The Society of S: X-Men Meets Anne Rice

February 7, 2008

When I’m in the library, I like to browse.  I am a firm believer in serendipity, which I like to define as “something wonderful found.”  I had hoped that The Society of S by Susan Hubbard would be classified as serendipitous but unfortunately not. 

Hubbard’s protagonist is Ariella, a precocious 13-year-old who has been isolated from the world in her huge Victorian house by her preternaturally young, brilliant father who does mysterious work in his basement with his employees.  Instead of letting Ariella go to school, her father homeschools her, teaching her himself.  I daresay her education exceeds that of most college freshman.  She also has synesthesia, which sometimes manifests as seeing letters and words as having a certain color (one of the reasons why I picked up this book; when I was younger, I associated colors with letters and numbers). Poor Ariella has no friends until the housekeeper takes pity on her and integrates her into her own boisterous family, where Ariella finds a best friend as well as first boyfriend. 

However…Ariella’s life is full of mysteries.  Why does her father appear not to have aged?  Why did her mother disappear only hours after Ariella’s birth?  Why does Ariella’s image look blurry in pictures and mirrors?   After a horrific murder and learning a dark secret about her father, Ariella heads south to seek her mother, discovering not only her mother but also herself.

Yes, thar be vampires here.  But not just any vampires!  Hubbard’s vampires are different from the Anne Rice type. These vampires are eco-conscious vegetarians and don’t necessarily need to drink blood to survive.  And there are more of them than we could ever imagine, blending successfully into society.  Hubbard intriguingly weaves science into vampire lore, dismissing some vampire powers as myths and explaining the “science” behind other powers. 

Hubbard writes well, and Ariella had a strong voice.  I really enjoyed the tone of the book as well.  It was haunting, quite moody and a little dark…like a song played in minor key.  She does a good job of making Ariella’s life interesting and bringing you into the mysteries surrounding her.  So why such a tepid review then?  The problem is that once you solve the mystery of her father, the novel goes flat.  An unsolved mystery is always more interesting than a solved one.  I applaud Hubbard’s efforts to try to ground vampirism in science, but that takes some of the fun out of it.  We like scaring ourselves into thinking that there may be a vampire out there who “vants to suck your blood.”  As a result, the conflict in the book is left to be weakly hinted at as a vampire faction who believes humans should be exterminated and those who think that vampires and humans can live in harmony.  Sort of.  Like I said, it’s only hinted at. 

Apparently, The Society of S is the first in a series, so maybe the subsequent books will flesh out the story more.   

If you like vampire books, you might enjoy The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova and Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series (the early books; there is WAY too much sex in the later books and it’s off-putting…seriously, more sex than plot.  I enjoy a romance novel as much as the next person, but come on).