Review: Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side

© Claire Ramsey
Used by Permission

I think, with the advent of Stephanie Meyer and the Twilight Saga, together with the continued popularity of Anne Rice and the once-and-future-king of vampire stories, Bram Stoker, I can make a safe assumption: humans, especially young adult humans, LOVE the tales of the bloodsucking fiends that look at us like we look at cheeseburgers.

Well, OK, we’re modern now – we’ve given over most of the ‘making a deal with the devil’ side of vampirism, or rather, our favorite vampires (like the Cullen family) have. Either that, or the vamps are so darned good-looking, well-spoken and -tailored, that we don’t care that they are forever damned (witness Louis and Lestat from Rice’s Interview with the Vampire.)

So it comes to pass that human cheeseb — I mean, vampire fans like myself — who are panting for the next installment of a vampire series with us on the menu — can RELAX! It’s here! The perfect book to pass the time while waiting for Stephanie Meyer, or, better yet, supplanting that whole bland series with something equally vampiric and infinitely more toothsome.

Enter Beth Fantaskey (with a name like that, how can you lose?) and Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side, narrated by Pennsylvania teenager Jessica Packwood.

“You know, Jess…. In the back of your mind you know you have good reason to fear Lucius….”

These are Jessica’s words to herself. What do you do when at the beginning of your senior year you are minding your own business at the bus stop and see (cue dark-chocolate-romantic music please) a tall, dark boy dressed all in black staring at you from across the street? Moreover, what CAN you do when he turns up at your house later, hanging out with your yoga-teaching, lentil-loving foster parents and claims that you are actually Princess Antanasia Dragomir of a ruling vampire family? And that he, Lucius Vladescu, is your betrothed?

If you answered, assume that said boy is crazy and if you just ignore him long enough he will take himself and all of his vampire stories with him back to Transylvania — then you think like Jessica. Push comes to shove when Jessica learns from the couple who raised her just what happened to her birth parents…

I thoroughly enjoyed this story, and in fact from about the middle of the book on, found it very hard to put down. Fantaskey combines all the elements of school vampire fiction that are attractive to so many in the Twilight series with something that Meyer is still learning: good writing! Not only is the story taut with little time from one adventure or discovery to the next, but it is filled with clever character development and moments of humor to lighten the mood. (Rather like Shakespeare’s use of comic characters to make his tragic plays watchable…) My favorite examples would have to be the letters Lucius sends to his Uncle Vasili in Transylvania. Here is a snip from one such letter:

“One can eat the lentil unadorned; marry it off to its first cousin, the oafish ‘bulgur’; or attempt to drown it in harsh vinegar for a ‘vegan salad.’ But the lentil, alas, will always survive. … And do not even speak to me of ‘Jell-O’ and ‘sloppy joes.’ ”

These letters are the perfect tool for letting us see Lucius other than through Jessica’s eyes, and also how his perspective begins to change as he gets to know Jessica and her world. So different from the rigid, disciplined, even violent world of Uncle Vasili and his, Lucius’s, place as a vampire prince… Would Uncle Vasili like to fly over to watch Lucius play in his basketball game?

In the end, this is a love story that few vampire or romance fans will be able to resist. It combines The Princess Diaries (yes, Jessica, you are a princess!) with the school-vampire tale the Twilight Saga has popularized, with magical results. Some folks will no doubt say that Beth Fantaskey is the next Stephanie Meyer. I think, rather, that Beth Fantaskey is Stephanie Meyer, plus a hefty dose of exciting storytelling ability.