“So This is the Night World…”
First published between 1996-1998, Lisa Jane Smith‘s NIGHT WORLD series was released as a ten-book series…only the final book never arrived. Smith took a ten-year hiatus from writing, leaving the final book unwritten and the steadily-building story incomplete. But now, finally, the end is in sight. Simon and Schuster are republishing the series in three-book omnibuses in anticipation for Strange Fate the last in the series that has left us hanging for over ten years.
Like so many, I was a teenager when I first began reading her books and it was a certain sense of nostalgia that brought me back again. Although her stories stretch a certain amount of credibility, they are undoubtedly superior to most run-of-the-mill supernatural teen books. The basis premise is a winner: “the Night World” is a secret society made up of vampires, witches and shapeshifters that live in total secrecy among humankind. The superior numbers of humans have driven them into hiding, but they still consider themselves superior to the “vermin” that surround them. As such, there are only two rules regarding their treatment to the human race: that they are never to be told about the Night World, and never to fall in love with one of them.
What follows is a series of somewhat interrelated stories that tell just what happens when (wait for it) these rules get broken. Although the beginning of the series tells more stand-alone stories, later on the series begins to deal with plot-points and characters that cross-over from book to book, including the coming apocalypse and the measures that both good and evil take in order to prepare for it. Although the first four or so books tend to be less exciting than later installments, they do set the ground-work for the series as a whole, introducing us to several concepts and characters, as well as the mythos and history of the Night World that provide background and resonance. One fun aspect is the use of cameos and namedrops of characters that appear in past/future books (Ash pops up frequently), and a surprisingly complex history of the Night World.
Secret Vampire deals with life-long friends vivacious Poppy and stoic James, who reassess their relationship when Poppy is diagnosed with cancer. Since it is terminal, James comes up with a new solution: turn Poppy into a vampire, like himself, despite the fact that such a thing is forbidden by the laws of the Night World.
It is an intriguing premise, but not quite as strong an opening into the series as it could have been. Poppy is a bit of a nitwit, doing something amazingly stupid toward the end of the story, and there’s a contrived dues ex machine ending (yes, it’s foreshadowed…but still).
Daughters of Darkness follows a murder-mystery plotline, as three vampire sisters arrive at Briar Creek only to find that the great-aunt they’ve arranged to stay with has been staked through the heart. From a nearby hill, astronomer Mary-Lynette watches with astonishment as the girls bury a body-bag in the front garden, and soon has her young brother Mark helping her investigate the three newcomers.
But when the girls’ older brother Ash comes to town in order to drag his sisters home, he finds himself caught up in the mysteries that pervade Briar Hollow, particularly his strange connection to Mary-Lynette. Ash is probably one of Smith’s most popular characters, and the Ash/Mary-Lynette relationship is the only one in which the destined-soulmates deal actually works for me. Maybe it’s because neither character is too keen on the idea, maybe because the story ends a little bittersweetly. Either way, Smith pulls it off.
Finally, in Spellbinder Smith turns her attention away from vampires and focuses on witches, namely two witchy cousins: Thea and Blaise Harman. Thea tries to stay out of trouble, whilst Blaise enjoys playing with the human world for fun — making boys fall in love with her before discarding them. But Thea is the one in deep trouble when she falls in love with a human, something that only endangers him from both Blaise and the Night World.
Once again, this installment is a little weak. The main plot has too many fits and starts, and is littered with numerous subplots. There are several elements that have been borrowed by Smith’s previous trilogy The Secret Circle (in fact, Thea and Blaise themselves are pretty much carbon-copies of Diana and Faye) and Thea/Eric simply aren’t that interesting, especially on the heels of Ash/Mary-Lynette.
If you enjoy teen-supernatural-romance-thriller type books, but find that this particular omnibus is a bit bland, then I’d recommend hanging on for just a bit longer. On the whole, the three stories are interesting and competently told, despite a few shortcuts taken in the narrative (often they rely on someone acting like an idiot, and the concept of “soulmates” is a way of forming insta-couples out of thin air). But they are still entertaining reads, and the series as a whole improves significantly by book five.
Even though this series is veritably full of good-looking vampires, the female protagonists have more to do with their lives than moon over them incessantly. They have their own friends and family, their hobbies, dreams and ambitions, and more often than not choose humanity over vampirehood. Furthermore, they themselves play essential parts in decision-making, take personal responsibility for their actions, and more often than not, end up saving both their love interests and the day.
Many teenage girls goes through a stage of crushing on a fictional vampire anti-hero and wishing they could be a female protagonist in a book. They could do worse than one of LJ Smith’s characters. MUCH worse.
For a trip down memory lane, it was great to catch up with this familiar “world-within-a-world” and the characters that inhabit it. LJ Smith has recently begun a new trilogy that serves as a sequel to her most famous series The Vampire Diaries: The Return: Nightfall, which sadly has not been well-received by readers. Let’s hope things shape up before Strange Fate.
Night World — (1996-2010) Young adult. These have been re-released in omnibus editions, but you can find used copies of the original versions by clicking through to Amazon. The first omnibus contains Secret Vampire, Daughters of Darkness, Spellbinder. The second omnibus contains Dark Angel, The Chosen, Soulmate. The third contains Huntress, Black Dawn, Witchlight. Publisher: The pain was something Poppy couldn’t ignore. The diagnosis was death. There was no hope — until James appeared in the darkened hospital room. James, her best friend and secret love, the handsomest boy in El Camino High. But this was a James she didn’t know, menacing yet irresistible as he offered Poppy the gift of eternal life. Only he could open the door to the Night World, and spirit her into its lonely, secret universe. One dizzying kiss and she can see into his soul. She finds that he has always loved her. They’re soulmates — but can she follow him into death and beyond? It’s a desperate choice, and Poppy’s time is running out…