“House of Night is a thrilling, New York Times bestselling young adult fantasy series. The books follow 16-year-old Zoey Redbird as she is “Marked” by a vampyre tracker and begins to undergo the “Change” into an actual vampyre. She has to leave her family in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and move into the House of Night, a boarding school for other fledgling vampyres like her.” – Goodreads
The House of Night series is a creative take on vampire (or vampyre as the Casts prefer to spell it) mythos, biology, and genre. In this post, I’ll break down those three ideas and how House of Night handles them.
The story of the series follows Zoey Montgomery, later Zoey Redbird, a teenager living in Oklahoma who is “marked” as a vampyre. Zoey functions as the main protagonist throughout the series, though in later books additional perspectives are added as the plot becomes more complex.
I’ll be starting here so that some much needed explanations for those new to the series can be gotten out of the way.
In the Casts’ world of vampyres, biology is incredibly important. Vampyres are not made, they are born. Around the age of sixteen a biological change happens in vampyres that makes them ill and sets off a magical process that special “tracker” vampyres can feel. A tracker vampyre then “marks” the fledgling vampyre, a magical rite that results in the fledgling developing a crescent moon “tattoo” on their forehead.
Fledgling vampyres are heavily dependent on adult vampyres, requiring immediate proximity to them as they develop. These teenagers are thus moved to the nearest House of Night. Houses are a system of boarding schools where adult vampyres train and protect fledglings. Without regular close proximity to adult vampyres, fledglings are in danger of getting incredibly sick and potentially dying as a result.
Fledgling vampyres will eventually either accept or reject the Change, which is the transition to adult vampyre. This is not a conscious choice, though. A fledgling in the process of rejecting the Change will start to get ill, similar to how they were before being marked. As vampyres do not get ill, this is unusual and usually within a matter of hours or days the fledgling will essentially bleed out of all of their orifices and die. Yeah.
The process of the Change is very similar to the rejection, but instead of dying the vampyre develops more tattoos across their face, starting with the crescent moon filling in and proceeding with unique tattoos that often represent the personality and interests of the vampyre.
There is an additional trait to vampyres which can develop as fledgling (usually a good sign that they will succeed in achieving adulthood) or later as an adult. Affinities are magical abilities, or enhanced abilities, that range from telepathy to elemental control to a fondness for horses.
Now if you’re wondering how all of this starts, this is where things start to take a turn for the fantastical. Everything is explained away by a religious and magical root: the Greek goddess Nyx. In a loose interpretation of the goddess, Nyx acts as a guardian and mother goddess to a Wicca-like vampyre religion that has persisted as long as vampyres have. Nyx presumably created vampyres, gives them all of their magical abilities and affinities. Priestesses of the religion around Nyx are generally vampyres with powerful and prominent affinities, the more magical the better.
All vampyres worship Nyx. Some vampyres worship Nyx a bit more. There are Wicca like religious rituals that the entire House of Night attends, but in addition to this there is a fraternal organization called the Dark Daughters and Dark Sons who conduct additional rituals and special events. The head of the Dark Daughters functions as a sort of High Priestess for the organization, and is usually a young woman being trained for the position of Priestess in her future.
Since the hierarchy of vampyres is matriarchal, men are offered the chance to join a warrior group following their education, called the Sons of Erebus, named for Nyx’s consort from mythology. Warriors generally protect high ranking priestesses, and can reach the position of Guardian. Guardians are usually the romantic and sexual partners of the priestess they guard.
Though “vampire novels” tend to be sorted into more official genres, I firmly believe that in the last twenty-odd years starting with Anne Rice and booming during the Twilight years a new genre of vampiric fiction has emerged. The requirements of the genre are as follows:
- vampires of some variety are involved
- there is an additional supernatural or mythological aspect that may explain vampires
- other supernatural creatures may be involved, but vampires are the focus
- the world building manages to explain how vampires function in the world (are they hidden? are they known?)
These requirements set novels such as The Historian, which follows one small family’s dealings with the infamous Dracula, apart from the real Vampiric Genre because that novel isn’t so much concerned with the vampires themselves as the vampires are a plot device.
The House of Night books are very much concerned with the vampyres:
- the series focuses on a vampyre and her journey into vampyre culture
- the mythos built around the goddess Nyx explains how vampires came to be
- there are (later) other supernatural creatures and forces involved, but they focus on vampyres as well
- the world building frequently addresses how vampyres have always existed as known entities, and are in fact involved in all levels of cultural existence on Earth
Thoughts on the series
Now that I’ve given an explanation of how the House of Night addresses vampyres and the intricacies of it, it’s time for my opinion!
