I wasn’t overly impressed by Lucienne Diver’s first YA fantasy novel, Vamped (Flux/Llewellyn, 2009). I felt that it parroted too many hip teen clichés á là Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which it greatly resembled. I also thought it woefully lacking in character development, even for first-person narrator Gina Covella. Nevertheless, I thought Diver had potential as a writer and I was interested to see how her next few books evolved.
I’m very pleased to say that ReVamped (Flux/Llewellyn, 2010), the sequel to Vamped, is a great improvement over its predecessor.
At the conclusion of Vamped, Gina and her surviving compatriots have gone “out of the frying pan into the fire.” They’ve escaped the plots of the scheming vampire queen Mellisande and the stern vampire council, only to run smack into a covert federal agency that somehow is on to (and on top of) the whole underground-supernatural-network thing. As ReVamped opens, Gina and her young vampire friends are now involuntary recruits as supernatural secret agents for Uncle Sam. Among the perks keeping them cooperative are some top secret scientific discoveries to help them function, like drugs enabling them to resist sunlight, not to mention the free supply of bottled blood.
Having been rigorously trained (see “Gina’s Rules for Surviving Secret Spy School Training,” page ix), Gina, her main squeeze Bobby and former-jock-turned-minion Rick are sent on their first undercover mission. To investigate mysterious incidents among the high school students in Wappingers Falls, New York, the vamp-spies are enrolled in high school — but don’t worry. They agree with you on this one. “By sixth period, I was cursing the Feds with every fiber of my being. What good was eternal life if you had to spend it in school?” Gina fulminates on page 18. Even worse, Midwestern fashionista Gina has to cringe behind the fully-formed façade of an emancipated Goth girl named Geneva Belfry.
As it turns out, she doesn’t spend too much time in school, because by then, no one in Wappingers Falls does. As one of the Goth crowd Gina rapidly bonds with says, “New school policy. Attendance is kind of optional.” That’s part of what the spy team is there to investigate, of course. Bouncing around with the Goths in a garishly decorated hearse, going to make-out spots and concerts, getting into fights and very rarely, going to class, Gina slowly sorts out clues toward solving the riddle of why kids in Wappingers Falls are acting weird, disappearing and turning up dead. It all turns out to have more connection to some of her previous adventures than she’d expected.
Gina herself is far more likeable in this book. She’s more vulnerable, more complex, and more sympathetic, while being far less snarky, shallow, and hip. Other characters are drawn more clearly as well. The adult figures, especially the pair of Federal agents who supervise the teen spies, are no longer uniformly incompetent, and the teens respect them more, even if Gina still has a few smart-ass nicknames for them. The plot keeps you guessing, and has a few twists that I didn’t see coming.
The one detail that kind of mystified me, though, was on page 10: “Wappingers Falls’ big claim to fame, Bobby’d told me with glee, was that it was mentioned in some Law and Order episodes as a place where suspects or their families lived.” Uh — really? Diver lives in New York and never heard of Tawana Brawley? For a while in 1987, if you asked a random person on the street in any other state to name two cities in New York, they’d probably answer New York City and Wappingers Falls. But maybe Diver just didn’t want to evoke such a large topic in her small novel (especially an event that happened before her target audience was born).
ReVamped is a fun, fluffy read, and despite Gina’s fierce fondness for Bobby, it completely avoids the mawkish teen girl moping and yearning that characterize too many paranormal YA books. I hope Lucienne Diver has more stories to tell about Gina, Bobby, Rick and their adventures in the supernatural secret service. She’s blossoming as a writer in a most enjoyable way.