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You may recall that I recently read Block's teenage werewolf novel, which was hilariously bad, and found out that she had written a teenage vampire novel. I got the vampire novel out of the library, and...

it's not bad.

I am as surprised as you are.

I mean, it's not, you know, a brilliant work of transcendent art that will last the decades or anything, and it is certainly not a book I would recommend to everybody, for reasons I'll go into below, but I was expecting it to be a train wreck, and it is a perfectly decent little novel.

The thing is, it combines two things that Block is genuinely good at: Los Angeles and prose so lush it's basically indigo. It's playing to her strengths, and what she's done here is used the essential melodrama of the vampire elements to ramp up the prose even further. The reason I don't think everyone would like this book is that it is so far over the top you can't even see the top anymore. Every element, every bit of lace and brand-name perfume, is so precisely more than it ought to be that the effect is one of careful calculation, and the quiet emotional notes underneath everything actually come through the artifice. It reminds me somewhat of Tanith Lee. It's like a painting so supersaturated it turns into chiaroscuro, and this is an approach I hadn't known I wanted somebody to take with a teenage vampire novel.

The protagonist, Charlotte, is a ninety-something teenage vampire who goes to high school because she's bored, of course, and of course there's a girl who was her best friend and committed suicide in mysterious circumstances, and that girl's boyfriend, who rides a motorcycle, and of course Charlotte's controlling maker is sniffing around again, and I don't even need to summarize all this because it's basically Twilight, only, and I would like to emphasize this point, without the terrible. The entire book is one long tightrope-walk of atmosphere and tone and it worked for me. Your mileage may vary, but I do think it is objectively well done.

Except. And this is a huge except, a bookbreaking except, an except of the sort that does actually make me quite reluctant to recommend the thing. There is a page and a half of this novel that is one of the worst mistakes I have seen a writer make in a book, and I can best summarize it this way: you do not put real historical atrocities in lightweight fiction, because the fiction will always break, always. And she didn't do sufficient research or grounding to make it even clear that she was trying not to be offensive, if she was, and it is distressing when a writer who is doing perfectly well at her research on the twenties fucks up 1945. I finished the book, because I was close to the end of it. Your mileage may also vary.

So: very much not what I was expecting; both better and worse, but not mockable.
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So when the big box of books from [personal profile] octopedingenue came some time ago, I went through it looking at things, and started mentally cataloging them into short, long, fantasy, literary fiction, graphic novels, a book I really really wanted to read that Kawy sent because she is psychic (Thief Eyes by Janni Lee Simner, previously reviewed here), etc.. There was a small category, composed mostly of Crazy Beautiful (the HOOKS FOR HANDS book) which I mentally marked as 'books Kawy has sent me because they are incredibly bad'.

When I got to the Francesca Lia Block, I had absolutely no idea whether to put it in that category or not. None whatsoever. Francesca Lia Block has written books I find lovely and memorable and magnificent (Ecstasia, Primavera, the early Weetzie Bat books, The Hanged Man) and books I find utterly neutral and have trouble remembering exist (Girl Goddess #9, that one about teenage fairies) and a couple of the worst frickin' books I've ever read (Blood Roses, Echo, Psyche in a Dress). I tend to like her earlier stuff better, but there is never any guarantee that an author has gone into a permanent decline and indeed one usually hopes otherwise. Her prose usually gets critic-words such as 'lush' and 'purple' and 'adjectival' and her main issue tends to be letting language, style, and a liking for reworked myth and fairytale get in the way of thinking things through or causing them to make sense. When she doesn't run away with herself, it can work very well, and there is usually no telling in advance with any particular book which side of the line it will fall on, which is why I keep picking her stuff up.

Then I saw this was a novel about teenage werewolves.

Whoa-boy. That settled that question. Teenage werewolves are quite popular lately, and there is an entire subgenre of them, and its tropes are such that unless this book were to happen to be completely unlike and unrelated to every other book about teenage werewolves ever written, I knew this book would not just have run away with the author, but plunged off a cliff at full throttle and exploded in a mass of fireworks over the canyon. There is such a thing as a genre playing to someone's strengths, and then there is the opposite. I was holding out vague hope for this being totally unlike everything else in its subgenre, but that particular hope is always vague: never expect a book to be sui generis, especially when the subject is trendy.

Apparently she's written a vampire one, too. I-- the mind boggles. I have to read that book.

Because this? This was delightfully, enjoyably, compulsively readably terrible. )


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