Dark Companion by Marta Acosta
Publisher: Tor Teen
Published: June 2013
Genre: gothic, paranormal romance, young adult
Orphaned at the age of six, Jane Williams has grown up in a series of foster homes, learning to survive in the shadows of life. Through hard work and determination, she manages to win a scholarship to the exclusive Birch Grove Academy. There, for the first time, Jane finds herself accepted by a group of friends. She even starts tutoring the headmistress’s gorgeous son, Lucien. Things seem too good to be true.
The more she learns about Birch Grove’s recent past, the more Jane comes to suspect that there is something sinister going on. Why did the wife of a popular teacher kill herself? What happened to the previous scholarship student, whose place Jane took? Why does Lucien’s brother, Jack, seem to dislike her so much?
As Jane begins to piece together the answers to these puzzles, she must find out why she was brought to Birch Grove—and what she would risk to stay there…
Jane Williams takes advantage of a marvelous opportunity to go to a private all-girls school and escape her life of poverty and abuse in the foster home system. As she begins her new life there, she befriends the Radcliffe family: Mrs Radcliffe, headmistress of Birch Grove Academy; Mr Radcliffe, a calm and quiet businessman; Lucky, a gorgeous womanizer; and Jack, an artistic musician hell-bent on confusing Jane with his riddles. But as stories about previous foster students’ deaths and disappearances crop up, Jane cannot hide from the truth any longer, and looks to the Radcliffe family for answers.
This review will contain three parts: a book review, a literary review, and a spoiler section. Disclaimer: this book is considered a “chick-lit update” of Jane Eyre and Twilight.
At first, Jane came across as a tough and stern girl anxious to prove to others that she can be independent and take care of herself. Any fan of Jane Eyre can also see similarities and differences between Eyre and Williams, and even who the characters represent from the original. But as the story progressed, Jane no longer seemed like an independent person. She lost personality, too. One moment she appeared to be in some sort of abusive relationship with Lucky without even realizing it — a smart girl from the streets would know the signs immediately, so why didn’t she? The next she’s throwing herself at Jack while simultaneously accusing him of hating her, when there is no sign of that whatsoever in the book.
The vampire storyline was imaginative and I appreciated this fresh new look to it — but then it became too strange, too odd, too discomforting. It was as if Acosta didn’t know what she wanted these characters to be, more vampire-like or more human-like. This is where comparisons to Twilight come in. Meyer at least was solid on what she wanted from her vampires: they were immortal, they could not go out in the sun, and they could drink any kind of blood. But Acosta did not come across as sure in her footing with the characters, and it left the story wanting.
There were so many excellent opportunities for this book to shine. I was open to a Jane Eyre-vampire twist, but the characters were weak, the plot even weaker, and the dialogue and descriptions told rather than showed. That’s the art of writing: showing, not telling. Acosta did not master this concept at all.
I was very hopeful at the beginning. Acosta provided quotes from the top Gothic novels to help set the tone of each chapter. I could see Jane as Jane, Lucky and Jack combined as Rochester, and there was even a crazy Mason in the story for Bertha. There was a fire in an old building, a rough past childhood, and the desire to keep emotions down and hidden rather than exposing them and becoming vulnerable. All the elements for a gothic novel were there as well, with the setting, the horror and terror, the uncanny and fantastic…
But it was horrible. The name “Jane Williams” is not plain, it’s very Anglo-Saxon aristocratic. “Jane Eyre” is plain for its all-vowels, no-consonants, one-syllable name. If we wanted a modern Jane to be plain, she could be Jane Smith or Jane Moore, something so common and so soft to say that she would go unnoticed. The description of her appearance is more exotic than plain, as well. She is part Mexican, has beloved light brown skin and dark brown hair and eyes. In this all-white town she transfers to, she would be the most beautiful and exotic person there, not plain like Jane Eyre was to her friends.
Lucky and Jack, combined, were complete caricatures of Rochester. Rochester is rugged — considered ugly in Victorian times, where delicate men were beautiful, and attractive in modern times, where the burly and scruffy are seen as manly — and speaks in riddles. Everything he says has two meanings: one that Jane and the reader misinterpret, and the other that is revealed to be his true intentions and true meaning. Lucky and Jack do not fit that. Lucky is gorgeous, stunning, pale and blond and an Adonis, who treats Jane like scum despite all she does to make him happy. Jack exaggerates Rochester’s insistence that Jane is a pixie or an elf. Rochester believed Jane to be a quiet, all-knowing, delicate being, and joked that she came from the land of “little green men.” But Jack is constantly talking to Jane about fairies and pixies and halflings, to the point that their conversations aren’t real at all. It became annoying and saddening.
SPOILERS — DO NOT READ ON IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO BE SPOILED
These vampire-like people come from a small tribe in Romania that have a genetic anomaly, where they need to have human blood every once in a while to survive…according to Acosta. Okay, sure, that would work for a good plot, a nice scientific twist to it — but the need to have Companions that give the blood and are bound for life, all the money for people’s loyalty, the strange ceremonies, the perfect night vision and strength and speed? The way they look at normal people as if they’re food? That’s not normal. If someone needed human blood to survive, wouldn’t that be considered a weakness? The concept of this bothered me, and the lack of information given to Jane prior to her accepting to become Lucky’s Companion made everything so unbelievable. Why would this incredibly intelligent, scientific-minded, logical girl immediately accept something so bizarre without having questions of her own? Wouldn’t she want to know why they needed blood? Why they needed Companions rather than dealing with modern medical science? Why it had to be her and not someone else? Once again, her lack of personality and characterization conflicted with this neat not-quite-paranormal concept, and both fell through entirely.
2 thoughts on “Book Review: “Dark Companion” by Marta Acosta”
Too bad about this one; sounds like it could have been good. I have to admit, I’m over the whole YA/Vampire/Love triangle novel. Aren’t you?
Oh yes oh yes oh yes