Review: Betrayals by Lili St. Crow

Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Title: Betrayals
Author: Lili St. Crow (pen name for author Lilith Saintcrow)
Genre: young-adult, horror (zombies), supernatural/paranormal fiction (vampires, wulfen)
Series: Strange Angels #2
Pages: 296 (paperback edition)
Published: November 2009
Source: bought
Rating: 3/5

Poor Dru Anderson. Her parents are long gone, her best friend is a werewolf, and she's just learned that the blood flowing through her veins isn't entirely human. (So what else is new?)

Now Dru is stuck at a secret New England Schola for other teens like her, and there's a big problem - she's the only girl in the place. A school full of cute boys wouldn't be so bad, but Dru's killer instinct says that one of them wants her dead. And with all eyes on her, discovering a traitor within the Order could mean a lot more than social suicide. . .

Can Dru survive long enough to find out who has betrayed her trust - and maybe even her heart?

Back again in Lili St. Crow's vampire and wulfen populated world, Betrayals is the second in a series of (so far) five novels centered around young female svetocha, Dru Anderson. As the extremely rare, intensely-sought-after female djamphir (usually male offspring of a vampiric father and a human mother), Dru is both isolated and coveted - by both sides in a good/evil paranormal struggle. The author doesn't miss a beat with her second offering of the weird and strange in Dru's monsterified life - the same easy tone, and fluid pace that made Strange Angels such an enjoyable and fast read are both present here as well. By no means a heavy or difficult read, this series is shaping up to be a pretty basic, fun, supernatural young-adult series with excellent writing, interesting mythology and a decent protagonist. With a complete change of setting and a brand-new plotline, Betrayals doesn't rely on the actions of its predecessor novel to determine the story: it charts a new path of uncertainty for Dru to walk. Now ensconced within The Order, within a "Schola", the one place she is supposed to be safe and valued above all - Dru is snared in a web of lies, half-truths, deceptions. . . and you got it: betrayal.

Dru herself irritated me a fair bit more than she did in the first novel. Several times, within the first four chapters of the book, I wanted to shake her/slap her/tell her to get a grip. Specifically, her repeated refusal to accept that maybe she doesn't know it all, Dru's attitudes with her knowledgeable djamphir teachers wore on my nerves. While the majority of Dru's character is still consistent with the hard-nosed tomboy of the first novel, she seems to spend half the novel sulking in her bedroom. I'm also slightly put-off by the blooming process in store for Dru that is repeatedly, annoyingly mysteriously mentioned. I don't understand why the male djamphir are just granted with super-speed/strength/healing from birth but the females are (comparatively) unbelievably weak until the ick-inducing blooming process renders them toxic to vampires. Added in with Dru being the "first" svetocha rescued in 30 years, and it hardly makes sense. Why are the svetocha so limited in the scope of their abilities and so rare? Details and information on this apparently endangered supernatural species has been parsed out pretty rarely thus far in both novels, and hopefully the author plans to enlighten her readers quite a bit more in the future - and as Dru is the main character, details about her/her heritage are essential. Dru is also QUITE profane: her language is abysmal and venal but it doesn't bother me. I can tell that some readers will definitely be put-off by her blue streaks, but it feels natural, how Dru really expresses herself.

I liked the idea of the Scholas of The Order as a new, fixed locale, instead of the novel following Dru around on her myriad adventures and mishaps. I just wish there was more about The Order itself: hardly anything has been explained up until this point. However, I'm a big fan of the Mystical Magical Boarding School in young-adult novels (Harry Potter, the Vampire Academy, Hex Hall. . . the list goes on and on) and Crow's version was a welcome addition. Unfortunately the school itself is a largely under-used/described setting: it was used mostly to illustrate divisions than illuminate the hidden world of wulfen/nosferatu. The strife and hatred between the races of vampires and wulfen are more obvious, more an obvious factor in the plot and in the Schola than before. The tensions frequently escalate into more, often with Dru lacking a side as the only female present in the entire Schola, further illustrating her isolation and uniqueness. In a school of divisions, it is increasingly hard for Dru to know who to trust, who to ask, who to avoid - all adding up to a terrific buildup of tension and anticipation for the Big Reveal. The fast pace adds to the feel of danger Dru constantly feels: events rush by, often leaving Dru whirling to keep up. No less action-packed than Strange Angels, at least four nosferatu attacks on the Schola/Dru keep the body-count and weapons-discharged at the same levels during the course of Betrayals.

The secondary characters continue to be my underutilized favorites. Graves, in particular, is my favorite for the whole series. Not only do I love him, I actually like Dru a whole lot more when she is around her half-Asian loup-garou bestfriend. I do find the author's repeated mentions of Graves' race/racial attributes to be a bit unPC and uncomfortable. His race really doesn't need to be remarked upon that often - we get it, you've got a racially diverse cast but stop beating me about the head with it! Mini-rant aside, Graves relationship with Dru is built on a solid foundation: two kids used to being left behind, ignored are something sure and steady for one another in a world of uncertainty. He grows into himself a bit as well: less dependent on Dru, more of a leader to the wulfen, a determination to learn all he can. . . Graves really was one of the highlights of the book. Christophe emerged as more than a Polish-speaking dhamphir with mysterious connections to Dru and her past. While I wouldn't say I necessarily relished the imminent arrival of another young-adult love-triangle, I actually like both the boys for once. . .  though Dru seems to be setting the stage for a bust-up with her lies to one about the other. Usually I'm on "Team XXXX" and while I definitely favor Graves, I'm a big fan of Chris. I just hope it doesn't drag the novel down into just melodrama and love-entanglements. 

Several things caught my attention in a negative way for this novel. First Dru's/the author's extreme focus on Graves' race felt borderline out-of-line. In a similar vein, Dru spends a lot of time contemplating Graves' face. I'm talking a mention of it at least every other chapter that Dru spends any time with the loup-garou. It just got very old, very fast: two books in - we know what Graves looks like, the reader doesn't need a constant reminder of how very attractive he is/is going to be. The secondary cast (outside of Graves, but including Christophe), despite how much I adore them, remains still very underdeveloped.  They seem to be drawn in broad strokes, with little detailing: likeable/affable (Dibs), annoying/questioning (Shanks), or obviously pure evil (Anna).  I also though the ending was absolutely a let-down. There was NO reveal of a traitor worth the buildup of a novel titled Betrayals. I was very very disappointed with how Ms. Saintcrow chose to end her second novel, and the lack of history/information on the nosferatu/Kouroi/djhampir/wulfen/"Dark Times" she presented. I had to drop my rating from a solid 3.5 out of 5 to just a 3 because of the ending alone. Not that I am disappointed enough to give up, next up is the third in the series Jealousy.

One copy each of Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Julie Kagawa's The Iron Knight!
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