House of Night #1 Sparkles... and I Don't Mean the Vampires
The House of Night series is a popular young-adult urban fantasy series, one that’s ridden the back of the current vampire tread to popular success, with over millions of copies sold in the series since the series began in 2007. Now there’s ten books released and multiple novellas that expand upon the universe of the series. On the surface, this sounds like an epic and involved series, certainly more so than Twilight.
It’s more than just another vampire series; after all, the “vampyres” have many unique characteristics that are different from the typical contemporary vampire portrayal. For instance, “vampyres” all wear identifying markings on their foreheads that become more detailed as they transform from human-like beings into true “vampyres”, and they can’t leave an adult vampyre for long without their bodies rejecting their transformation. Such uniqueness is sorely needed in this genre. But does the comic book adaptation manage to bring this universe to life?
. . . Sort of.
This is not a bad book, but it’s very difficult for me having not read a single page of the novels, to get a hold of the story despite multiple read-throughs. The first issue does a good job of setting up who the heroine is (Zoey Redbird, who has also been chosen by vampyre-goddess Nyx to be the leader of the new generation and has been marked as such), and who her rival/enemy is (Aphrodite, who is clearly shown to be a jerk and proud of it . . . and who can also see the future which will likely prove trouble soon). But after that, the first issue gives me the feeling that there’s roughly fifty pages of prose that I should have on hand in order to get a good grasp of what’s going on. The comic is understandable for a newbie after a while, but you really need to concentrate and pay attention to every little detail. And even then, the pieces don’t fit together, though the impression is there that they will with subsequent issues.
In other words, this is classic “writing for the trade” by Kent Dalian, who is adapting P.C. Cast’s novels here. It’s really a short excerpt of a much longer story, a mere taste of what’s coming. “Writing for the trade” works when the comics are collected into the trade. But reading through the eventual trade one all-too-short issue at a time is, more or less, frustrating, and this book falls right into that.
But is the writing bad? No. Other than some generic “fake teen” dialogue here and there there’s a natural sense of character interaction. The various teenagers give off a sense of having their own separate personalities and motivations no matter how small their screen time may be. Many are snarky, but they don’t overdo it. There’s also a few jokes about words and how ridiculous they sound (“titillating” in particular gets a thorough dressing-down). And there’s this nice sense of a myth arc, as much of the book is preoccupied with a flash back to a previous vampyre leader named Freya (yes the goddess) in Norway, 1270. This further adds to the strong atmosphere.
Most of the art is by Joelle Jones, a fairly new artist who, like many newer comic artists, brings some clear manga influence but also combines this with a Western flavor. Here, her artwork is more Western than in her past work (Janet and Alex Evanowich’s Troublemaker). Her style here is straightforward and to the point, with some excellent colors and the characters’ emotions are expressed well. Each character has his or her own distinctive look, all without falling into various stereotypes. Guest artist Karl Kershel handles the Norwegian flashback, and his shining moment is the spectacular, if all too brief Norwegian action sequence, it’s flat-out impossible not to follow it and enjoy it. However, both Kershel and Jones do best with highly emotional or dramatic moments, where we get close-ups of characters’ eyes and faces which show their feelings just as well as the dialogue they say.
Ryan Hill’s colors bring a cinematic flavor to both Jones’ and Kershel’s pencils, giving off the impression that these are stills of a House of Night animated series. It’s too bad that much of this story has to take place at night, because Hill’s best work is during the all-too-brief moments of light. Like the whole issue in general, the moment where Hill shines and hooks you is the Norwegian flashback, where he gets to show off his skill in detailing not only the snowy environment, but the various shadows and gleams that come with a full moon.
Despite my confusion as to what’s going on at periods, I am left wanting to read more despite being a total newcomer to the House of Night series. There are some things that bother me (including that the titular academy is all-too-reminiscent of Harry Potter for my liking, though I guess such comparisons are unavoidable this day and age). But I really like the atmosphere and the sense of a grand myth arc that has more in debt to Potter than other vampire series like Twilight and The Vampire Diaries. The story’s refusal to kowtow to vampire trends (“vampires in plain sight”, vampire romance, etc.) and instead concentrate on grandeur and natural character interaction makes me think this story has a lot of promise.
If only it was a little easier to get into for a newbie, though I will bet that issue will be resolved by the time the first trade is complete.