Midnight Alley
by Rachel Caine
(Signet, $5.99, G) ISBN 978-0451222381
There’s an art to young adult fiction that most adults don’t appreciate and many authors miss by a long shot.  It has to be edgy, fast-paced, and to the point; teens don’t have the time or patience for flourishes and flowery descriptions.

At first, the premise for this series may throw adult readers off: Morganville is a college town that, unbeknownst to a large majority of their students, was established and is run by vampires.  There are a lot of characters, all of them richly written and prone to everyday foibles.  The good guys have their bad days, and even the bad guys (or girls) occasionally have a trait to which the reader can relate.

Here’s a little background:  Claire is a sixteen-year-old prodigy whose parents were too overprotective to send her away to college at such a young age.  Of course, they didn’t realize they were sending her into the lion’s den; and they won’t, because once a person leaves Morganville, a spell kicks in that alters their memories of the place.  Claire quickly ends up on the wrong side of bad girl Monica Morrell, thus isolating herself from pretty much everyone since most of the students are infatuated with or terrified by Monica - or both.  It gets to the point where Claire fears for her life.  She convinces Michael Glass and his roommates Eve and Shane to let her room at his home, Glass House.  It’s after the move that Claire finally begins to realize that Morganville isn’t the usual small town America.  None of her new roommates are vampires, but Michael was attacked by one, Shane’s sister was killed by one, and Eve is on the run from one.

In this, the third book of the series, everyone is coming to terms with the fact that Michael has finished the process and now has become a vampire instead of a ghost trapped in his own house.  Claire and Eve, his girlfriend, are adjusting better than Shane, who still holds a major grudge against vampires in general.  Although Shane’s father, a hell-and-damnation biker vampire slayer, has left town, the four friends still fear his return - and what he’ll do to Michael when he arrives.  In the meanwhile, Claire has signed herself over to what amounts to the queen vampire, Amelie, as a means of protecting the household.  Amelie has basically apprenticed Claire to a psychotic vampire scientist named Myrnin, who is the only one remaining who can cure a disease that will wipe out all vampires.  The downside is, he’s dying from it.  Claire finds the challenge, though dangerous, fascinating.  However, going to meet Myrnin makes it difficult for her to keep this secret from the others, who she knows would not approve.  When a vampire everyone but Shane thinks of as a friend is attacked and Shane is accused and subsequently attacked himself, Claire begins to realize that her deal with Amelie can’t protect them from everything.

One could probably read these books individually, but you’d miss out.  The author doesn’t waste time backtracking and repeating what happened in the previous book.  Also, the endings are major cliffhangers.  So try Glass Houses and Dead Girls Dance before Midnight Alley, and the experience will be much more fulfilling.  These books are fun, but they’re not playful.  Claire is a wonderful picture of a kid on the cusp of adulthood.  Once she is shoved over that ledge, it’s fascinating to read how she deals with both worlds, or what happens when she fails to do so.  Understanding and coping with consequences are a big theme in this series, as is coming-of-age.  It’s also nice to read a book about teens that doesn’t lump them all in together.  Michael, Shane, Eve, Claire, and even the various college students, all are very much their own individuals.

This is not a series for everybody, especially given the paranormal basis.  There is a hint of not-quite-innocent romance in the relationships between Eve and Michael and Claire and Shane that is fresh in the way that only teen romance can be.  So those of you who are adventurous enough to take on teens and vampires all in one bite (or Buffy the Vampire Slayer junkies like me), enjoy!

--Sarrah Knight

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