that Christian had a brother who died, his dad was made a Moravian but Christian was born one, and that he was knighted. Huh. More conversations first would have led to a more satisfying payoff when we get to the sexual relationship. I think MacAlister was relying on the whole Beloved thing to bypass the characters getting to know each other because a Beloved and Moravian are made for each other, end of discussion. It doesn’t work for me.
The sex scenes take up a lot more space in this second book — a chapter may end with a sex scene and the next one begin with “round two” — but they’re still full of euphemisms, even more so than the first book! We get a lot of “we joined,” which is nice, but it’s also confusing because the whole point of a Beloved is for her to “join” with her Dark One, which is different than sex. Thus, we get a lot of “joining” in various ways, which leads to a repetitive feel to what’s happening.
On a positive note, there is a lot of humor! Allegra raises her first human ghost, a British woman named Esme. Summoning requires Dead Man’s Ash, which Allegra sprinkles all over. Christian, watching her, says, again, in that amazing Czech accent, “That looks rather messy. Isn’t there a more efficient way to summon a spirit?” Then, after Esme is summoned, the first thing she does is criticize Allegra’s clothes (I think Esme is some sort of Emily Post-type). Allegra responds:
“Esme, you’re not my mother. And you are dead. Those are just two reasons why advice from you is not needed.”
Her lower lip quivered, and her eyes filled with ghostly tears.
[Christian said,] “I hope you are pleased with yourself. You have made a spirit cry.”
There are lots of dry little back-and-forths with Allegra and Christian . . . mostly before they’ve decided to have sex for the first time. I wished we got more!
Joy and Roxy are reduced to almost nothing. Joy is hugely pregnant (guess we learn a condom tear in Book #1 leads to babies in Book #2) and Roxy calls her fat, a pig, and a beached whale. Roxy says Joy’s child will be messed up because she’s engaged, not married. Whoa, nellie! What? Seriously? In 2004? I’m not sure what the author’s intentions are with Roxy, but she’s a childish and annoying character that adds so little. Joy has been boiled down to saying, “Roxyyyyyy” to scold her friend when she asks Allegra questions like, “Did you guys do the nasty?” What, is Roxy 13? Wait, no, sometime over the past year she did get married and lose her virginity. She’s an adult woman. There was so much potential in this book, but it’s not one that I will read again.