The Dead Girls’ Dance- by Rachel Caine

The Dead Girls’ Dance (Morganville Vampires, Book 2) in the Morganville Vampire series by Rachel Caine…wow. It’s marketed as a young adult book.  Amazon even suggests it for 9-12 year olds! I’ve read some of Rachel Caine’s Weather Warden books so I knew that Caine knows how to deliver the plot-goods. And in this book? Did she ever.

The main heroine is 16 year old genius Claire who has moved into a house in the town of Morganville and out of the dorms of her university because the sadistic, psycho daughter of the mayor has tried to injure and kill her Just Because.

The Dead Girls’ Dance opens up with a tableau already in progress-the father of Claire’s boyfriend Shane has just murdered her roommate Michael, the owner of the house, and the roller coaster begins.

In the Morganville Vampire series, violence is a fact of life. There are no Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret moments. There are two rape attempts on the two main female characters.  One follows closely after the murder of their roommate and is a reward for the hatchet man, and the other is instigated later by the psycho mayor’s daughter. The attempts remain just that-but neither girl seems affected by the near-rapes, nor are the attempted rapes brought to authorities or mentioned except to their roommates (who are the ones to save them–the guys, that is). Not exactly girl power, although perhaps realistic in the world of an adolescent. At least neither girl is shamed or acts ashamed of the assaults. In the dark microcosm of Morganville, an attempted rape is simply brushed off.

Shane and Michael, the boyfriend/roommates,  keep telling the girls what to do and to stay out of danger. Eve in particular repeats that neither boy has any business telling her or Claire what to do, or what not to do, even if it’s to save their lives.  In at least one instance, one of the boys locks Eve in her room.   The girls in turn go ahead and do what they need to do and end up saving the boys. Claire turns down the title of”hero” that her boyfriend gives her later, though, even after she’s earned it.

The boys even decide (especially in 16 year old Claire’s case) about sex. They seem to know when the girls should or should not have sex better than the girls themselves! Claire and Eve have healthy sex-drives. The reader knows this because they keep describing Shane and Michael as Hot and we hear how Eve is planning Michael’s seduction.  It’s a reversal of the Girls Are the Guardians of the Loins cliche with the added bonus of making the boys more honorable than your typical teen who might just go ahead and have sex with a willing partner. It also prevents Claire and Eve from being labeled as easy. Who knew?

It’s an odd tension. If the boys are perceived to be taking advantage of the girls, then they’re no better or worse than the rapists or male authority figures in the book.  The murderous father of one of the boys points out that Claire is “jail bait” and mocks his son about it even as he sends his goon in to rape Claire and Eve a short time later.

Caine is a master writer of incredible hooks and plots, careening her characters in and out of danger with personal, very human,  motivations.  But as much as the girls in the book give lip service to being independent they’re still rescued by Michael or Shane or a friendly vampire named Sam when they’re in sexually dangerous situations.  Claire and Eve do some rescuing, too, but there’s a constant sense of them being able to do so only if they sneak around and “disobey” the males in the book.  The second rape almost happens because Eve and Claire went to a party when they were told not to go.  I hope that changes in the later books.

Rip-roaring plotting, some fun characterization, but some weird stuff going on with the sexual/violence aspects of the book. It’s an early entry into the series-there are five books so far (with the sixth one arriving on June 2nd and the seventh on November 3rd), and I haven’t read them yet.  I have mixed feelings about this entry into this very successful series.


  1. Zahra says

    Very interesting piece. Have you reviewed the first book in the series?

    I’m glad to know about this series, even though it doesn’t sound to my taste…the whole supernatural romance YA thing seems to be growing bigger and bigger, and I’ve been really curious about the gender messages in these books.

    Also, have to say I love seeing all the Hathor blogs combined into one. Thanks!

  2. says

    Hi Zahra–The short answer is no, I haven’t read the first book-mostly because every copy of every book in the series was taken out of the library!

    I didn’t note this in my review, but apparently the books are written as one long continuous story, with no breaks between scenes or resolutions. The first scene in this book starts right off where the first book ends.

    It’s a very dark book, somewhere around the darkness of Rob Thurman’s Cal Leandros series, but adjusted for a younger audience (ie, no outright goriness). The characters are also “self-aware” in that way that the teens in the movie “Scream” are self-aware.

  3. says

    Oh, this series drove me nuts. I threw it with great force after this book. Claire is just plain ol’ Too Stupid To Live, even if she’s a “genius.” Which we are told constantly, even if she doesn’t act like one. I liked her other roommates, but I couldn’t stand Claire and she was the lead and couldn’t be ignored.

  4. says

    You mean you threw the book across the room with great force?

    I didn’t mention Claire’s “not getting it” throughout the book. She was rescued a total of …4 or 5 times? Which was a little much. I took her intelligence with a grain of salt, figuring, she’s 16 and at 16, or even older, lots of intelligent people don’t put two and two together lickety-split. However, it did make me wonder what made her so special.

  5. Nialla says

    Claire’s brilliance is in her “book smarts” which doesn’t really translate well to “OMG I’m running from vampires!” situations.

    You really need to read from the start to get the whole picture of the setup and motivations (even for the rape attempts, which are pretty horrific for a YA book), and the books really do tell one continuous story. It’s not like “24” as in everything takes place within a set period non-stop, but larger chunks of time pass off the page.

