I received a copy in Netgalley.
I haven't read a VC Andrews book in years. Initially I discovered them whilst volunteering in a charity shop one summer when I was home from university and kept seeing the books donated. And I devoured them. But eventually stopped when I got to the DeBeers series as I realised the plots all seem to follow the same formula.
I've noticed some newer ones floating around the last couple of years, but when I saw this one pop up on Netgalley, I figured, what the hell - I would give it a shot. I would either love it or hate it. I most certainly did not love it - I really don't quite know what to make of it. This review will be ranty and spoilery. Spoilers will be hidden.
(Trigger Warnings - book contains sexual abuse and incest)
We're introduced to Sage who guides us through her early childhood to her teen years. Starting off with some info dumpy information on how she has some sort of clairvoyance/sixth sense. She just seems to know things - she has vivid dreams that seem like memories and hears voices - whispers in the dark. She knows things that a small child shouldn’t know. Something else she also goes on and on and on about is the fact that she’s adopted and this makes her different from everyone else because she has no connection to her birth parents or any idea of her family history or why she sees things. She can see people’s futures as well. She knows when they’ve done something bad.
Granted, she has a few fair points in regards to adoption, and not knowing anything about where she came from other than what her adopted parents tell her. She has some sensible and lots of reasonably logical points. All about her connection to her parents and some of her feelings regarding whether they really wanted her after all. They are ridiculously strict with her, not quite cruel, but makes for uncomfortable reading. The problem is she goes on about it so much and in such a dramatic way it’s really hard to care. The whole tone of her voice is weird, it’s either so formal it’s boring or it’s so purple prosey it’s laughable. She’s such a goody two shoes, but of course, she’s so much more special and pretty than she could possibly realise.
As a child Sage would always talk about her strange vivid dreams and her visions, much to her parent’s horror. Particularly the very strict mother, who controls everything Sage does. She’s questioned constantly about what she does, who she talks to, where she goes. Her mother even chooses her outfits up to when she’s 15. The formality of the tone makes it hard to determine the setting off the novel. Is it sometime in the past or more modern day? Because of her sixth sense and the font of knowledge and strange dreams she has Sage appears much more mature and older than her 15 years. The setting is supposed to be modern day. Though the formality and strangeness of Sage’s tone and attitude makes it hard to grasp at certain times it is a modern day setting.
At one point a boy in her school is trying to get her to go out with him (she’s about 14 at this this point) but she flat out refuses because she knows what he did to another girl – he gave her alcohol when he knew the girl had some sort of bad reaction to booze and was planning to take advantage of her. She tells him so bluntly she doesn’t want anything do with him. Then when the girl’s friends overhear and find out it gets back to the girl and she’s furious with Sage and accuses her of spreading rumours, calls her a “nit” and says something along the lines of “I should pull your hair out!” What modern day 14 year old talks like this when they’re pissed off something (even though it’s true) has come out in public? It’s eye rolling stupid.
Somehow, this gets back to Sage’s parents who transfer her to a private school. Sage doesn’t see that she’s done anything wrong. And really, she hasn’t. She’s just not sure where this knowledge comes from and doesn’t quite know what to do with it. She’s of course, not like all the other girls. She doesn’t have any friends, she’s not allowed to go to parties or movies or to the mall. While parental interaction in YA is usually non-existent, in this book it’s the other extreme. Sage is so controlled, particularly on her mother’s side (don’t ask questions, don’t do this, don’t do that, do what I tell you, you’re old enough to know better etc) it’s obsessive boarding on creepy. Her mother has some seemingly odd superstitions. Putting a wreath of garlic on the front door, gives her some sort of stone with holes in to hang by her bed to keep the vivid dreams away. She sends Sage to a child psychiatrist at some point when she keeps talking about her visions and just won’t listen to anything she says. Though the general consensus from everyone else seems to be ‘she’ll grow out of it’. Eventually she does stop talking to everyone about what she sees. Any time Sage shows the slightest sign of rebellion or voicing an opinion she’s cut down immediately and harshly.
She’s now 15 and in her freshman year of high school, she’s a bright student, never been in trouble, liked by teachers, empathetic and musically gifted at singing (of course). On transferring to a new school she does finally make some friends and gets a small amount of freedom when she finally manages to convince her mother that it’s okay for her to go to a party or to the mall. She has of course to be dropped off and picked up by her dad, but at least she’s got a little bit of freedom. The girls she hangs out with talk about boys and parties and sexual experiences.
Sage’s sixth sense comes into play again and she tells them small things that would get certain boys to like them, and which boys she just knows are morons. Then at a party one of these popular girls throws, their forced to invite a mousey girl Cassie, no one likes. So Sage decides she will be nice to Cassie. And thanks to her knowledge and visions, she makes a horrific discovery.
