I'm going to go out on a limb and say that there are probably a lot of people out there suffering from Twilight withdrawal around about now. With only four books plus possible salvation from The Host and a long wait for a second movie, what on earth am I supposed to turn to for my vampire flicks now. I was pretty confident it wasn't going to be Glass Houses by Rachel Caine, that's for sure. The plot is pretty standard on the face of it; Claire Danvers arrives at the vampire-infested Morganville campus and quickly finds exams aren't the only challenges to surviving college. With blood-suckers running the town she must find a way to protect herself and her friends from death by anaemia as well as completing her studies and keeping the parents, the bullies and the boys off her back. When you put it like that it sounds exactly like any other modern “high school vampire” flick with nothing special to recommend it.
I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but frankly Glass Houses was doing everything in its power to put me off, right up to the anorexic looking female on the cover and the slogan “Peer pressure sucks. So do vampires.” If that doesn't make the skin of every non-teenage reader recoil for fear of the tale within I don't know what will. The trouble is I swiftly found myself eating my hat.
A lot of modern horror fiction is mind-numbingly predictable, and with the recent trend in vampire fiction for vampires not only being compassionate figures but often the genuine love-interest for any female in the vicinity, it is a problem that only seems to be getting worse. I loved the Twilight series, especially the later volumes, but it is hard to describe them as scary or shocking. It would be more accurate to say that there was supernatural tension. I didn't have nightmares reading Glass Houses either but I did find it to be quite unsettling, and I think Caine achieves this by throwing us into a story that is entirely unpredictable. Each chapter builds on the last as you would expect but often digresses in completely unexpected ways, whether revealing more about the vampire clan or increasing the threat of Morganville as an environment or introducing new characters. Best of all when it does finally come together at the end, all the constituent parts make clear sense.
Because as a reader you have no idea what will happen next, everything that does happens shocks and a lot of it involves good old fashioned vampire peril. Oh yes, there is precious little moral ambiguity as far as the blood-suckers are concerned, which is great, quite frankly. I've had enough of soft vampires, I want monstrousness, I want threat, I want tension, I want to feel like the vampires constitute a real danger to the protagonists. Glass Houses does this brilliantly.
Another element of the story I really enjoyed was the portrayal of Morganville itself, a town where vampires are so entrenched into society that there is nowhere for Claire and her friends to run. It's a little like the Blade films in the pervasiveness of the control but I found it more interesting on a number of levels. Vampire fiction often relies on its core readers not asking obvious questions that destroy the suspension of disbelief. In reality, one vampire may be strong but is hardly a mass for several billion humans so why don't the victims just ask for help or bring in the military? If vampire bites change people into vampires, shouldn't we all be vampires by now? And why not just run away and never come back? Few books confront these issues or attempt to find solutions, but Rachel Caine's tale covers all these angles logically and often makes them integral to the plot. It adds a degree of realism that contributes to the tension of the plot as a whole. The influence of Caine's vampires on mortal society also makes for some extremely interesting and heart-pounding sequences involving not just vampires but the human populace as well, so that sun up or sun down the danger is always present.
I could pick holes I suppose. There is quite a bit of colloquial “teen-talk” that risks driving older readers nuts and I would normally be among them, but in this case I felt there was a good balance and the slang, if that's the word, was used appropriately. Some of the more romantic cliché are still present but then in all honesty they are delivered with considerable finesse and as much as I hate to say it I think there is far more original thinking in Glass Houses than the first volume of the Twilight saga displayed.
In truth, Twilight and Glass Houses are as different as Myth and this morning's newspaper, both enjoyable in their own way, but I loved this book. I read it within a couple of days and ordered the next two volumes immediately because within a couple of chapters it was clear that it was more visceral and complex and inspired than so many other books out there. This is a great story, near-perfectly executed and it is worthy of your attention if you are looking for your next vampire fix.