    I’m not quite sure why this series is often classed for the tween set, though I’m sure some of them will be pick it up just because it’s YA with vampires. I could recommend it for high school age, but I’ve found most of the readers bugging the crap out of me to know if copies are in the library are adults, both male and female.

    I think the only real concession to classing this as a “teen” book is muting language and sexuality. The latter is kept vague and there are reasons for both guys to delay sex, it’s not just a “you’re not ready yet, I’m the guy and I say so” thing.

    I consider the series more urban fantasy than YA romance — just because the lead is a teen shouldn’t be the only factor in how it’s classed — though I have a higher tolerance for romance blending into other genres, as I read outright romance as well.

    I think a lot of reader frustration over romance “bleeding” into other genres is not just the romance itself, as that’s long been a standard in any genre of fiction. The problem is the publishers are trying to play both sides by publishing as fantasy but amping up the sexuality to sell it as romance.

    Romance genre readers are generally much more open to reading other genres, but readers of other genres aren’t always willing to do the reverse. The mixing often results in both sides being unhappy — not enough romance for the romance reader, not enough fantasy for the fantasy reader.

  6. says

    It wasn’t the romance, really, that bothered me-it was the fact that a book had some pretty harrowing portrayals of attempted rape and that it’s supposedly aimed at the tween set (9-12) and not classed as “for the high school kids”. The amount of romance in the book is what I’d expect in a book written by Rachel Caine; that’s her hallmark, along with, as I said, books that just move you along like you’re on a thrill ride. And there is *nothing* wrong with that!

    And a note: I reserved the books at the library, but don’t expect me to be reviewing the entire series anytime soon. Why? I’m about 50th in line for EACH book! So it’s very popular. I’d be amazed if anything written by Caine wasn’t.

    I’d say the way she structured the sexual situations between Claire and Shane, and Eve and Michael are very clever, too. It keeps the books from dipping into Adult Fiction.

  7. Nialla says

    My comments re: romance were more generalized to some comments, as well as discussions I’ve been having elsewhere that’s been bubbling in my brain. The bleeding of genres has been on my mind a lot recently.

    It pains me to see these on tween lists, because it will be too much for some of them (or even some high school age teens). Though I would have been one of the tween brats bugging the librarian for the next book. I came by my book habits very early, reading YA level fiction (the real kind) at age 10.

    We’re a small library, so our waiting lists aren’t nearly that bad, but I already have a list going for the next book, due out in a few months. I also have one adult woman driving me bonkers because she’s the next one on the list and the book hasn’t been returned yet. She’s not quite getting that everyone doesn’t turn them in exactly on the due date. Nor even when we call to remind them to turn it in either.

    I guess it’s my own fault for putting the series into a special display of vampire books when the Twilight movie came out. It was self-defense against the hordes coming in to get Twilight, which had a mega-waiting list, but now its come home to roost.

  8. says

    Yup. Knew a word went out of place somewhere.

    I can understand the difference between 16-year-old book smarts and street smarts, but the characters acted like the two were one and the same.

  9. says

    Nialla, I don’t whether it’s because Amazon is skewed toward adult reviews, but it does seem as if most of the reviews of this series are from grown-ups rather than teens. There are some written by teens, and some by college age kids–those are the unfavorable reviews, actually!

    Jennifer, that’s true-Eve, at least, and Amelie, and Oliver (another vampire) all seem to consider Claire as uber-smart. Michael and Shane don’t seem have that in their heads.

  10. Nialla says

    I’ve been getting the feeling that while Claire’s very booksmart for her age, there’s something else about her that’s drawn Amelie to her. Partly an ability to think outside the rules Morganville has had for so long, but there’s a niggle Caine has been holding back on a reveal. I’m just hoping she’s not going for an easy “child of prophecy” route.

    I think Eve has self-esteem issues that leave her rebelling against the Morganville life with the Goth look that makes her a target, but also looking up to Claire for being smart and from Eve’s POV, relatively independent and unconstrained by the rules, at least at first.

    Eve’s issues stem from growing up with some seriously screwed up family, but there’s also a short story that details some of the things that happened to Eve prior to Claire’s arrival that adds to her backstory.

  11. says

    There is a subplot that I neglected to mention in the review (which focused on the girl’s relationship with the boys, and the two rape attempts): Eve’s brother Justin. There’s a hint that there’s something seriously awry with her *older* brother, but Justin, the younger brother? Justin’s subplot was mentioned only six times or so, but I found it almost too much. You know, like having not only shaved chocolate on your chocolate cake, and thick chocolate icing on top of it, but also having chocolate chips inside the cake batter!

    SPOILERS- Did there really have to be a homicidal, serial rapist brother, too? One threatening Eve every chance he got? Did his prey *have* to be young girls about Eve’s or Claire’s age? Did he have to rape them as well? By including such a threatening figure in the book, and knowing Caine, the other shoe is going to drop (or that gun over the mantelpiece is going to be used for sure) what Justin does is shove the Eve and Claire into even less powerful positions. When a 17 year old kid can get away with rape and murder…ouch. The book is permeated with this sort of violence toward women.

    More and more, the only thing that seems to keep the Morganville Vampire series in the YA section of the library is that a) the protagonist is a 16/17 year old girl, b) the sex is off-screen, except when it’s not going “all the way”.

    We’ll see if my opinion shifts as I read the rest of the series. There’s a huge wait for the books on Paperback Book Swap (50 to 130+ wishes for each book) and again, a very long wait list for the library books.

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