Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Hearts at Stake by Alyxandra Harvey

Solange Drake may attend a regular school with her classmates, but she's very special. She's destined to become Queen of the Vampires, and her pheremones are becoming so strong that she can't be out alone any more because of the danger of her being attacked by some vampire who wants her for a bride. The only one that doesn't treat her like the second coming of the vampire messiah besides her family is her best friend Lucky, who prefers to be called Lucy.

Solange's family has been vampires for a very long time, and are old enough that they can have children. While the children are young, they are human, but once they turn 16, they undergo a blood change and become vampires, unable to stand the sun. Everyone is sure that she is the prophesied leader of the vampires because she is the only female born to the Drake family- all she has are brothers, and the other female members of the family either started out human and were made, or were already vampires and married in.

The current leader of the Vampires, Lady Natasha, hates and fears Solange because of the prophecy. Because of it, she banished Solange's family from her court, but the distance hasn't made any difference in her feelings- and as the time ticks down to her 16th birthday, tons of flowers and other presents are being left on the perimeter of her family's lands in hopes that she will choose to marry one of the givers and make him her King- a vain hope, as Solange doesn't want to be Queen- but no one except her family actually believe that.

Then comes a night when Solange is attacked by numerous vampires. Her mother and brothers kill all of them for one, whom they disable to ask the reason behind the attack. He is not a vampire, but a human, Kieran Black, a warrior of a group called "Helios-Ra", who are vampire hunters. He attacked because he believes the Drake family broke their treaty with Helios-Ra and killed his father. The Drakes know they didn't, but Kieran refuses to believe them. They decide to keep him Prisoner for now, but the next day, he breaks free by using a powder that mimics the persuasion pheremones of Vampires on Lucy, who is usually immune to such things. But this one is adulterated with a powder known as Hypnos- the only upside being that now the Drake family has a sample and can try to duplicate it.

Meanwhile, Lucy, who normally hates Solange's brother Nicholas, finds her opinion changing, and his as well. But how can she be attracted to a boy she so totally despises? And when Solange is taken to Lady Natasha for a meeting by a member of the family, even her brothers can't prevent her from being taken Hostage by the Helios-Ra. When her father summons their leaders to a meeting at his house, they swear that someone put out a contract on the family. When Solange's father tells them the family was not to blame for what happened to Kieran's father, Lucy discovers that Kieran is the nephew of one of the leaders, a man named Hart. Hart believes Solange's father, and his sister, Hope, the other leader, agrees to remain behind as a hostage while Hart tries to reign in one of his own units gone Rogue.

Back with Solange, Kieran, having finally believed the Drakes about them not being responsible for the death of his father, rescues Solange from the Helios-Ra men and hides her through the sun of the day. Solange is only two days from her 16th birthday and starting to undergo the change. This means she will need both vampire and human blood to survive. But can Kieran get Solange back to the bosom of her family before she dies, and can Lucy and Nicolas find her and bring her home? When she's captured by Lady Natasha, all bets are off. Is she truly the vampire of prophecy?

I enjoyed this book. It packs enough backstory and story into it that you do understand what is going on, but readers also might feel that they have missed some books in the series, because the story starts completely in media res with parts in both Solange and Lucy's points of view. And both characters have known each other for so long that they know pretty much everything about each other and speak in almost a kind of shorthand that long-term best friends use. This can make readers feel like they missed a book or three along the way.

But no, this is the first book in the series, it just doesn't feel like one, which can be more than a little confusing, and each main character has a romance which is the direct opposite of each other- Solange with Kieran, who hates her and her family at the beginning, and Lucy and Nicolas, who she dislikes for picking on her at the beginning of the book. what I liked about Lucy and Nicolas is that Lucy generally doesn't go into the "I can't be with him- I despise him!" rant more than once, and is generally open to romance once she gets used to the idea., and Solange and Kieran only get together at the end, after running and hiding from danger with each other.

Now, what didn't work for me was the world-building and background. Information about the world of the vampires, the different kinds of vampires, Solange's family, an evil vampire dude who wants her because he wants power and so on are tossed into the mix a paragraph or two at a time. It's so disjointed that it adds to the feeling of not being a first book. It's like the author is supposed to be reminding us of stuff we already know rather than introducing the knowledge for the first time that doesn't quite lead to a "Huh? What?" moment, but pretty close- it's hard to put it all together into some kind of coherent whole for the reader.

In the end, my reaction to the book was mixed. It's only kind of okay, mixing a romance trope that is already very overdone (Vampire romance) with a scattershot approach to world-building that isn't for everyone. Alyxandra Harvey might have a wonderfully complete and realized world for her vampires to live in, but she didn't make me feel it in the pages of this book. Add in some very over-used tropes (Seven wildly over-protective vampire brothers, an over-protective family and the heroine who knows there are credible threats against her who decides she can duck out of that protection just because she wants to feel normal) and you have a book that can make you want to throw it at a wall in frustration- particularly if you've read other YA vampire romances before.. This one ended up in the "Meh" category for me.

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