Review: Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith
Dear Ms. Smith,
There’s a lot to be said of having a vampire novel out on the market today. With Twilight’s soaring popularity, it’s only natural publishers try and cash in on it. I’d seen Tantalize before, but I had read some pretty scathing reviews on the book so I didn’t really think anything of picking it up. When Jia sent me a box brimming with young adult books – this among them, I figured I would give it a chance. I was actually impressed, considering what I had heard – but it wasn’t anything amazing.
Quincie Morris helps her uncle run a restaurant in Houston. A restaurant that will be hers when she turns twenty-one. All because her parents died years before…and it’s a family legacy. But business is going under, so they decide to re-do it in a vampire theme. After all, vampires only recently began to integrate into society. Her best friend, Kieran, isn’t so keen to see her start up with the vamps, however. Being a werewolf – or half-werewolf – makes you a natural enemy of the vamps. And when the cook at Quincie’s restaurant is killed with a claw mark slashed down his chest, it also makes you a suspect in a murder case.
The investigation into Kieran’s possibly murderous ways only leads to worse things. Quincie realizes that, as a werewolf, Kieran has to find a pack and live with them, leaving her behind. Her affections for him hardly concealed and their relationship only gets more strained when a new chef is hired so the restaurant can reopen as planned. Going by the name of Brad, the new chef quickly assimilates to life within the restaurant. And not only that but he quickly sneaks his way into Quincie’s heart. And the liquor cabinet.
What follows is a foray into a much darker world that the likes of Edward Cullen and Jacob Black will never know. You work with a place where the vamps drink human blood at every turn…where wereanimals make disgusting, sometimes smelly, transformations. It’s ugly. It’s grim. And I like it. But the world-building itself? Not so much. It got confusing and muddled…and sometimes, I really wondered the point of some things. Weres are considered societal outcasts and are supposed to be *hidden* per say. But somehow everyone suspects Kieran even though not everyone knows about his condition. And I never got the status of the vampires in society either. I felt like they were really fuzzy – like a television signal that just can’t get fixed. I would have preferred more focus on that versus the plot.
The plot itself isn’t really that amazing. While I love the restaurant idea, and felt the scenes had a good quality to them, the murder mystery and the romance were both skimmed over too much. The mystery was confusing because of the confusing relationship between vamps and weres and humans, and the romance was just not touched upon because of Kieran’s lack of placement in the book. Brad’s romance wasn’t bad, but you can tell that the reader is supposed to be rooting for the hot werewolf.
The saving grace was the ending, though. The plot got much tighter, Kieran came back and managed to make me obsess over him just a little bit, and, while the plot point that causes all of this isn’t exactly original, it’s done really well. The darker theme of the book also fits in nicely, and I enjoyed the horror-movie feel that went along with it. Your wit also shows through on multiple occasions, such as the signs worn by the hobo, Mitch. It made it light and eased some of the awkward tension the book had. A chapter set-up following the course menu of an original Italian restaurant was a nice literary choice, and I felt it added a nice touch.
I can’t say this is the best supernatural book out there for teens. It isn’t the worst, but definitely not the best. I can see the appeal more towards teens and middle grade with the way the world-building is skimmed over, but adults are going to find some problems with it. People of both ages will end up enjoying the humor, though, and it managed the make the book work. Your writing is intriguing enough, however, for me to want to check out the connected sequel, Eternal. I’m a sucker for the fallen angel plot, and I’m hoping some things improve with it. The planned closing to the series that involves characters from both books also sounds intriguing, and I am genuinely interested in how they are going to change. While it was hard to rate, I’d give the book a solid C.
All the best,