When I started Annette Curtis Klause’s The Silver Kiss, I was definitely skeptical. The story starts awkwardly, with neither Zoe (the teen love interest), nor Simon (the terribly named vampire stalker cum pining boyfriend) seems entirely fleshed out in the first chapters, which jump back and forth between their respective narrations. Zoe over-articulates her struggles with her mother’s terminal illness in effort to get the backstory out, and Simon describes her from afar as “Pale as the milk of death, thin and sharp like pain,” which, well, is almost cutely dramatic, but mostly just sounds like the way vampires talk in really horrible movies. (Oh, and at one point he “mark[s] his territory like a wolf, and urinate[s] on the back steps” of Zoe’s house, later leaving a trinket for her which she picks up not so long after that we’ve forgotten the whole peeing there thing.) So no points at the beginning.
However, I have to admit, once the character/plot establishing is out of the way, the book vastly improves and I really started enjoying it. Klause actually utilizes vampire mythology, which I get a huge kick out of: her vampires are sensitive to light (yeah, we thought this was standard until they started sparkling), they are burned/blinded by crucifixes, can transfigure into mist and bats (and do this often), have to wait to be invited into someone’s home, and so on. Nicely enough, while Klause’s vampires can subsist on animal blood (as Simon does), they are all too admitting of the fact that they take pleasure from drinking human blood. Simon may be a “good” vampire (he doesn’t kill his human prey, and makes the experience pleasant for them–more on that anon), but there is still a darkness to him. He overpowers and attacks a group of teen hoodlums who jump him in a park, for instance. He gives Zoe the titular “Silver Kiss” and bites her the first time she lets him in her house.
Moreover, Simon has an ultra dramatic back story, fraught with sibling rivalry and matricide and haunts playgrounds and hangs around suburban neighborhoods stalking a vampire child (a la Interview with the Vampire) who is viciously murdering neighborhood women.
So suddenly we have a complicated, rather engaging plot to invest in. And, even better, an adorable little goth romance blooms between Zoe and Simon, as they bond over the pain of death and losing one’s mother. Consider a conversation they have on a bus on the way to see Zoe’s mother in the hospital:
“I didn’t mean to trivialize your mother’s death. I know it matters. Every death matters.”
They were silent for a while, as the bus lurched through the night.
“At first,” he finally said, “you think–no, hope–it might be a dream. That you’ll wake up, and it will have been just a nightmare.”
Zoe turned sharply to look at him. Was he mocking her? But his gaze was far away, not even on her.
“You think she’ll be there,” he continued, “pulling the curtains to let in the sun, wishing you good morning.”
“Yes, how did you know?”
His eyes snapped into focus, catching the light like broken glass. “What kind of son would I be, not to know?”
She blushed stupidly and couldn’t seem to find a natural position for her hands to settle in. He’d lost his mother, too. “Yes, of course.”
“You forgot,” he said in a gentler voice.
She nodded, embarrassed. “But I felt that way, too, or like maybe it was a cruel joke, and everyone would confess to it real soon.”
“And then the anger,” he said, as if it were inevitable. “Anger at her for going away.”
“For ruining our lives,” she joined in.
“At God,” he said.
“At everyone around, for not understanding, for not having it happen to them.”
It goes on from there, but you get the gist. The book’s main energy is derived in great part from the parallel between Zoe and Simon’s circumstances, their existential musings on death, and their eventual acceptance of it as a painful, but inevitable, part of life.
The other source of momentum here is obviously–and I know I always get back to this, but still–the book’s sexual tension. Zoe is a pretty innocent girl when the book starts–Klause makes a point of emphasizing her lack of interest in boys–but after meeting Simon, things start picking up, albeit still rather chastely. During a conversation about his past, Simon bites Zoe:
“…it was no good; she was too near, too inviting. The fangs slid from their sheaths…Then he kissed her with the sharp sleek kiss, the silver kiss, so swift and true, and razor sharp, and her warmth was flowing into him. He could feel it seeping through his body–warmth, sweet warmth.
She uttered a small, surprised cry and fought him for a second, but he stroked her hair and caressed her. I won’t hurt you, he thought…And he moaned and slipped her arms around him. It was the tender ecstasy of the kissed that he could send her with his touch. It throbbed through his fingers, through his chest, like the blood through her veins. It thrummed a rhythm in him that he shared with her. She sighed, her breath came harder, and he felt himself falling.”
If that doesn’t sound like teenage hormones, I don’t know what does. It’s actually the only seen of it’s kind, though. For most of the book, Simon and Zoe shyly exchange little pecks on the lips, “real kisses.”
Complaints: The plot resolves with an overly-complicated and almost cartoonish scheme, several of the references seem a little anachronistic for the 90s, when the book was written (record player, ashtray on the coffee table) and though it’s possible that it’s meant to take place in the 70s (they listen to the Ramones on the radio), this is never really made clear. Also, the vampire child’s cover story–that he’s an orphan albino living with a foster family–has some definite holes, in that he seems to go out in the afternoon a few times. This is explained a little midway through the book, but not to very good effect.
But the book ends well–bittersweetly, and without Zoe deciding to become Simon’s vamp companion for the rest of eternity. All in all, a somewhat flawed, but still very enjoyable entry in the YA vampire genre.