Monday, June 24, 2013
Blood and Chocolate
Twilight may have busted the YA Paranormal genre open, but Blood and Chocolate was out eight years before. It's an artifact of an earlier time, when Anne Rice and White Wolf roleplayers still ruled the night. More cynically, you could say it was from a time when authors and publishers still cared about quality, when the emphasis was on polishing stories rather than releasing tons of them fast, like the metaphorical spaghetti thrown at the wall. So Blood and Chocolate is a very well-crafted book, tightly plotted and effectively written. But for all that, it proves that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
The plot is a victim of history; it wasn't yet insufferably cliche in 1997, but it is today. Paranormal girl - subtype werewolf - meets muggle guy, falls in love, and tries to pursue that love in defiance of the supernatural community's rules. A crisis of leadership among the werewolves, resolved by the usual bloodsport, complicates things.
What becomes apparent very early on is that this is very much a 90's story, meaning a lot of things are dated. Teenagers without cell phones, just for example, but it's not just the difference in technology that's off-putting. Blood and Chocolate is also rather obviously written by a baby boomer observing "those crazy kids". I don't mean to say that it treats its cast with disrespect, because it doesn't. It's just... off. Major characters seem like stereotypes; our chief love interest is a bundle of new-age cliches, halfway between hippie and hipster. His wannabe girlfriend is a perky goth girl with jealousy issues. The two of them hang together with a circle of misfits that pretentiously calls themselves "The Ameoba", and attend concerts for vaguely-described but implicitly loud and obnoxious bands. I imagine teen readers of the day rolling their eyes and saying "This author just doesn't get it."
If you can get over that, Blood and Chocolate a pretty good read. It takes a bit long to get going, but once it does it sucks you in. Until the end, where it gets hit hard with two of the persistent gremlins in the genre's gears: the romanticization of borderline-abusive men, and the bullshit non-ending that resolves nothing.
In addition to muggle boy Aiden, wolf-girl Vivian is pursued by Gabe, the pack's alpha. While Gabe isn't much older than Vivian and does harbor affection for her, he's clearly in it out of a sense of entitlement. As the new king, he needs a queen, and in his mind he deserves the pick of the litter, so to speak. Which eventually leads to him pinning Vivian to a kitchen counter for make-outs, a scene that dug up bad memories of the attempted bathroom-rape in Nightshade. However, in the last thirty pages or so, the novel's treatment of Gabe does a complete 180 and in the last scene Vivian agrees to move away with him and the pack to their new home.
What makes this extra-squicky is the way in which Gabe ultimately wins Vivian over. She's moved to sympathy when he bares his soul to her and admits to killing a past lover.
Yes, really. But he regrets it a lot, see?
Well, alright, it is more complicated than that. He fell in love with a human woman and one day transformed accidentally while they were in bed together. When he did, she freaked the hell out. He tried to calm her down, but she was too scared to listen to reason, so he struck her, forgetting all about his lycanthropic superstrength. This is supposed to humanize him, and to make the point that weres and humans Just Can't Be Together. It succeeds on the latter, since something frighteningly similar happened when Vivian tranformed for Aiden. But the former? No sale.
Even if you can put that aside, though, there's the fact that the ending undermines the entire strory. Blood and Chocolate is about Vivian struggling to break out of an oppressive society. She fights with her mother, her old friends, and the pack itself to reach for something greater, something she loves, something she can't have under the old ways. Then at the end, she decides that she'd rather stick with the old ways after all. This isn't played as a tragedy, either. It's sold as a positive outcome that will eventually bring Vivian happiness. My first thought is that it was a sequel hook, and had the book been written today I would take that as a given. If so, it serves as an example of why not to do that: since no sequel was ever released, everything is left hanging and the reader never gets closure.
Now that I think of it, though, there's another explanation. Remember, the author was a 40-something, possibly with children of her own, writing during the era where Gen-X and Gen-Y were ascendant. To her, this is the happy ending: the kids get over their teenage rebellion and settle down to realize their parents were right. Life goes on as it always does. It's not a bad theme necessarily, but it's woefully ignorant about just how deep the cracks between boomers and post-boomers run. (And just how disgusting we find it that an entitled prat is held up as Prince Charming.) Again, Blood and Chocolate is a victim of history: it sees the generation gap of the 90's mending over time, when in reality the rift between 20th and 21st century values would just get worse.
(End of spoilers)
Annette Curtis Klause is a rather obscure writer. If wikipedia is to be believed, she's a YA librarian who dabbles; she published three novels over a seven-year period, a fourth nine years later, and a smattering of short stories since. Blood and Chocolate was the only one of those that really found a following, partially because after Twilight blew up, Blood and Chocolate rode it's coattails to renewed prominence. I'm glad she's still around in some capacity, since she's certainly skilled enough to write for a living. I just hope she's been able to keep up with the times.