Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side, by Beth Fantaskey

I want you all to quickly remember the YA scene during the Twilight craze, when teenage vampire romances were all the rage. Think of all the thinly-plotted knockoffs that disgraced the YA shelf during that time. We remember the over-sexed, awkward, and cliché House of Night series, but then, we also remember the delicious soap-opera-esque drama of the Vampire Academy series (my personal favorite). That is to say that, while there was bad teenage vampire drama, there was also good teenage vampire drama. And what was one of the best examples? Beth Fantaskey’s Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side.

Now you might be wondering: Stephanie, you just DESTROYED a Beth Fantaskey work way back in July. Was there really such a swing-around? And you’re right: I did, and there was. Except this book came first, and Fantaskey’s work just happened to receive a downgrade.

But anyway. What was it that made this drop in the ocean stand out so well? Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side (9780547259406):  Fantaskey, Beth: Books

Jessica Packwood is just starting her senior year, where she will blaze new trails as a mathlete and finally catch her crush’s eye. But then, a Romanian exchange student named Lucius Vladescu drops a bomb on her: he is a vampire prince, she is a vampire princess, and they are betrothed to each other. A logical realist, Jessica wants nothing to do with her bloody destiny, especially since Lucius is a relentless suitor. But the more Jessica gets to know Lucius, his world, and her family in Romania, the more she realizes there is no escaping destiny…

I first read this book my senior year of high school, when the Twilight craze was slowly petering out but still held reign over teenage vampire books. Where most vampire books were all about drama, mystery, intrigue, and danger, this book had all that on low gear. The stakes were still high, but there was something kind of cozy and fun about it all.

It might also be because Lucius felt much more like a classic vampire. Don’t get me wrong, he is still a teenager wet dream vampire, with long black hair and a rock-hard body. But his vernacular is much more refined, his manners like a stuffy lord. He combines Bela Lugosi with Dimitri Belikov from Vampire Academy. He seemed so original compared to other vampires at the time.

But what’s great about Lucius is that he is not a brooding, broken bad boy. He has a lot riding on his shoulders, and the stakes are high (no pun intended) if he does not convince Jessica to follow through with marrying him. I can’t remember many YA vampires having that kind of vulnerability. After all, Jessica’s dad remarks once about him: “He’s just a kid.” For all Lucius’s hard edges and bravado, he is, indeed, still just a kid.

Plus, we have a compelling and capable heroine in Jessica. She takes a long time to warm up to Lucius, but her growing attraction to him feels natural. Plus, she is a realist who does not believe in the supernatural—the things she cannot explain for herself—so she is almost a complete foil to Lucius. It was probably one of the most compelling YA relationships I’d ever read.

Now, some people gripe about how Twilight softened vampires into sparkling wussies. Well, technically, one could say the same about the vampires in this book. That is, the only pieces of remaining vampire lore here are that they drink blood and they live forever until staked by a, well, stake. But I would not go so far as to say these vampires are weak. When provoked, they are ruthless and dangerous. On the whole, though, they’re basically just immortal superhumans that drink blood for sustenance.

Although this book is a cozier piece of vampire lore, the stakes are still high. Lucius has to abide by an increasing deadline to get Jessica to be his, but right when it seems like Jessica is coming around, a wrench gets thrown into the plot, and you don’t know what’ll happen next. The book moves faster and faster as the plot thickens. And that was why I tore through this book in two days!

Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side is an infinitely better read than Jekel Loves Hyde. The characters are better realized, there are fewer plot holes, and the romance is much less questionable. I never set out to compare these two works, but certainly, I would recommend the former book—even if you think you’re past teenage vampire lit. It’s undoubtedly one of the best books to come out of the vampire craze, and I don’t regret keeping it on my shelf.

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