So. Yesterday’s chapter. How’s everyone doing?
Last chapter ended with Zoey losing her virginity to her high school teacher Loren Blake. Let’s go over that again. I know it wasn’t “my chapter” and “we did this already”, but I think it’s worth emphasizing what a comically, amazingly bad fade-to-black this is:
“Now let’s finish it. Let me make love to you, baby.”
“Yes,” I whispered. My lips found Loren’s chest again, and as I drank from him, Loren made love to me until our world exploded in blood and passion.
There is so much awful here. The diction is wrong: “baby” and “made love” aren’t making the teacher-underage student thing as palatable as this book inscrutably seems to think it is. The narrative pacing is wrong: You can’t squeeze a sex scene with this much narrative weight into “Loren made love to me until our world exploded” any more than you can squeeze a climactic confrontation into “The hero killed the bad guy”. But maybe most damningly – and this is the only time I’m ever gonna say this is a problem – it’s a huge problem that there isn’t any Zoey in this. Why does Zoey sound more detached and clinical than she’s ever been than when she’s losing her virginity?
Let’s also not forget that because of their imprint, Heath also had to psychically experience Zoey fucking Loren, which should be horrifying, but winds up being hilarious, because Heath:
somewhere in the back of my jumbled mind I heard Heath screaming, “Zoey! No!”
Ok. Just wanted to spend some extra time on all that, because FUCKING REALLY.
Actually Chapter 23
So where do we pick up after all that love making until the world exploded in a dozen words?
I was lying on top of Loren in a delicious fog of sensation
Words that do not work together, especially in a sex scene: “delicious fog”
The thin film of sweat on my body made [my tattoos] glisten like sapphires.
Words that do not work in any sex scene whatsoever: “film of sweat”
Lying together naked, Loren compliments Zoey’s tattoos, which are “exquisite. Like you.”
I’m thinking that “exquisite” is another word that doesn’t totally belong in a scene where you’re trying to make a teacher-underage student relationship more palatable. Call me crazy? Zoey explains that, yes, I am crazy for not recognizing her beautiful love with her high school teacher.
Loren was right. I was exquisite.
I mean, you know, after the requisite “Zoey compliments herself” part.
He’d been right about us. It didn’t matter that he was older and a full-grown vampyre (and a professor at my school).
These are just reasons why this very much does matter, but, uh, go on? Do explain why this relationship is something we should be on board with.
What we had was really special.
Oh ok it was really special. Guess I’m on board now.
Zoey asks Loren if her Imprint with Heath is really broken, saying that “I don’t understand how it could have happened so easily”. (Welcome to reading House of Night, Zoey.) Loren explains that the Zoey-Heath bond was weak because Zoey isn’t a vampyre, just a fledgling, and therefore a bond between Zoey and an adult vampyre could overwhelm it, because it’s impossible for one person to have multiple Imprints.
Zoey continues to be an empathetic, selfless soul:
It was really a good thing that my being with Loren had broken the Imprint with Heath. It was easier this way-for both of us.
Yes. Getting a psychic vision that your significant other is boning someone else definitely sounds the easiest way to break up for both parties involved.
Having moved on from how great it is was that she managed to end things with boyfriend #1 without having to actually talk to him, she suddenly becomes super concerned about boyfriend #2. If you’re looking for moments that really show Zoey’s character, the term “an embarrassment of riches” would apply here.
“What is it?” [Loren] said.
“Erik,” I whispered.
“You belong to me!” Loren’s voice was rough, as were his lips as he kissed me possessively.
I am torn here. This is such an obvious red flag, and Zoey doesn’t pick up on it (she responded with “Yes, I do belong to you”, if you had any doubt about that). But we’re so used to Zoey not picking up on things, this isn’t surprising. But what’s weird is that this isn’t because Zoey’s an unreliable narrator, at least purposefully; she’s just tone-deaf. Then again, it’s easy for real people to not recognize when they’re in harmful relationships with other people. So how much of a problem is this for the book?
I don’t have an answer for that train of thought yet, but I want you to keep it in mind as we go into the next section. Yes, your comedy blog is asking you to remember criticism that will only become useful later! I bet you miss Grey now!
Zoey and Loren move onto pillow talk, which – this is House of Nothing Happens For 80% of the Book, after all – is totally an infodump.
[Loren looked] into my eyes. “Can you tell me now? […] Tell me what it is that upset you so badly.”
Zoey very thoroughly (as though anything else actually happened in this story that would make us forget) summarizes:
- Stevie Rae is undead, as are a bunch of other fledgling students previously thought to be dead
- They were the ones killing the football players at the human high school and she had to save Heath from them
- But Stevie Rae is still holding onto some of her humanity somehow, and she’s hiding at Aphrodite’s parents’ until Zoey finds a way to help
- Zoey is sneaking blood out of the school and taking it to Stevie Rae
- Zoey gave Stevie Rae a cell phone so the two of them could communicate
Loren has some thoughts about this.