Cassie is being sexually abused by her own father. It’s vile and disturbing to read as Sage tries to figure out how to use her powers to help Cassie without being found out and without her parents finding out. At one time her powers have developed so she actually experiences what Cassie is experiencing. She finally figures out a way to help Cassie without getting herself involved. This is probably the only thing Sage does that makes her even somewhat likeable. She’s so above everyone else (although she’s trying to fit in) she just comes off as so wooden and snobby. This helps her redeem herself a little. She can use her gifts to help someone in danger.
Then that all goes to hell when good looking new boy Summer Dante arrives. He’s the sexiest thing since sliced bread and every girl wants him. But unsurprisingly, its only Sage he’s got eyes for and Sage can’t understand why and doesn’t seem to get why the other girls are very very jealous. As she gets to know Dante better and finds herself falling for him, even though she’s telling herself, there’s something not quite right about Dante. He’s got unusual talents like she does. He knows things he shouldn’t too. Sage even starts to have sexual thoughts mostly relating to him. Now it should be a good thing that she’s starting experience a sexual awakening, however, but it’s so terribly written it’s like it’s trying to be sensual and romantic and really it’s just terrible! And doesn’t sound at all like a teenager’s thoughts. But of course, Sage has always been much older than she appears to be and talked different. Again, it’s all eye-rollingly stupid.
There’s one rather funny bit where Sage’s friends convince her to go to another party and tell her to tell her parents she’s going to the mall and the movies with her friends. The movie is ‘Ruby’ one of them will lend her the book. This of course all goes pear shaped, but on route back to the mall to meet her dad in time for pickup she discusses the movie with Summer who tells her the plot – a girl who’s got a secret twin in new Orleans part of a really rich family and Ruby goes to live with her. The more the story was described the more it was like – why is this so familiar? Any VC Andrews fan can tell you – it’s the first book in the Landry family saga! Usually it annoys the hell out me when authors use their books in novels for whatever reason. I saw it in a scifi novel I read a while back where the author used her novel earlier dystopian novels in a futuristic English as an example of a really bad government – this one made me completely disgusted and I have never read that author since. In this case it was quite funny when it twigged. Who knows, maybe we’ll eventually get a Lifetime Landry saga movie.
And here’s where it gets disturbing. This is going to be a major spoiler but I need to rant about it because it’s just beyond weird.
Summer Dante is romantic with Sage, when her jealous friends invite her to a party with the sole purpose of spiking her drink and getting her harmed and in trouble with her parents, Summer gets them to take drugs and leaves them to it, after making them strip their most of their clothes off, and escorts Sage away on a romantic date. He takes her to meet his dad, a charming author who writes romance novels. He has a huge picture of her in his room. He took it sneakily. It’s just plain creepy. But he sweet talks his way out of it.
Later in the plot, he asks Sage on an official date and goes to her house to pick her up. Her parents have put up some sort of pentagram symbol and explained to Sage it’s part of their religion (this hasn’t been touched on before but more later) and Summer freaks out when he enters the house and sees it. He runs off, abandoning Sage. Later appearing in Sage’s bedroom and seducing her. They start getting down to business but Sage can’t handle it and freaks, Summer finally leaves after convincing her to meet him tomorrow. Later on Sage wakes to find her parents, an aunt and an uncle who decide to tell her the truth about where she came from and who they all are. They are powerful wiccans, Sage’s father was part of the coven but her mother was not. That’s her parents were so protective because that had happened before and it didn’t work out well. The icky bit to the plot twist is Sage’s real father was banished from the coven for falling into dark magic. And it turns out he’s Summer’s father and Summer is her half brother. Who has been seducing her.
For a VC Andrews novel this type of incest isn’t exactly unusual. It’s just bizarre when from the second Summer Dante arrives about half way through, the novel has the tone of a paranormal romance. And this is supposed to be marketed to teenagers?!?
The good guy coven of Sage’s adoptive family want her powers for them. They can help her learn more about her magic and sixth sense and stuff. There’s a reason for the vivid dreams she’s been having since childhood after all. Summer and his dad want her powers for the bad guy coven. He goes away after Sage confronts him with the truth but not without a warning he’ll keep trying to get her for the bad guys. Sage goes home to be inducted into the good guy coven. At least she’s smart enough to know how wrong her feelings for him are and wants nothing to do with him.
That all being said, in spite of how utterly absurd the plot was and how ridiculous the characters were, I couldn’t put down. I did find myself skimming through some parts I found dull and wordy, mostly of Sage making the same point in different ways. But it was still like regardless of how much it made me giggle with the overall idiocy of it all, after reading the first 5% or so one day, I finished the rest in a day. It was terribly addictive. And will still be looking for the next instalment.
Thank you to Netgalley and Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books for approving my request to view the title.