The Society of S
Published 2007 304 pages
Summary (from the press release)
Thirteen-year old Ariella Montero has led a sheltered life in a Victorian mansion in Saratoga Springs, New York. Classically educated at home by her father, she is more at home with Poe, Keats and Kerouac than with the real world. When she makes her first friend, with the daughter of the family’s housekeeper, a series of events begins that will splinter Ari’s safe world and make her question everything she’s been taught.
Ari’s first lesson: She’s not normal. She’s an “other” – half-vampire, half-human – and a fledgling member of the Society of S. S stands for Sanguinists, a group devoted to ethics, environmentalism, and equality with humans. Unfortunately, not all vampires, or humans, are similarly enlightened.
Murder comes to Saratoga Springs, sending Ari on the road to track down her mother, whom she’s never met. Guided by luck, intuition, and a smattering of logic, she embarks on a startling exploration of her family’s history.
The Society of S is the first novel in Susan Hubbard’s Ethical Vampire series. With a 13 year-old protagonist and a storyline that heavily features coming-of-age themes The Society of S would, at first glance, appear to be a novel for teenaged readers but this compelling and complex story defies easy categorisation.
As an adult who has read more than her fair share of the current crop of vampire books aimed at teen readers the first thing that struck me about The Society of S was the quality of the prose. A lot of Young Adult vampire books offer what I think of as a “cut-down” version of adult vampire/fantasy books – bizarrely swearing, sex, drink and drugs often seem to be appropriate content for YA readers but the writing, or prose of the novel is simplified to make it an easy read. It often seems that teen readers are accepted as old enough to want to read about complicated social issues but not old enough to read more complex language. The Society of S offers readers the chance to experience an altogether more challenging book, both in terms of its narrative construction and in the story’s concepts.
Narrated in first person by Ari, a 13 year-old girl who discovers that her father is a vampire and that she is a half-vampire, The Society of S reads more like a family drama than a vampire fantasy story. The vampire elements of the tale are used to enhance the underlying character drama rather than provide plotline crutches for the story – meaning that there is no over-the-top Hollywood movie style vampire action in this story. That’s not to say that these vampires are dull though – they all have varying degrees of talents and some nifty vampiric tricks, such as the ability to read minds and to appear invisible. These talents all have solid scientific explanations and there is no magic involved – keeping the book well grounded in reality.
Ari tells her story directly to the reader in brief narrative bursts – at points asking us whether we feel the same as her about the points she has mentioned. Even the parts of the story where she is in great peril are treated in the same minimalist fashion – there is no lengthy dialogue or soul searching for Ari – her narrative quickly cuts to the heart of the matter; delivering questions, intriguing concepts and facts.
At the heart of the story is Ari’s first foray into building relationships with her human neighbours in Saratoga Springs. She makes and then loses her first friend. Ditto her first boyfriend. Depression leads her to search for her missing mother and that journey takes her away from her carefully sheltered life with her father and out into the world on her own where she makes new discoveries about both herself and her family.
The Society of S mixes an almost gothic mystery with compelling family drama to give readers a sophisticated and complex tale. While its subject matter shouts TEEN READ the book’s literary construction makes The Society of S a most satisfying read for adult readers of any age. This book may not be for everyone though – impatient teen readers may find the book hard going in places while hard-core fantasy fans may be spend the entire book waiting for something supernatural to happen. However, for me this intelligently written book ticked all the right boxes and then some…
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