Glass Houses and The Dead Girls’ Dance

Rachel Caine
Books One and Two of the Morganville Vampires series
NAL Jam; Reissue edition October 3, 2006 and April 3, 2007

Rachel Caine’s vampire series came out in 2006. And here’s the thing: when I started reading it I thought, “Wow! This is so fresh and original!!” Why? Because the vampires are actually the bad guys. Go figure! Crazy!

They are not all bad, of course. Because no writer of vampire novels these days seems to be able to resist using vampires as a metaphor for prejudice against minority communities. So, heroine Claire Danvers must learn to get over her initial prejudice against all vampires by pretty much the end of the first novel. And, as predicted, the hot, “nice” vampire guy who will really rock her presuppositions about vampires shows up on page 53 in book two. Nevertheless, I find myself partial to this series.

Claire, our heroine is a brainy girl who graduated early from high school and wants to immediately start college at MIT or Cal Tech in the fall. However, since she is only sixteen, her over-protective parents require her to go to nearby Texas Prairie University in Morganville, Texas until she’s older and can transfer out. Unbeknownst to Claire and her family, or any human for that matter, Morganville is actually the hold-out town for vampires in America. Vampires run the town and everyone in it. Families must swear allegiance to one vampire or another, or else be picked off as unprotected strays. All human families pay “blood taxes” to the city and the University, though neutral, gives the vampires 10% of the student population straight off the top. Yikes. NO ONE goes out after dark. In order to protect their haven, the vampires have placed a powerful spell on the town so that any human who leaves it will be unable to remember anything about it. So, when you’re in the town, you can know all about the vampires and boy, do you. But once you leave, you forget and it’s like vampires never existed.

Our Claire stumbles into all this when she finds herself the target of über-bully Monica. Monica is the daughter of the human Major of Morganville and feels entitled to commit any kind of damage her black little heart desires because she has high ranking vampires to back her up. Claire accidentally crosses her, Monica promises to kill her and so Claire must find off-campus housing and fast. That’s how she finds the Glass House and comes to be enfolded into an odd little trio of outcasts: Goth girl Eve, ghost Michael, and hottie Shane, who has vampire issues because they burned his sister alive and caused his mom to commit suicide.

The series pretty much follows the travails of Claire and her friends as they find themselves in deeper and deeper trouble with humans and vampires alike. Of course, it is slowly becoming clear that Claire is not an ordinary girl – the founder of the town, the regal Amelie, has her eye on her. And it’s also becoming clear that Morganville is a powder keg waiting to go off.

It’s great fun.

I must say, I really like Claire. She is not cloying or weak, she does not scream easily, but neither is sure unrealistically brave or heroic or strong. Most importantly, she isn’t sarcastic or jaded. Claire is just a normal girl and a physics major at that. Claire is the heroine because she is clear headed and rises to the occasion when the situation demands it. Nice. And what amuses me about the series thus far is the fact that Claire is in love with a plain ol’ normal human guy (but with issues) as opposed to a vampire. I mean, I rather like the idea that there are precious few vampires with any sense of justice or fairness or compassion, and that they have arrived at those virtues only by living thousands of years. It’s nice – it means that vampires can indeed be the enemy of humans but that their long existence does change them into, as it were, increasingly more ethical beings. However, most of them are predators pure and simple and really not good boyfriend material at all.

Also, everyone made a big deal about how Bella was the one who wanted to have sex with Edward and that Edward, model of restraint that he is, forces her to wait until they are married. “How progressive of Bella! How noble of Edward!” they gush. But Claire wants to have sex with her boyfriend too and despite the fact that he is older than her, more experienced than her, and just plain human, he seems capable of controlling himself and is the one who puts on the breaks. Shane’s reasons strike me as much more basic than “I’m a vampire and I could kill you if we slept together.” He just thinks they shouldn’t go to fast and should probably think about things more carefully before they make any decisions. And he’s probably right too – after all, since Claire and her roommates narrowly avoid death in each book, you could see how it would be difficult to sit down and have a calm and level-headed discussion about one’s sexual relationship. So kudos to Caine for giving for series a dose more realism—for the first two volumes, at least.

I suppose, however, that it could be that realism that has prevented the Morganville Vampire series from being the run-away mega hit that Twilight is and that’s too bad. So far, the series is smart and funny and worth the read.