“They’re that bad?” He said.
“You can’t imagine. […] It’s like they’ve turned into all the stereotypes that are most horrible about vamps”
Ah, yes, the unimaginable horror of being turned into a horrible stereotype. Totally unrelated: the “gay but not in a girly way” Damien has barely been in this book!
Zoey explains her plan to ask the goddess to fix Stevie Rae (we’re using “plan” real loosely here). Loren warns her that she’s “invoking powerful magic, and there’s always a cost associated with that”, then without elaborating on any of this very important information at all, asks if she knows anything about how this happened.
I started to say Neferet when ‘Don’t speak her name’ slammed into my gut. Okay, the words themselves didn’t hit me.
One of the few things the Casts felt the need to clarify in this book is that Zoey’s thoughts did not physically manifest themselves as floating words that made physical contact with her. Let that mindfuckingly stupid detail sink in.
But there’s the beginning of something much more important to talk about now. Remember that stuff I was talking about earlier? NOW IS THE TIME TO REMEMBER THAT STUFF.
I’d left out any mention of Neferet [in my story]. I hadn’t thought about it. I hadn’t done it on purpose. […]
Nyx. It had to be the Goddess working through my subconscious. She didn’t want Loren to know anything about Neferet.
Let’s think about the implications of this. Zoey didn’t get any red flags that maybe her high school teacher who just seduced her and had sex with her is maybe not a good person, EVEN AFTER he grabbed her and told her “You belong to me!” Zoey only got red flags about him through divine intervention. House of Night has frequently had a pretty heavy reliance on the deus ex machina – often at the hands of a literal deus – but it’s super, super bad here, because Zoey has no agency. How are we supposed to be invested in a protagonist who never learns from her ongoing experiences, but has a god do all her thinking for her? This makes me feel like Zoey is a little less “chosen one”, and a little more “Jesus, take the wheel”.
Loren asks Zoey more questions, and Zoey lies about anyone else knowing about the two of them and about Aphrodite’s involvement with Stevie Rae (coming up with a story about how she overheard Aphrodite talking about how the house was empty while her parents were on vacation). She also lies about her relationship with Aphrodite:
as I said it I realized that I actually did trust Aphrodite. Maybe even more than I trusted Loren, who I’d just lost my virginity to and with whom I’d just Imprinted. Great. Just my luck.
I like how the most genuinely horrifying moments in House of Night are always played off as jokes.
I turned my head as Loren trailed kisses down my naked throat, and a jolt of horror shocked through my body.
Erik was standing in the doorway with a look of utter disbelief on his newly Marked face.
Overlooking the implication that the door must have been open this whole time.
I didn’t need to worry about Erik seeing me naked.
Oh, good, this was the problem introduced in this scene that I was most concerned about.
With one quick motion, Loren moved me behind him, shielding me with his body.
“You’re interrupting.” Loren’s beautiful voice was dark with barely suppressed violence. […]
“Yeah, I can see that,” Erik said. Without another word he turned and walked out.
“Ohmygod! Ohmygod! I can’t believe that just happened!” I put my burning face in my hands.
Overlooking the implication that Loren’s dick must have been out during this entire interaction.
Zoey freaks out that Erik found out this way, and that the entire school will find out now, which is bad because (say it with me!) Loren is a teacher and Zoey is an undersage student. Loren assures her, nah, don’t worry about it.
“He’ll keep his mouth shut because I’ll tell him to keep it shut.” […]
I felt a prickle of fear, and I began to wonder if there might be more to Loren than what he was showing me.
Again, this is not a thought Zoey had when Loren was shouting “You belong to me!”
Zoey and Loren (finally) part ways, agreeing to meet up again soon. Zoey walks back, reflecting on losing her virginity, which is handled… with a weirdly tasteful verisimilitude, actually.
I wasn’t a virgin anymore.
The fact hit me with a weird zing. Things had happened so fast I hadn’t really had time to think about it, but I’d done it.
Although given Zoey’s long history of slut shaming, even a gentler moment of reflection just seems like shallow writing. I’m not buying a Zoey that doesn’t have any more conflicted feelings in this moment than “a weird zing”. Note that I’m actually critiquing that Zoey doesn’t sound like Zoey. That’s how serious this is.
The chapter ends with a classic House of Night move: someone suddenly appearing from behind a tree:
“Why, Zoey?” Erik said.
I don’t even have a joke. “Why, Zoey?” is literally how I feel about this entire book.