Nostalgia Friday: Black Dawn, by L J Smith

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Author’s website
Publication date – November 1, 1997

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) First he put her in a dungeon. Then he realized they were soulmates. Now he wants to make her a vampire princess. Maggie Neely is a short, spunky sixteen-year-old with auburn hair and an iron will. When her brother turns up missing, she’s determined to find him. But she never suspects that the trail will lead her into the most secret heart of the Night World, a kingdom where no outsider has stepped in five hundred years.
The kingdom is ruled by the young vampire prince Delos…who keeps all humans as slaves. When Delos falls in love with Maggie, he frees her and demands that she join him in his life of dark pleasure. He’s handsome, he’s romantic Maggie can hardly resist him. But did he kill Maggie’s brother? And who are the strange people searching the kingdom for a Wild Power? Maggie won’t give up until she learns the truth even if it means destroying Delos and his secret land. If he doesn’t destroy her first…

Thoughts: More and more when I read this series, I wonder what I found so fascinating and good about them when I was younger. As far as the storytelling goes, they’re fairly average, and while I can make some allowances because the author was writing in a time when YA novels were mostly confined to 200 very short pages or less instead of having the allowance of expanding the plot, but that grace can only go so far.

This book starts out with another example of a teenager — Maggie — making a ridiculous leap of logic that turns out to be right. She awakens to find her parents distraught as her brother’s girlfriend Sylvia informs them that Miles (said brother) has died. Maggie deduces that Sylvia must be lying about what happened because her display of grief is “too perfect” and so must be acting. Following her intuition, she sneaks out of the house to follow Sylvia and ends up getting kidnapped by a group of Night People who are intent on bringing human slaves to their kidden kingdom in the mountains.

Yeah, you read that right.

The story itself, while fairly simple, is interesting enough. Maggie finds other people who are kidnapped, living in the castle town as slaves, and sets out trying to free them. Along the way she meets Delos, the vampire prince, scornful and cold and yet still her soulmate, as is typical for the Night World books.

But this really fails when you throw in some logical scrutiny. Aside from the opening scene, which really just seemed like the author wrote herself into a corner very quickly and needed some way — any way! — to get Maggie to follow Sylvia so the real plot could start, I have a hard time suspending my disbelief when it comes to the major end-of-the-world prophecy, specifically how it’s done here.

My biggest problem with it? Aside from the fact that the prophecy is translated into English and only one translation is ever mentioned anywhere ever, the kingdom in the mountains in relation to it is a major fail. The kingdom, with its sanitized medieval-style culture, was established around 600 years ago in an American mountain range, and yet they have the exact same version of the prophecy. Same translation, in modern English, in spite of only very recently (last couple of decades or so) having contact with the outside world. They all speak modern English there, in fact, and quite easily.

Then on top of it all, the “finding Miles” subplot that occasionally pokes its head up at random places in the story, gets wrapped up almost as an afterthought, like Smith had forgotten Maggie’s sporadically-driving goal until someone pointed it out, and then she just tacked on an ending that makes sense but still comes somewhat out of left field and doesn’t flow well with the rest of the scene.

I keep trying to tell myself that I’m being too hard on the book and the author, that most teens won’t catch that, but that really isn’t much of an excuse. Smith has made some other major gaffes in this series, including some incredibly ironic and hypocritical ones, and the more I read them, the more I notice them. And the more I wonder why I bought the rereleased books a few years back. They aren’t as good as I remember, and rereading them now has ripped away the shiny happy veneer that nostalgia once gave them. There are so many better YA urban fantasy novels worth reading, and if truth be told, I’m rather glad that this is the penultimate novel in the series (unless you count the as-yet-to-be-released final book that should have come out over 10 years ago but is still in progress) and I won’t have to keep reading them much longer.

Sometimes things are best left in the past.

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