Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Review: Darkness Before Dawn by J.A. London

"Don't judge a book by it's cover."

How often do we, especially as book bloggers, hear that trite old phrase? I know I've heard my share of it. And it cannot be denied that the cover for Darkness Before Dawn is truly lovely. Almost enchanting in it's melancholy, from the position of the model, to the colors, to the swirling title font.

But does what lies within warrant such carefully constructed art? Can the plot, characters, setting and tone come together to make this book a complete package? That's what you're here to find out. :) Read on and I will do my best to explain why I feel that, alas, Darkness Before Dawn succeeds most highly at making the adage quoted above ring painfully true.

The Plot: (Summary from GoodReads)
Only sunlight can save us.

We built the wall to keep them out, to keep us safe. But it also makes us prisoners, trapped in what's left of our ravaged city, fearing nightfall.

After the death of my parents, it's up to me--as the newest delegate for humanity--to bargain with our vampire overlord. I thought I was ready. I thought I knew everything there was to know about the monsters. Then again, nothing could have prepared me for Lord Valentine . . . or his son. Maybe not all vampires are killers. Maybe it's safe to let one in.

Only one thing is certain: Even the wall is not enough. A war is coming and we cannot hide forever.

Okay, let's start with the good. The world building itself was quite intriguing. I've seen vampires and dystopia put together before, and have loved the combination. I want to make it clear that *this* is not where the book went astray. I love the idea of the vampires being in charge. I love the way London built her society. (Her? His? Not sure which here since this is a mother / son team if I remember correctly -- I'll give major props to that. Getting to work with a loved one on a novel would be a fascinating experience.) 

The delegate. The night watchmen. Dressing up in certain attire when meeting Valentine. All of this was extremely well done and put together. The tone, mood and pacing of the book definitely matched the melancholy I described when I saw the cover. So far we're in the good.

So what drove me nuts? I feel that the characters were used as plot devices, rather then the plot furthering the characters. Dawn is suppose to be smart. She's suppose to have all of this underlying emotion about what has happened to her family. Yet time and again she does the dumbest things that made me want to smack her upside the head and go "What the heck is wrong with you?". 

I totally understand that there are plot driven stories and there are character driven stories. But I feel that given the history we are presented with and the actions the characters take the balance just swung too far. The plot itself was already solid with an interesting world. But I've said it a zillion times: if the characters don't work for me, odds are high the story didn't, either. 

If it makes it any clearer how I felt about the plot, or how the book held my interest. I read this while I was working on edits and when I was reading this, I was constantly thinking how glad I would be to get back to work. This book did not hold my attention and I found myself checking how far I'd read every twenty pages or so. In a book of this size, that is a very bad sign. I really, truly, wanted to like this and that is why I stuck with it. I'm actually kind of devastated that I dislike it quite as much as I do. It sort of snuck up on me. 

The Characters:

Okay, so since we're already talking about Dawn, let's shift gears and get right into the heart of it. She swung like a pendulum for me. One minute I thought she was brave, or insightful, or interesting or complex. And the next I was back to "What the hell are you doing?". Dawn's set-up / backstory / etc. does not, in my opinion, leave her with excuses to be stupid. Survival should be a priority one for her. Yet time and again I found her risking herself in situations where it was totally unnecessary. Withholding information that would be important to humanity for reasons that were never totally clarified (leaving me to figure the author(s) thought, "Victor is hot so I won't tell." *gah!* Your Parents Were Killed By Vampires.) I think it's clear I am not a member of the Dawn fan club. Moving along...

Taegan, how I hate you. Let me count the ways. I hate how stupid and impulsive you are. I hate how you are so often the reason that our heroine does many of the dumb things she does throughout the book. I hate that we rescued you from that party at the beginning--Dawn so should've left you there. She might have avoided several complications. (Victor, for instance. Trust me, I'll get there.) I think that's enough mud flinging at Taegen, though. She's a character--it's not her fault that there are likely fleas with more intellect. (I'm extremely sorry that I seem so damn grumpy about these characters, but seriously? I don't think I've ever read a book where the characters drove me quite this batty. Usually low scores from me are either because I couldn't click with the novel and don't know why, or because the writing style wasn't for me.) 

Lastly, we'll talk about the boys. Uhh... is there anything to say here? Michael was alright, if a bit protective. But we all know he's just there as a foil to Victor and that he's the one Dawn is going to really want--whether she knows / admits it or not. It's just the way that something like this works. For what it's worth, Michael was likely my favorite character in the book. He had his head on straight, he seemed to be aware of what was going on in the world he inhabited and his actions actually made sense. Was he a swoonworthy guy that's going to be on my top ten boyfriends list anytime soon? Nah. But at least he had his act together.

And lastly, we come to Victor. Dude, what happened? I was so ready to meet you and totally fall in love, but you were about as interesting as watching paint dry. Part of this is that Victor did not seem to have any strong defining characteristics. I didn't really feel anything that drew me in and made me want to know more about him. London did a good job of making Dawn dislike him in the beginning once she realized what he was (although there was an issue with that. I'll get to it below.), but that may have been done too well. This was an aspect where I liked Dawn and backed her. By his very being what he was, and her initial reaction to him, I was compelled to dislike Victor as well. Unlike Dawn, however, I never really changed my mind. 

The Romance: 

First off: this is the kind of 'love triangle' that doesn't work. Why? It's predictable. No matter what happens, no matter what you tell me throughout the book, we all know how this game is going to end. It has to. The way the ending happened was clever, I will admit that. And it does leave me wondering how the romance will be effected. But it still doesn't detract from this issue.

The other huge problem is that the romance actually undermines the credibility of the heroine. Did I buy it that Dawn might find love with a vampire despite her past? Sure. Forgiveness, redemption, etc. are themes I use a lot in my own writing. However, the way that her interest in Victor is apparent from word go--even after she knows the truth and in contrast to her outward behavior--irritated me. I normally wouldn't be quite this strict about this issue, but, yet again: her parents were killed by vampires. Her behavior just didn't ring true for me and that tainted anything between these two.

In General:

For me, this may well be the biggest disappointment of 2012. I have taken *forever* waiting to write this review and hoping that I would change my feelings about the book even slightly, but it's just not happening. Darkness Before Dawn had a truly brilliant premise and some great world building to back it up. But the characters all fell flat on their faces in one way or another, and for me personally character is story. 

If you have been considering trying the book, please don't let me dissuade you. My issues with the book were of a deeply personal nature and your experience might be completely different. Pay close attention to what was said, rather then the score, here. 


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