Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Women in Horror: Pretty When She Dies

* spoilers *

Amaliya finally has her life on track. She's attending college (away from her horrible family), earning good grades, and trying to find her place in the world. Then, she has a coffee date with her attractive psychology professor and it all goes to hell. After awakening in a shallow grave, she goes on a bloodthirsty rampage on campus. The professor is actually a sadistic vampire who likes to create other vampires and see how they fare without providing any sort of guidance. Amaliya has no idea about her powers or what her limitations are, so she runs from her problems, leaving a wake of blood and death along the way. It's only a matter of time before others of her kind will take notice of her rather uncontrolled behavior and either help her out of her situation or kill her to preserve peace.

I've been meaning to read Pretty When She Dies for years, so I was pleasantly surprised to find it is a fun, fast paced book with no shortage of engaging characters and savory moments of horror. I liked Amaliya for the most part. She comes from an abusive home where everyone thinks she's worth nothing despite anything she's done to the contrary. She dyes her blonde hair black, has copious tattoos, and enjoys metal music. Her shtick is a little Hot Topic misunderstood goth for me, but I understand her drive to find her place and set herself apart from where she comes from. Her interests and aesthetic are different than most of the female protagonists out there, so it was interesting to read another perspective. The first half of the novel is setup and her own journey of self discovery. She knows absolutely nothing about being a vampire except that she needs to drink blood. Everything else is trial and error or simply stumbling upon discoveries. This part is also a genius way to show the vampires abilities without dedicated pages and pages to infodumping. The explanations and discoveries are integrated seamlessly into the text as Amaliya discovers all of this with the readers. Her strength and fire made me root for and admire her despite her missteps and occasionally rash decisions. She doesn't need Cian, the love interest, to come save her at every turn. I don't think there are many things I hate more than a strong woman made conveniently weak to have the strong man come in and save her.

The secondary characters are also quite memorable.. My favorite of them was Innocente, Amaliya's grandmother, ghost seer, and devout Catholic. Unlike so many vampire books out there, Innocente figures out Amaliya's affliction rather quickly and accepts it. Her granddaughter isn't very different from how she was before, so she isn't going to abandon her or condemn her. I loved her hilarious assumption that Amaliya needed to to be helped to the light to move on. When she finds out her granddaughter is in trouble, she gathers up all her portable religious artifacts to help. She isn't daunted by her age or her lack of strength, only driven by love and her sense of justice. I especially enjoyed that Innocente, the most unlikely part of their outcast group, is responsible for defeating the big bad of the novel. I want to read the rest of the series just to see more of this bad ass old lady.

My least favorite of the secondary characters are Samantha and Roberto, both part of Cian's circle of friends/followers. Samantha is a shrew of a woman who is engaged to Cian. From the moment she met Amaliya, she threw around terms like "whore" and "trash" simply based on her appearance. Everything she did was powered by saving her fiance from Amaliya and not much else. This annoyance is only secondary to Roberto, the two faced and centuries old servant to Cian. It didn't take much to get him to backstab his master and so many of his actions were disturbing throughout the novel. There were  few things about the story that bothered me, namely the sheer number of coincidences that the plot relied on. Amaliya happened to run into Cian the first night in his territory and a similar situation happened with another vampire master. The first person Samantha whines to about her problems just so happens to be the son of a vampire hunter who made a pact with Cian. A few coincidences are fine, but it was coincidence after coincidence that made the plot a little too convenient.

I always enjoy Rhiannon Frater's writing. It flows so well that I read huge sections of the book in one sitting without realizing it. While there are moments of levity and humor, the dark horror elements are what I especially enjoyed. Frater knows how to disturb and when to let the blood flow. Although Pretty When She Dies isn't perfect, I enjoyed following Amaliya (and Innocente) through all of their adventures and I look forward to reading the other two books in the series.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

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