The plot: Jessica is a normal midwestern teenager. Except for the small fact that she was born in Romania, secretly (and illegally) adopted, and she’s the sole surviving heir of vampire royalty. Jessica was happy to live her life without worrying about ruling a race of vampires, until the sexy, alluring Lucian Vladescu arrives and tells her that from the moment they were born (because in this world, vampires are born, not made), Jessica and Lucian have been betrothed. All Jessica wants to do is finish high school, compete with her Mathlete friends and maybe go to prom with the cute farm boy next door. She doesn’t want to marry a moody teenage vampire and she doesn’t want to rule a country! But unfortunately for Jessica, princesses don’t always get what they want.
The good: Let’s see. Well… Jessica’s good at math. And… she… resists being told that she has to marry someone she can barely stand. And Lucian’s rationale for chivalry (he serves Jessica as a way of showing her that she is superior to him in every way) is corny and clumsy, but it was nice. Oh! and she rides horses. I’m a big fan of horses, so that was a big ol’ check in the plus category for me.
Also, a major plot point (which says a lot about the plot, let me tell you), is that, like many seventeen-year-old girls, Jessica worries about her weight. Lucian not only explains this for her (apparently becoming a female vampire means that you develop some killer curves), but he goes out of his way to make her feel beautiful and help her accept her curvaceous body. It was pretty heavy-handed (on par with the chivalry thing), but it was sweet of him to help her feel comfortable in her own body.
The bad: Tell me truthfully: what does this book sound like? Teen vampire romance? Getting married right after your senior year of high school? A vampire paramour sneaking into your bedroom while you sleep? A friend slash romantic rival who stirs up unreasonable jealousy in said vampire paramour? That’s right. Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side is a pseudo feminist, non-Mormon, poor girl’s version of everyone’s least favorite vampire quartet.
And I haven’t even gotten to the worst part. Remember when I said that in Jessica’s world, vampires are born, not made? Well they grow like normal children, but once they hit puberty, they start to experience “changes.” Except instead of just weird hair and smells and getting their period, fledgling vampires start to, you know, grow fangs and crave blood. Well, when I say “grow fangs” I really mean “the male vampires grow fangs.” The female vampires start to feel their fangs below the surface of their gums, but the only way that they pop out (thus completing the transformation into a vampire) is if a vampire man bites them.
That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. In Jessica’s world, women don’t become vampires without the help of a hetero-normative romantic partner. Kind of punches a couple holes (so to speak) in that “chivalry is a man’s way of showing a woman she’s superior,” doesn’t it?
To put things in perspective (and in the interest of SCIENCE) I have prepared a special bar graph detailing vampire fiction and the degree of awesomeness they each supply the world.
The only reason Jessica’s Guide didn’t score equally with Twilight is because there are only two books (Jessica’s Guide to Ruling the Dark Side, which no power in the ‘verse will incite me to read), and, okay, I was still kind of charmed by the chivalry thing. And Lucian doesn’t sparkle. He can go out into the light, but I think they explained that away as a evolution thing. I forget. I skimmed most of the book.
(Anne Rice got five points because of Brad Pitt and the incredible campy-ness of Interview With the Vampire. She didn’t score higher because she’s kind of insane).
The Verdict: Look, if you’re desperate for a quick, mindless vampire read, go for it. You’ll finish it in two hours and then you can go watch some Buffy as a palate cleanser to remind you what good writing is like. If you want something of substance, go watch some Buffy to remind you what good writing is like. I’d recommend mid-to-late season two.
Honestly, Jessica’s Guide is a lot like Twilight, except Jessica and Lucius get married at the end of the first book (spoilers!) instead of dragging on their stupid relationship for three books. And as far as I know, their wedding night didn’t destroy the master bedroom of a perfectly good sea side bungalow.