Book Review: Vamped by Lucienne Diver

From the very first page, Vamped suffused me with an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. I have all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on DVD. Vamped is like watching an eighth season of Buffy. I could almost hear the soundtrack music in the background. The fashion-obsessed Cosmo Girl ‘tude of the heroine, the perfectly coifed and gowned Evil Villainess in designer spike heels, the creepy cannibal guy with the weird speech patterns, the geek who turns out to be amazingly cool…it’s all so strangely familiar.

Gina Covella wakes up in her coffin six feet underground and immediately deduces that she’s a vampire. (“Okay, there was only one way I knew to wake up dead—well, two, but I didn’t feel like a flesh-eating zombie.”) It’s never clear why this is a natural conclusion for Gina to form—most people would spend just a bit longer in denial. She claws her way to the surface (right through her coffin lid), where her trauma is instantly alleviated by the sight of bright red Macy’s shopping bags. Bobby, the geek who nibbled her neck at the senior prom and “infected” her so she awakens undead after a fatal car accident, has shown up to meet her in the cemetery. He’s brought new clothes, which was prescient of him, because Gina’s top concerns are her bedraggled appearance, the white eyelet lace dress she was buried in and the fact that she can’t see her reflection. When Bobby says that they need to stop at the mall “for a quick bite,” Gina insists on heading for the salon so she can turn her stylist.

The stylist gets away, and so do Gina and Bobby when a gang of thugs raiding the sporting goods store recognize them. The next day, the thugs capture Bobby and Gina and take them to the well-appointed luxury lair of vampire arch-villainess Mellisande. There we learn that Bobby’s unexplained death and turning has caught everyone by surprise, and he’s something special. A mysterious blue gem emits dazzling light when he’s near it. Gina is spared only because Bobby objects to her being harmed, and she ends up locked in a cell in the basement while Bobby stays with the big shots, and remains mostly off-screen.

One of the sporting goods store gang turns out to be Rick Lopez, the jock buddy of Gina’s cloddish ex-boyfriend. Rick’s status has devolved from sidekick to minion, and he sneaks into Gina’s cell to offer her an exchange: he’ll help her get away if she’ll turn him. Instead, Gina tricks Rick and locks him in the cell. To her great surprise, she discovers that a large number of her high school classmates have all been turned into vampires and are bunking down together in a concrete-walled dormitory in Mellisande’s basement. None of them seem unhappy about their changed state, and one girl tells Gina that becoming undead has freed her from a lifetime of crippling asthma. When Gina encounters one of her best friends among the vamped teens, it’s only a few minutes before they’re both squealing, “Makeover!”

Gina is allowed to stay with the other teen vampires, largely due to the influence of Bobby, who apparently has impressive powers and some connection to a “prophecy.” (Echoes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, once more—every season revolved around some “ancient prophecy.”). She gradually figures out that she and the other teens have all become part of a larger vampire subculture and a tangled scheme of Mellisande’s. Being the heroine of a YA novel, Gina takes charge and interferes with the plans of all the tiresome old fogies (i.e. the centuries-old vampire Elders)—but she’s got a few big surprises waiting for her.

Vamped is written in the first person from Gina’s point of view, and the narration has all the usual disadvantages of that limited voice. Gina is so hip, flippant, and self-involved, we never get a detailed sense of who she is as a character (except that there’s not much to her). Most of the supporting cast are little more than cardboard cutouts, not even blessed with names. Gina refers to various assistants in Mellisande’s camp by labels like “Hawkman,” “Thing One,” “Sparky,” and “Chickzilla,” while she gives Mellisande a variety of rude nicknames, such as “Melli-noma.” A vampire second-in-command is actually named Connor, but he’s such a cipher, I couldn’t remember who he was when he put in a second appearance, and had to page back through the book to check. All of this makes the action hard to follow, and that’s a problem because the book has a lot of action. The story is fast-paced and zips along like telephone poles past a commuter train window.

I grant that it’s only my personal taste that leaves me unimpressed by vain, shallow, shopping-obsessed Gina. But I can’t help wondering if the target audience for this story will really find it that amusing. The young women I know who are high school age have far more serious concerns than what their hair and clothes look like, and their eyes don’t glaze over at the sight of a Macy’s bag. Vamped is completely devoid of the crushing adolescent angst that gave Buffy the Vampire Slayer such melodramatic authenticity. On June 6, 2009, a Wall Street Journal article discussed the popularity of grim, gritty themes in YA fiction—a trend that goes back at least a decade, according to this July, 2000 article in the New York Times. I have difficulty imagining that many young adult readers will relate to the characters in Vamped. Isn’t this Valley Girl thing like, just so 1990s? Well…given the explosion of “vampire chick-lit” for adult readers, maybe not.

Lucienne Diver is a literary agent, and Vamped isn’t a bad book. It lacks originality, but it’s nicely written. I look forward to seeing Diver do something a little less trendy. If you enjoy light satirical fantasy like Mary Janice Davidson’s “Queen Betsy” series, you’ll probably appreciate Vamped. It isn’t my cuppa, but that’s not a crime.

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