So while Eternal was part of my YA vampire research spree, I also picked it up because I have it from a very well-informed source that while vampires on are on the outs with teen readers, fallen angels are the new big thing (can anyone confirm or deny this?). So this book seemed like the perfect transition and also promised oodles of melodramatic campy-ness. In brief: a teenage girl goes to a cemetery with her best friend one night and almost dies by falling and breaking her neck in an open grave. Unable to bear the death of his ward, her guardian angel (oh yeah–she has one of those) blinds her with his radiance (or “full glory,” technically) and so instead of dying, she is actually kidnapped by the current Dracula and turned into a vampire princess who lives in Chicago. The guardian angel is then booted from heaven by a more important angel for breaking the rules and has to become his former protectee’s servant in Castle Dracula while trying to also redeem her soul. Awesome, right? Well, Kinda.
On one hand, the book is extremely campy. Leitich Smith has a real sense of humor and peppers her book with the sort of ironic, self-aware disparities that are really amusing and enjoyable in a book like this. For instance, the vampires–known here as “eternals” have a press network and love gossip and go on publicity tours. They have special credit cards and speak in extremely formal Legosi-esque language. This is good because a book like this would be god-awful if it took itself too seriously.
However–and this is especially emphasized because of the whole guardian angel thing–this book gets a little heavy handed with its Christian motif and also plays directly into my least favorite character trend in vampire novels–the Paternal Protector trend(as I am hereby dubbing it). I’ll qualify:
It’s not that the book feels like secret Christian propaganda because it has an angel in it. It’s actually infused in the whole underlying moral structure. You could have a book with an angel in it that didn’t trumpet Christian theology, after all. But consider:
1. The main character, Miranda, is basically born into sin, even though she technically hasn’t done anything wrong. She is turned into a vampire against her will and so becomes evil, but it’s not really a choice she’s made from the outset. So the whole original sin thing.
2. After she becomes a vampire, she behaves in traditionally evil vampire ways. She mistreats her human servants. She drinks people’s blood and kills them. But once her guardian angel arrives, she begins to try and control her most powerful urges and desires–her sinful nature. She begins to drink animal blood instead of human blood, for instance. So the whole denying one’s sinful nature thing.
3. It becomes clear that even though Miranda is a vampire, her soul is not completely lost. She can, in fact, be redeemed, but it has to be something that she herself wants to happen. She has to turn her back on her vampire life and choose goodness. So we’ve got a two-fer here: the whole free will thing and the whole unconditional love thing. No sinner is so far gone that he cannot be redeemed, as long as he makes the choice to repent, etc.
I could keep going, but that covers the main points. I did a little research to find out if Leitich Smith is a proclaimed Christian author. Like another Stephanie Meyers, working in paranormal/fantasy genres but maintaining Christian ethics and morals. It wouldn’t really matter, but I would be interested in knowing if this underlying morality was truly intentional, or just works out this way. I wasn’t able to turn anything up, though. The back of the book includes a list of books which she took inspiration from or referenced within Eternal, but most are, I believe, secular books. And her website doesn’t indicate that she is a specifically Christian author, so who’s to say. But the themes are there, irregardless.
As for the Paternal Protector thing:
Okay, I’m tired of books where teenage girls are courted and loved deeply by much older male characters who vascillate between sexualizing them and protecting/advising/admonishing them like a father. There is, of course, Meyer’s Edward, who has probably damaged teen perceptions of romantic relationships forever. In the Twilight series, Edward fills out Bella’s college applications, he tells her not to drink so much caffeine, he protects her from scary bad guys, and monitors who she sees and where she goes (it’s verrry dangerous out there in Forks, Washington, after all.) But then at the same time, he watches her when she sleeps and literally talks of wanting to devour her because she is so crazy-attractive to him.
Here, the guardian angel, Zachary, tells us on the first page that he watches “his girl” shower and change–that the hot summer day when she lay naked on her bed reading all day was basically a highlight of his existence. Later, he tells us that he saves her from breaking her neck because he has fallen in love with her. But he also is completely disapproving of her lifestyle and tries to correct her behavior constantly. Okay–this part is obvious because he’s an angel and she’s a vampire, sure. But read this passage and tell me that this isn’t crossing the dad line a teensy tiny bit:
“I was there when Miranda took her first breath. Her baptism. Her first step. On her first day of school and when she had the chicken pox. In the middle school girl’s locker room when Denise Durant made fun of her bra size…That night…I realized that she wasn’t a little girl anymore and I didn’t just love her. I was in love with her, too.
This happens throughout the book. And it’s a bit disturbing. What kinds of standards are we setting, really? Why are so many of these books in this particular genre so forceful in the way that they encourage young girls to seek out adult men (father figures) to not only love and protect them, but to make decisions for them? To turn them into better people? These aren’t partnerships in any sense of the word, nor are they–in my opinion–terribly functional examples of romantic relationships. I’d happily go back to the aggravating pandering of ‘Girl Power’ to get rid of this current spree of infantalizing romance dynamics.