Warning: this post contains spoilers.
Dark Companion by Marta Acosta is book #2 in my READ ALL THE LIBRARY BOOKS challenge, and like my initial reaction to Sign Language by Amy Ackley, when I pulled Dark Companion from the shelf, I was once again disappointed. In fact, I hadn’t even openly declared that I was trying to read all of the books in the YA section of my library at this point, so I almost gave up on the project in that moment. The book cover featured a young woman wearing a white gown in the middle of a spooky forest; between that image and the title, it screamed paranormal romance or paranormal fiction, which is a genre that has me hightailing it in the other direction faster than if it were a plate of brussel sprouts.
I chose to persevere though, and in the end…I’ll still run from PNR faster than if it were a plate of brussel sprouts.
Released: July 2013
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Orphaned at the age of six, Jane Williams has grown up in a series of foster homes, learning to survive in the shadows of life. Through hard work and determination, she manages to win a scholarship to the exclusive Birch Grove Academy. There, for the first time, Jane finds herself accepted by a group of friends. She even starts tutoring the headmistress’s gorgeous son, Lucien. Things seem too good to be true.
The more she learns about Birch Grove’s recent past, the more Jane comes to suspect that there is something sinister going on. Why did the wife of a popular teacher kill herself? What happened to the former scholarship student, whose place Jane took? Why does Lucien’s brother, Jack, seem to dislike her so much?
As Jane begins to piece together the answers to the puzzle, she must find out why she was brought to Birch Grove and what she would risk to stay there..because even the brightest people make terrible decisions when they are offered the things they desire most.
Admittedly, for the first half of the novel, I thought Dark Companion was going to be a solid, four-star kind of novel. I thought it was going to be the book that changed my mind about paranormal fiction. So what if I thought the main character, Jane, was kind of uninspiring? So what if I thought Lucien and Jack, potential love interests, were worse then Edward Cullen (how?!)? It takes place at a friggin’ boarding school, which is one of my favorite settings ever! Plus, Acosta wrote one of my favorite secondary characters ever– Mary Violet (or MV). MV is hilarious and clever and vibrant, and all I wanted to do was read a book about her. Of course, there simply is no denying that Marta Acosta’s writing is beautiful either, and she captured the atmosphere of a gothic novel so perfectly.
Yet the exclusive Birch Grove Academy has a dark, cult-like secret. One that I wasn’t on board with.
I thought Dark Companion was going to be a vampire novel because there are these subtle clues that some of the characters in the novel have a certain fascination with blood. They like their steaks rare (Did I say “rare”? I mean “basically raw”), and they practically start salivating when people get paper cuts. And yet, vampirism would have been preferred to the twist that was presented (even though I can’t stand vampires. Exhibit A. Exhibit B. Exhibit C.) A genetic disorder plagues Lucien and his family (who run Birch Grove), that makes them both incredibly pale and incredibly thirsty for blood. And Jane was invited to Birch Grove Academy because her blood is exactly what Lucien needs. When it is revealed to Jane that she was selected to be Lucien’s companion, she’s both freaked out (because this means he will drink her blood), but also kind of thrilled because it means she gets to be with Lucien forever and she totally has the hots for him. Except, their relationship ends up being just as creepy as you think it will be. Lucien is overwhelmed by literal bloodlust, and he tries to seduce Jane every time he wants to feed. It boggled my mind that this novel was marketed as a YA novel, especially considering in a previous scene, Jane returned to a friend in the slums and learned all about BDSM and “blood play”. All of this just made me feel so uncomfortable, and all I wanted to do was take a hot shower and scrub myself clean with a loofah made of steel wool. Ick.
Jane eventually comes to her senses and realizes this relationship is absolutely crazy and toxic and ends up falling for Jack, Lucien’s brother, instead. Neither of the love interests are particularly decent, but at least Jack doesn’t want to drink Jane’s bodily fluids.
Dark Companion was a disappointment, but I still find myself optimistic about this challenge. This is especially odd because the next book in line is Halo by Alexandra Adornetto, and I’ve intentionally avoided YA novels featuring angels as the main character. I’m not keen on innocent and pure main characters and forbidden love.