REVIEW: Hearts at Stake by Alyxandra Harvey
Dear Ms. Harvey,
I know I’ve said in the past that I’m tired of vampires, and it would appear many other people would agree. In the YA genre, we’ve seen many a trend come and go over the past couple of years: faeries, werewolves, zombies, and angels. That said, I’ve yet to see one of those supernatural creatures really stick the way vampires have because for all that I (and other readers) complain about overexposure, vampires truly are a perennial hit. To acknowledge that fact, I think it’s fair to say that the general weariness with vampires has less to do with the topic and more to do with the execution. A person can only read so many Twilight clones before wanting something new. So after hearing some good things about your debut that piqued my interest, I decided to get over my vampire-aversion and give it a try.
Solange Drake comes from a long line of natural-born vampires. In her world, there are two kinds: vampires who are born and vampires who are made. The natural-born vampires are rarer. Even rarer are natural-born female vampires. In fact, Solange is the first, and only, female vampire ever born in history. That’s bad enough all on its own. With Solange’s transition fast approaching, she’s become the recipient of many proposals, courtship offerings, and just plain all-around stalking behavior that warrants restraining orders if such things were observed by vampire kind. However, it also appears that a long time ago, someone prophesized the coming of a vampire queen from the Drake bloodline who’d unite the fractured vampire races. Solange, being the novelty that she is, is widely assumed to be said vampire.
But Solange wants nothing to do with that. She’d much rather throw pots and anyway, she’s squeamish around blood, which is an unfortunate trait for a vampire to have. She already has to cope with seven overprotective older brothers. Does she have to deal with vampires who want to kill her because people think she wants to overthrow the current vampire queen too?
What sets this novel apart from other vampire YA of its ilk are the awesome female characters and the great depictions of relationships. I adored the friendship between Solange and her human best friend, Lucy. Because their mothers were best friends since before Solange’s mother became a vampire, the girls grew up together and Lucy has no fear of vampires whatsoever. The contrast between them was great: Solange, daughter of an ancient vampire bloodline and whose mother is a fearsome martial artist that puts those skills to work regularly, who hates blood and Lucy, daughter of peace-loving vegan hippies, who has a violent streak.
I also loved how Solange’s family was portrayed. Solange is very much suffocated by her overprotective family — something that Lucy strives to mitigate as much as possible. Their concern is not without reason, of course, since I imagine most families would be paranoid if people kept trying to kidnap their only daughter so she could bear a score of vampire babies. But despite their paranoia and coddling, it’s obvious those actions arise out of nothing but love and affection. I can’t really emphasize enough how much I loved the Drake family. Coming from a large extended family myself, I certainly know what it’s like to have eccentric relatives with varying degrees of reputation and influence. The only difference here is that many of Solange’s relatives are several centuries old.
The burgeoning attraction between Lucy and Solange’s older brother, Nicholas, was great too. I loved how Nicholas was very much aware of the fact that he’s been in love with Lucy since forever but Lucy was slower to accept the truth. They’re a great example of how stories about schoolyard romance (boy pulls girl’s pigtails) carrying on into adolescence and beyond can have their charm when done well. Solange also has a love interest in a young vampire hunter named Kieran, but I admit I wasn’t very interested in that couple because it’s a dynamic I see more often in these kinds of books. I admit I was more entertained by Lucy’s steadfast refusal to be impressed by Kieran’s mysterious, stealthy vampire hunter background. (I will never stop laughing about how she simply looked him up in the phonebook, called him up, and then proceeded to blackmail him. And then later used the idea of crank calling Kieran to cheer up Nicholas.)
If I have one criticism about the book, it’s that a lot of the background on the vampire races is cursory and not explained very clearly. I know part of that can be chalked up to space but there are two other major types of vampires in addition to the natural-born and standard made ones. If I understood it correctly, they’re variations on the standard made ones but the details can be confusing. I hope these differences get clarified in the next book in the series (of course it’s a series) because judging by the ending, they will play larger roles.
All in all, however, that’s not a major flaw in a book that’s otherwise a quick, funny read. I especially think readers who like snappy dialogue and solid depictions of female friendship and family relationships will like this one a lot. B
There is currently no digital format for this book but I’ll update the links if the digital version becomes available.