I started reading this series during peak Twilight mania. I fell into a lot of vampiric books at the time, and this persisted as one of my favorites. House of Night weaves an interesting and entirely unique world of vampiric origin. I thought that the use of mythology, Wiccan inspiration, and a distinctly mundane Oklahoman setting to bring “vampire boarding school” to life was a winning combination.
What I like
I like the characters, for the most part. Zoey is a sympathetic protagonist, which is important considering the series is at first exclusively and later primarily told from her first person POV. I’m not a huge fan of first person, but despite her idiosyncratic way of cursing (bullpoopie is said…a lot) Zoey is usually mature, collected, empathetic, compassionate, and firm. She has moments of weakness and makes mistakes just like any good protagonist, and she definitely has some “Chosen One” vibes about her, but like the best Chosen Ones she starts from a place of confusion and grows into her role.
The supporting cast can be quite delightful as well. There are some elements of “first impressions aren’t always accurate” as you go along and characters develop from semi-one dimensional in the first novel to full fleshed out and complex people in the later books. The antagonists are few, but generally increasing in intensity.
The writing style is appropriate to its age group. The books are meant for teenagers, and are written from the perspective of a teenager (for the most part). There are times when the characters can be eloquent and thoughtful and there are also times when their conversations are very immature. Descriptions are usually appropriately lengthy and colorful; I don’t think I’ve ever had a hard time imagining what was being laid out on the page.
When I was reading the series book after book as they came out, I remember enjoying the pacing of the series overall. The books are individually well paced, with good clear structures of rising action and falling action. The series, too, does a good job of building up the stakes. The first novel is relatively low stakes because it’s introducing you to so much of the world. As the series grows, so too do the conflicts.
What I don’t like
The writing style goes in both categories. While at thirteen years old the “teenager” speak delighted me, it does not age well. Re-reading the books even as an older teenager, around the age of Zoey and her friends, the dialogue began to annoy me.
Additionally, though this book is not nearly as guilty of it as some others, there is definitely the insertion of unnecessary pop culture references to try and remind you that these characters are teenagers. Dropping the names of hit songs and artists, popular TV shows, and major movies not only tends to distract from the plot at hand but it becomes anachronistic at times. The first few books take place over a rather short period of time that it would be impossible to reflect in publishing time. Therefore, adding pop culture references relevant in the year that the third novel is published conflicts with the fact that the book takes place before those references could be made.
In general, the books don’t cross any major lines in terms of discrimination but occasionally they get uncomfortably close. The only gay characters that get any plot screen time are two gay men, very much defined by the stereotypical white cis gay man. Lesbians are mentioned once, in passing, as usually being ultra involved in the Nyx religion and isolated from the rest of the student population. There is diversity amongst the cast of characters. Zoey herself is at least half Native American, and engages regularly in cultural practices her grandmother taught her. There are other people of color scattered throughout the supporting cast, though some of their descriptions and dialogues are a bit too borderline stereotypical.
There is little to no description of disability, as vampyres are supernaturally strong and stay incredibly fit. Mental illness isn’t mentioned directly as far as I can tell. The only moment of fatphobia I can distinctly recall is in the first novel, when it’s explained that being overweight is a bad sign in a fledgling since it indicates they will probably reject the Change.
All in all, I still like and support this series. PC Cast is usually a writer for adults, and her foray into this series of a YA audience has more complexity because of it. The characters face and handle high stakes experiences ranging from romantic conflicts to saving the world events. The books may not always nail how teenagers talk, think, and absorb pop culture but they never talk down to the reader in the way some adult writers trying out YA unintentionally do.
The books are fun, supernatural, and interesting. The characters do develop, as does the plot, over the series and within the books gradually. They’re easy to read and absorbing once the pace picks up, and readers that find them interesting will probably have an easy time moving through them.
In terms of my Vampiric Genre, I think that House of Night adds an important level of variety. The thing that keeps the genre of vampire novels growing is creativity. The ability to look at vampires and say “I bet I can come up with a new way to look at them” is crucial (in my opinion).
Ultimately, I give these books an enjoyable 4 out of 5 stars for the series as a whole (though I’m only on book eight right now).