Thursday, July 8, 2010

Review: Insatiable

by Meg Cabot

Insatiable is Meg Cabot’s newest adult book, and marks her entrance into the paranormal romance field.  As you might have heard, Cabot is a prolific author who is best known for her young adult Princess Diary Series.    Her works for adults are mostly romances.

Now, paranormal romance is a big thing these days.  Paranormal romance with vampires is even bigger.  And it seems that this subgenre has gotten so big that it’s developed its own tropes.  Cabot has taken full advantage of that in Insatiable, which is quite simply a very straight forward example of paranormal vampire romance.  However, don’t let that make you think that it’s not worth picking up.

The main character is Meena Harper, a dialogue writer for a daytime soap opera living in Manhattan.  She becomes very upset when the network not only passes her over for a promotion, but decides to introduce a vampire story line into the soap to hopefully appeal to a younger and larger audience.  Now, Meena has some issues with this because she wanted the promotion and the person who got is an idiot, but also because she really hates vampires, calling them monster misogynists on several occasions.  And, as you might know by now, no self respecting heroine in a paranormal romance is just your run-of-the-mill gal.  She has to have some special power, and Meena’s is the ability to know how people are most likely going to die.  Now, she’s figured out that what she sees does not always come true; if the circumstances around the death change (for example, the doomed person never shows up to the appointed time and place), then the death may not occur.  But, no one really listens to the crazy woman who thinks you’re gonna die, so most people end up dying anyway in the foreseen fashion.  It also makes it hard to find a steady date when you’re constantly telling them what to do to stay alive.  Something about having your blind date tell you that you need to be on Lipitor for your cholesterol just takes away the romance somehow.

Next up, we need our love interest.  He needs to be a vampire.  Check.  He needs to be really pretty.  Double check.  And since we’re being over the top and this is a romance, he needs to be wealthy and aristocratic and European.  Check, check, and check.  Of course, he needs a name as well, and that’s Lucien Antonescu.  When Meena meets him she, duh, falls head over heels in love with him.  It doesn’t hurt that she can’t see how he’s going to die, because he’s already dead.  Almost a Sookie Stackhouse moment here.  And yes, she does figure out at some point that he’s a vampire, and we therefore move smoothly into the part of the story where our lovers have some relationship issues.

And, paranormal romance grew out of urban fantasy, which centers on mysteries.  Here, we have a murder mystery du jour of a series of young women found dead in New York parks, covered in bite marks and missing all their blood.  Hmm…Paranormal romance and urban fantasy also love to have a contrasting love interest to tempt the heroine away, and so our (not-so) friendly (not really) neighborhood vampire slayer with lots and lots of issues shows up to catch the killer (who Lucien is also after, dead bodies being bad for business).  Alaric Wulf, true to form to his archetype, has a whole bag full of bad boy issues to work through.

Now, at this point all I’ve done is highlight just how archetypal this book is.  I don’t think you can get away from it unless you’ve never been exposed to vampire romances before and have somehow been living under a rock where Twilight can’t find you.  However, the book redeems itself in a few ways.  First, it is self aware of what it is, and the heroine isn’t exactly happy to have found herself in it.  Cabot can therefore make a lot of jokes about the vampire phenomenon in pop culture that other authors haven’t been able to, right down to poking fun at her own book within itself.  Second, Cabot’s gone back to the old school vampires and gotten rid of the sparkles and the every vampire must be pretty thing.  Her vampires are a lot closer to what you see in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, minus a few of the more encumbering traits like having to sleep in coffins.  Even though they are based far more firmly in old folktales, they come off as refreshing when set next to the vampires that we find in so many other popular books.  Finally, this is just a very well written book.  It’s very nicely paced, with engaging, well rounded, and believable characters.  A lot of paranormal romances (or romances in general) I’ve read don’t go to the lengths Cabot has to give their main characters depth, and Cabot has even done so with the supporting characters.  More importantly, everything is consistent.

In short, you’re not going to pick up Insatiable for its plot.  You’re going to pick it up either because you already like Cabot’s work, or because you want something light, fun, and with great characters.  Or, perhaps, because you just love paranormal romances in general and this happens to be a very good example of the genre.  Insatiable is available in hardcover and e-book editions.


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