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    Challenging tropes of sisters and vampires

    In her debut novel, Into a Million Pieces, author Angela V. Cook takes our familiar tropes about sisters and turns them inside out. Alison McKready is a typical seventeen-year-old girl. Mostly. She fights with her twin sister Jade, resents her guardian’s fixation with religion, reads Jane Austin, and fantasizes about falling in love. The only problem? If she kisses a guy, she’ll drain his life force. If she has sex with him, she’ll kill him—just like her mother did with her father. Like her mother before her, and like her sister Jade, Alison is a succubus, a demon whose stunning beauty attracts and pacifies her prey long enough to steal their life force—their soul. Her mother, exhausted from fighting her own nature, committed suicide. The twins’ guardian, Aunt Sarah, fights to sublimate her demonic urges with her all-consuming religious devotion. But, to Alison’s horror, her sister Jade rejects the lifetime of training saying that a succubus cannot fall in love. Where Alison hides her preternatural beauty and her nature behind goth clothing and heavy makeup, identical twin Jade flaunts her exquisite face and body at the top of her school’s judgmental social ladder. Alison’s frustrated resentment of her sister’s actions is cut short when handsome, brilliant, and socially successful Ren sees through her disguise. Terrified at the fragile seductive beginnings of attraction and romance, Alison comes to a reluctant understanding of what Jade is going through. As she begins to question her own nature and a lifetime of training, the stage is set for a horrifying tragedy. The succubus as demonic soul stealer is a type of vampire. But if the vampire trope is a thinly-veiled metaphor for sex, the succubus is a cautionary tale about the power and menace of sexual women. Of course, those tropes are as outdated as June Cleaver, Betty Draper, or Rosie the Riveter—right? Perhaps, as recent literature seems to suggest, some monsters can make the choice to be different. But where the “nice” modern vampires might settle down with loving relationships in True Blood’s Bon Temps, Louisiana or Twilight’s Forks, Washington, there doesn’t seem to be a way to be a “nice” succubus. As Alison and Jade struggle to come to terms with their sexuality, there is no way they can deny the evidence that even in the name of love, a sexual relationship will damage or even kill their lovers. Into a Million Pieces raises questions I wasn’t expecting in a YA paranormal. All the women in Alison’s family struggle against a nature none of them wanted or sought. Their stories all end tragically. But the message, surprisingly, is one of hope. Alison realizes that she is indeed capable of love, and maybe even deserving of it. The pace was perfectly suited to the story as it unfolded, and author Angela Cook has a confident and dead-on grasp of the character of a girl on the brink of adulthood, especially as she shows the sisters going from enjoying a popcorn and American Idol marathon to discussing the morality of using their nature to exact revenge after a vicious attack. You can see Alison’s reluctant growth and fragile self-acceptance. The story arc is well done, with the initial issues resolved but leaving room for Alison’s next step—figuring out just who she is and what she’s capable of. I had a few questions about plot holes, such as how Jade could drain a star football player enough to keep him from playing in the big game when it was the middle of the summer break, and how the girls could have clothes and technology toys and a swimming pool on (apparently) their aunt’s salary as a veterinary office assistant. But overall, this is such an entertaining and well-written book that I wouldn’t hesitate to read more from this very talented author. I would give it four stars, and look forward to the next book in the series. *I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.*

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