About the time I was finally quitting Pokemon for good for the first time, my cousin gave me a battered paperback called “Companions of the Night.” This was in the summer of 2005. “Twilight” hadn’t yet hit. Those were great days. Really, really, really great days. Vampires were still kind of an underground deal, particularly among teenage girls. They just weren’t in yet. So I shrugged, feeling absolutely no disgust at myself for reading about vampires, and started reading.
“Companions of the Night” is not Vivian Vande Velde’s first novel, but I think it’s her best. (And yes, I’ve read “Heir Apparent.”) It was original (still is) and, as far as teenage vampire fiction goes, reasonable. The vampire, Ethan Brynne, is ridiculously good-looking, and our heroine Kerry notices, but she doesn’t fall in love with him. By the end, arguably, she loves him, and really wants him. But they aren’t in love. In fact, for most of the book, Kerry’s primary feeling toward Ethan is fury. Call me what you will, think what you want, but I liked that. Anyway, here’s my wordy rundown:
16-year-old Kerry is a nice, responsible, normal teenager. She takes care of her brother, gets along with her dad, and though she isn’t insanely popular, she’s got good friends. Perhaps a little melancholy, she’s a cheerful, likeable person.
One night, her baby brother starts crying; he’s left his beloved stuffed animal at the laundromat. Attached as she is to him, Kerry can’t refuse him. Figuring she’ll be back in a couple of minutes, she takes off, enters the laundromat…
And walks in on a ritual murder.
The victim is named Ethan Bryne. The killers believe he is a vampire; that is why they want to destroy him. Terrified and furious, Kerry manages to save his life, and hers; they take off to safety.
Strangely, given what has happened, Ethan won’t let her call the police.
Stunned, Kerry has no choice but to let him go.
She’s a little glum over the next few days, but she slowly returns to normal. A couple of days later, something odd does happen: unable to drive, Kerry relies on her father, neighbors, and friends to get to and from work. When her father doesn’t show up to pick her up, she thinks she’s screwed–until, lo and behold, she runs into Ethan, who obligingly drives her home.
But nobody is home.
Her brother and father are gone; a threatening message is painted on the wall. Knowing exactly what this means, Ethan spirits her away. This time, they’re both on the run.
It turns out Ethan IS a vampire. Kerry is initially scared and disgusted, but as Ethan bares facets of his weird personality, she slowly warms up to him, and he to her. As they run from their pursuers, seeking Kerry’s family all the while, a strange relationship develops between them. It isn’t love–that’s part of what I love about this story, they don’t fall instantly in love, and they don’t become each other’s sole reason for living, as in most other vampire books– but it is a bond. Also, Kerry is a surprisingly strong heroine; she doesn’t let him beguile her. She remains who she is, is confident that she can definitely live without him, and even though she’s sad–even though he’s sad–they do what’s best for both of them in the end.
“Companions of the Night” is a brisk, gripping story. Even you’re not into vampires or paranormal stories, it’s good. It’s not great; the writing, while lean and skillful, is a bit juvenile at times, and we never get to hear all of Ethan’s motives for doing what he does, which is disappointing. However, both characters are likeable–even if Ethan is cause for wariness– the plot is tight, there are no gaping holes, and it moves steadily toward an an exciting, but believable, climax. “Companions of the Night” is definitely recommended.
At any rate, it beats “Twilight” any moment of the year.