Alyxandra Harvey

The Drake Chronicles

Bloomsbury (2011)

ISBN: 978-1-4088-1497-0

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack

Bleeding Hearts is the fourth book in the Drake chronicles, following on from My Love Lies Bleeding, Blood Feud, and Out for Blood. Like its predecessors, Bleeding Heart is an enjoyable and well written young adult novel.

The Drake Chronicles follow a clear pattern. In each novel one of the seven Drake brothers falls in love. The Drake family are vampires; they are unusual in that they are not “turned” by another vampire – instead, when they turn sixteen they also turn into vampires. This significantly reduces the yuk factor when it comes to their becoming vampires; it also provides a credible explanation for the existence of an entire family of vampires. (There are some flaws if you think too hard, such as the question of why their father doesn’t look sixteen; but generally this is a well constructed world.) Importantly, it also means that we are reading stories of vampires who are either the same age as or only a few years older than the teenage girls they fall in love with. For me, this is less creepy than all those vampires who are one or two hundred years old and still fall for sixteen year olds.

There is also an overarching story that runs through the books about the Drakes becoming vampire royalty and a Prophecy concerning their only sister Solange. Although I’ve found that somewhat interesting in earlier novels, here it is so much in the background that new readers could potentially fail to notice it altogether. It advances perhaps an inch in the novel; the few references to it are unlikely to make sense to new readers, and those following the series may feel a little restless to see so little happen on this front. It is a shame, as the well worked out background and credible world was one of the strengths of the first two novels; Harvey seems almost to have lost interest in it in the more recent novels, and some depth is lost as a result.

In fact, new readers may find some of the background rather bewildering. Not much is recapped in this novel, and although the backstory is not all that complex it’s still a bit hard to figure out with minimal clues. I suspect, however, that a lot of the intended audience will be able to simply ignore this and focus on the love story.

Unfortunately, without the overarching story having much of a role, Bleeding Hearts looks pretty shallow. There is little to surprise here, and although Connor (the Drake brother focused on) is quite a sympathetic character, neither he or his love interest Christabel really came to life for me. Harvey has a good ear for the way smart kids talk, and is generally pretty good at capturing the way they behave, too. Where she falls down a little is in their inner life. Both main characters lacked an inner spark essential for me to really care about what happens to them.

Essentially the story here is that because of family problems, Lucy’s cousin Christabel comes to stay with Lucy’s family. She’s supposed to be kept ignorant of the existence of vampires, but that’s kind of tricky when Lucy’s best friend Solange is a vampire, as is her entire family (including Lucy’s boyfriend). And it’s not helped by the fact that the vampires are gearing up for a super-secret meeting in the woods of lots of important vampires. And when Christabel meets Connor, she’s immediately drawn to him.

There isn’t much more to the story; will Christabel succumb to Connor? Duh. Will she eventually work out that he’s a vampire? Duh. There is a small twist, but it didn’t really make up for the utter predictability of most of the novel, and there wasn’t enough exploration of everyone’s reaction to the twist to really satisfy me.

However, Harvey has, I think, pitched her romance at a good level for a young adult audience. These young people most definitely have sexual feelings, and indeed have sexual “moments” with each other, but they’re still relatively innocent and take circumscribed action on those feelings. That’s a fairly realistic comfort level for young people in their mid-teens, many of whom are likely to be dealing with their first experiences of that sort of feeling. It’s also unlikely to shock most adults, and will probably broaden her audience to some younger readers also.

The supporting cast was lively and interesting, although this is in part because I “know” some of them from earlier novels. A new reader might well regard some of them as smartarses who pop up for no particular reason. And again, relationships would likely be somewhat confusing to anyone who hadn’t read the earlier stories.

Truthfully, Bleeding Hearts isn’t all that outstanding. It’s not particularly original, it’s not very thought provoking, and it’s not very emotionally engaging. Readers who haven’t read the first three novels in the series are likely to find it a bit of an effort to get involved with the story. This is the weakest novel in the series so far, with the most mundane plotting and poorest characterisation.

However, it is well written and enjoyable, with a wry humor that sets it apart from many other teenage vampire romance novels. The target audience will probably enjoy it a lot, and although I’m a more demanding – and perhaps more cynical – reader, I still found it diverting. I doubt it would make anyone’s list of classic novels, but it’s a pleasant reading experience.