Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Dark Companion by Marta Acosta

Title: Dark Companion
Author: Marta Acosta
Publisher: Tor Teen
Release Date: July 3, 2012
Pages: 368 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: ARC received through Amazon Vine.
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Promotional Materials and More: author website

Orphaned at the age of six, Jane Williams has grown up in a series of foster homes, learning to survive in the shadows of life. Through hard work and determination, she manages to win a scholarship to the exclusive Birch Grove Academy. There, for the first time, Jane finds herself accepted by a group of friends. She even starts tutoring the headmistress’s gorgeous son, Lucien. Things seem too good to be true. 

They are.

The more she learns about Birch Grove’s recent past, the more Jane comes to suspect that there is something sinister going on. Why did the wife of a popular teacher kill herself? What happened to the former scholarship student, whose place Jane took? Why does Lucien’s brother, Jack, seem to dislike her so much?

As Jane begins to piece together the answers to the puzzle, she must find out why she was brought to Birch Grove—and what she would risk to stay there…


The first time I tried to get a copy of this novel after I saw someone give it a lot of praise, I was told no. I was sad and meant to ask for it again, but I got a copy through another avenue and all was well. Why do I keep forgetting that publishers usually tell me no for books I'm not going to like very much? Sometimes, it's like they're psychic and I'm the skeptic who refuses to listen to them. The praise for Dark Companion is well-earned, but I just wasn't into it.

Acosta's novel is well-written for the most part, if a teensy bit overwritten in the sense that there were too many unnecessary scenes. The lush descriptions of Birch Grove Academy, the birch groves surrounding the school that give it its name, and the air of mystery around everything really brings the Gothic atmosphere to life. Jane is fairly well-written and though I didn't always like her, I very rarely tired of reading about her.

Mary Violet, one of Jane's new friends, is absolutely adorable. She's an undeniable stock character (specifically, she's the plump best friend who drops the one-liners and acts as comic relief), but she was so cute that I will temporarily stop caring that Dark Companion had to fall back on such a trope. Jack is another high point among the cast and he's less of a stock character, thank goodness. I could reread the scenes where Jack and Jane verbally spar over and over again! It was kind of cute, the way he always insisted she had to be a Halfling or a magical woodland creature, though that made him easy to see through. Why Jane didn't get it is beyond me.

Then around the halfpoint of the novel, gears shift completely. Anyone looking for a paranormal twist will be sadly disappointed because there is nothing paranormal about the novel. A scientific explanation for what is going on is offered in a way that befits the novel, but the shift in tone, plot, and Jane's mindset after this point is where Dark Companion starts losing me. The way Jane justified everything with Lucky... It's horrible. Absolutely horrible.

What really got me was how Jane's actions didn't seem to mesh with her characterization half the time. She strongly disapproves of her friend Wilde's situation, where her boyfriend/pimp provides everything for her and stays with her as long as she keeps up her appointments. The latter makes me wonder why Jane spent most of the book consenting to a situation that parallels Wilde's significantly. A provider gives her everything she could want in exchange for her performing a not-so-little service for them whenever they ask her to--hm...

Jane's rough upbringing must also be taken into account and it's understandable that it leaves her with a desire to be loved. The way I saw it, she's been looking after herself her entire life and that comes with being able to pick what might pose a threat to her. It struck me as wrong that after all the crap she dealt with growing up, she was willing to take all the crap Lucian threw at her. Most of the creepy things he says? Right over her head. The way he treats her like dirt? Same thing. The severe co-dependency they had going on made me sick and I wanted to put down the book over it. The resolution on that front made me very happy, but other readers may not be able to swim through all the fuckery to the ending they beg for.

The ending was a neat wrap-up of the novel--almost too neat. Resolution with Lucky comes out of nowhere (or maybe I wasn't paying attention, but I swear I saw no hint of it anywhere) and little details made me unsure of whether or not there would be a sequel. Everything seems resolved and happily-ever-afterish, but then it's said the antagonist was never found. We all know what it means when the antagonist isn't found after the climactic battle.

I can see Acosta's novel finding many fans, but I don't feel I'm one of them. If you're not into blood play (and I most definitely am not, so those scenes grossed me out), you might not want to read this. I'm still not completely sure how I feel about this very strange novel, but I have put my feelings into words as well as I could manage.

3 stars!

What am I reading next?: Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers