Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side
by Beth Fantaskey
Yes! Finally a paranormal romance that doesn't make me want to hurl the book across the room in disgust. Took me long enough to find one...
Jessica Packwood is a seemingly ordinary teenager living in rural Pennsylvania with her quirky vegan parents. But the arrival of a mysterious "exchange student" from Romania turns her life upside-down. Lucius Vladescu is intelligent, arrogant, imperious... and a vampire. Even worse, he claims that Jessica is a vampire princess, that they have been betrothed to each other since infancy, and that if their pact isn't fulfilled with their marriage, their families will go to war. Jessica suddenly has a lot more to worry about during her senior year than final exams!
I actually heard about this book from my mom, who'd heard the title in a TV segment on good books for teens. The title was immediately intriguing, and when I looked around a little more, I found mostly favourable reviews. I was worried that I might be in for another Twilight copycat, but I didn't really need to be concerned. Fantaskey's vampires are about as different from Meyer's as you can get. And that, for me, was part of what made the book work.
The characters are strong -- even the minor ones (I loved the vampire Dorin, with his striped mittens and affinity for specialty coffees). The story is told from Jessica's point of view (first person), and we do get a good feel for who she is. Through her eyes, we also get to know Lucius (whose name means "light"... how deliciously ironic), who, though he is mysterious, can't help but wear some of his emotions on his sleeve. He also has vulnerabilities, which is refreshing in a world of vampires and immortals who are difficult (if not downright impossible) to kill; where's the suspense if there's no kryptonite for your Superman? Fantaskey's vampires seem more like an offshoot of humanity rather than an entirely different species, which is perfectly okay. It works here.
My complaints with this book were few. First, nobody ever "said" anything. The speech attributions were kind of crazy. I'm not sure how someone "shudders" a sentence, for example. But it didn't bother me as much as it might have, partly because this seemed to fit with the way Jessica might talk (after all, she was a math whiz... not a grammar freak). My only other complaint was with the pacing. It seemed a little off to me, with some of the more exciting moments coming earlier in the story. The climax and resolution, while satisfying, seemed a little rushed.
Overall, though, this is a fun read for fans of YA paranormal romance. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to teens who love a good vampire tale.
Overall: 4 out of 5