Darke Academy: Secret Lives
Teens will love this book about an exotic and elite academy with dark secret.
Price: R93.50

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What we thought:

I'd be the first one to admit that the premise of the novel is not a unique one, but there is something so infinitely readable and accessible about this book, that you can't help but forgive (and forget) the fact the concept is one that has been done before.

The vampire genre may be overcrowded, but Poole's Darke Academy: Secret Lives (Book 1 in the series) provides a rather unique and fresh spin on the genre that quickly makes you sit up and take notice.

The interesting thing about Darke Academy is that it is a school that moves around the continent and is never based in one location for a long period of time. I love the idea behind this because it complements Gabriella's exotic, descriptive and very lush writing perfectly.

It also means that in the next instalments of this series, we can definitely expect to experience the fabulous worlds of different cities in each book. This makes my travel-loving heart very happy.

In Secret Lives, the vivid and resplendent culture and backdrop of France comes to life.

There's a pulsing beauty and an undeniable air of arrogance of those that only know how to live the charmed and glamorous life.  For scholar Cassie, it's a lustrous place which oozes with mean girls and academy snobs, but at least offers some form of comfort and welcome in the forms of Isabella and Jake.

I loved the fact that these characters were not your typical run-of-the-mill blond-haired, blue-eyed Americans (no offense intended to anyone out there), but rather a wealth of mixed cultures.

There's Cassie, an English girl, Isabella a fiery-tempered Latina, Jake, the all-American boy and amidst the rest of the vibrantly different cultural backgrounds, is the main brooding love interest, Ranjit Singh - the delicious boy of Indian descent.

For me, this eclectic mix of characters adds a wonderful dimension to what I think might have ended up being a potentially very bland novel.

Character wise, I really, really liked Cassie. She's a grounded scholarship girl who knows where she comes from and knows exactly how she got into the elitist Darke Academy, yet doesn't allow the snobby and popular girls to get to her.

In fact, the gutsy girl talks back to them. (Hooray for a character who actually has a backbone - and a strong one at that too). Also, I loved the fact that while she was instantly attracted to Ranjit, she was actually almost borderline rude to him (Again, very refreshing).

My one complaint would have to be how the relationship between them developed. I don't think there was enough time or room for them to actually get a real feel for each other besides the obvious attraction-antagonism feelers between the two.

I suppose we could attribute this to the fact that the author is leaving room for relationship growth in the next novel, but I still feel as if there could have been more interaction between the two of them in order for a possible relationship to seem more plausible.

Then, of course, there is the supernatural element to this novel. I really wish I could say more without giving it away, but I can only tell you that you shouldn't expect any of the typical vampire lore you come across in most books. Here is absolutely none of that in this book. In fact, I'd hazard a guess and say that the things I've learnt in the first instalment of this novel, is just a taste of what is still to come.

Initiation rituals, strange and dark rites, gloomy catacombs and a sinister method of feeding... this is just the beginning of the journey for Cassie and her friends. It's the start of a fantastic book series, and despite the minor hiccups I had with this novel, the gothic and atmospherically descriptive writing, combined with the rather unique spin on vampire lore, makes this novel an alluring and transfixing read.

I can't wait to read Darke Academy: Blood Ties - which is the second book in this series.

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