Book Review: Bloodmark, a young adult novel

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The book Bloodmark arrived in my mail wrapped in both a normal mail packaging and an extra layer of black tissue paper sealed with a wax stamp. It was sent by an author in exchange for a review. The story follows Ashling as she moves back and forth between two different settings. Ashling’s werewolf culture is filled with ritual, rules and life and death decisions. On the other hand, she’s spending her year hiding out as a normal American teenager, shopping for party dresses and spending time with her best friends while falling in love at first site with the one person her guardian tells her not to: Grey.

One of the things that caught my eye was a line in the acknowledgements mentioning a kickstarter campaign. I asked the author, Aurora Whittet, about this and she replied:

I decided to do a Kickstarter after researching editing costs and realizing how much that kind of expertise costs, and well as we all know money doesn’t grow on trees. So I decided it would be a great way to try to earn additional funding for the book. It is a bit nerve-wrecking to set it all up, but well worth trying. If you succeed in meeting your goal in your time frame, then you get paid, and it’s risk free to backers because if you don’t meet your goal in your time frame, they don’t get charged. It’s a pretty cool idea. I remember checking it daily worrying and hoping I’d reach my goal and at the end I was shocked by the amount of support from strangers all around the world. It not only helped pay for my editor, but it also helped boost confidence that dreams are worth pursuing. In the end it only payed for a small portion of the over all cost of indie publishing, but the experience, building of followers and support were an even greater gain

I think it is fascinating the ability to crowdsource funding for a book, but it makes sense that doing so would provide not just the funding but also the sense of support. Aurora Whittet’s book definately has a professional feel to it.

The werewolf culture seems a bit like a rich dark chocolate – it seems well suited to a book that came to me wrapped in black tissue with a wax seal. There are fancy rules, gold chandeliers with inlaid rubies, long dresses and Grecian hairstyles. The werewolves are waiting for a prophecy to be fulfilled and Ashling is key to it. Will she unite the different fractions? Yet there’s a dark side of their culture too. What is one supposed to make of this culture worshipping the Old Mother but insisting that women, owned by fathers and then husbands, should not be spoken to in the presence of other men? Ashling knows the culture is wrong and unfair in many ways but excuses it as the result of the slow change that comes when a species is so long-lived, and accepts it because she loves her family. It will be interesting to see how the tension between the Old Mother worship and obviously patriarchal society continues in the second book in the series, as Ashling moves into a position as a leader.

By six chapters into the book I was curious as to how it compares to the vampire story Twilight. So when I finished Bloodmark I read that series. Then I reread Bloodmark to be able to write this post. Both books involve long-lived, fast moving, incredibly strong creatures. Both stories talk about the sweet smell of blood making characters hungry, but in Bloodmark the werewolf culture considers protecting humans a sacred duty and those who eat it are the evil exception rather than the norm. In Twilight it is the female who is human in love with a vampire, in Bloodmark it is the female werewolf trying to figure out what to do after falling in love with a human. Both books seem a little too obsessed with virginity. In one of the Twilight books Edward wants to keep his viriginity until married and in Bloodmark Ashling viewing it unfair she’s called a slut when she’s only had one boyfriend whom she hasn’t even had sex with. Then too, Ashling’s guardian explains to her that sex would bind her with her love for all eternity and isn’t to be taken lightly, and we learn also that in werewolf culture once she loses her virginity she can be claimed forever by whomever takes her, whether voluntary or by force.

Both Twilight and Bloodmark involve characters that seemed to me to be poorly defined. We know little about Ashling beyond her love for her family, Grey, and her enjoyment of reading classical novels. Incidentally, that’s about all the Twilight books tell about Bella. Grey is described as “broodingly handsome,” “rugged,” and a bit rebellious. We know he rides a motorbike and plays in a band, but little else. Would it be so impossibly hard to give him some sort of character?  Or is the vagueness deliberate as an invitation to fill in one’s own details, like the Twilight author describes her vagueness? In any case, I would have appreciated a little less description about how much she yearns for him and wants to kiss him and a little more hearing about them interacting.

But in many ways the similarities between the stories serves to highlight their differences, and Bloodmark feels in some ways like an anti-Twilight. It is lighter, happier in tone, more filled with love and a sense of purpose.  Unlike Bella, Ashling takes her boyfriend abandoning her as an opportunity to grow as a person, supported by friends who remind her that say “You don’t need any man. Ever. You are just as amazing as you were before he broke your heart. Don’t ever let him tear you down.” And while both men are incredibly protective of their loved one, but Grey doesn’t attempt to control Ashling the way Edward controls and dominates Bella. (Grey also stops just short of Edward’s creepy hiding out in Bella’s room while she’s sleeping, though the book could have done a bit better at acknowledging that his somewhat less creepy stalking behavior is still wrong and not a sign of love.)
I asked Aurora about her opinion on Twilight and she very diplomatically responded:
I have read Twilight, I suppose I was a late-comer to the twi-hards. I received Twilight as a birthday gift. I enjoyed the book so much I bought New Moon and Eclipse and then Breaking Dawn came out a month later. So in about a month I read all four books. I also saw all the movies. I think Stephanie Meyer created a great series that I myself enjoyed, but when it came to writing Bloodmark, I didn’t want to do a replica of Twilight. Stephanie Meyer already owns that. I wanted to create my own world. I was most influenced by Jane Austen, J.R.R. Tolkien and AVI as a child, so I think I draw on fantasy worlds, love and adventure from my heroes and I wanted Ashling to be fierce, but still need help from others. That’s human nature. Life and love are about balance. I wanted Ashling to be a character that I could look up to and that I could be proud of, but she had to also have weakness or as a reader you can’t connect with her. No one is infallible.
The author blogs at
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