The Society of S by Susan Hubbard reads like a modern day vampire story and a coming of age story with 13 year-old Ariella Montero narrating. Is there such a thing as a literary vampire novel? Ms. Hubbard certainly writes her tale in a scholarly fashion but her vampire tale really doesn’t add anything “new” to a genre saturated with vampire lore ad nauseum. Her prose is rather dry and the plotting and pacing was very uneven thereby making it very easy for me to put this book down.
The Society of S has a bit of Anne Rice’s “Interview With the Vampire” type of style, with Ariella gathering the answers to some of the questions she’s had about her life and her family and putting them in her journal. The author doesn’t write in a journalistic fashion but Ariella does at certain times refer to her audience with open ended questions.
Ariella has led a sheltered life, being home schooled and having her own cook, Mrs. McGarritt, to prepare her meals for her (she’s a vegetarian). Her parents are estranged. Her father is a scientist and an erudite who is described as being very handsome. He is a bit of a stiff collar, often citing the works of Edgar Alan Poe and other poets in conversation. His height, pale looks and dress attire of sun glasses, trench coat and hat often leaves a lasting impression on people. Ariella says he has lupus and she herself has some type of weak immune system so she’s rarely left her house. One day, Mrs. McGarritt decides to introduce Ariella to her family. She becomes fast friends with her daughter, Kathleen and has a romantic interest in her son, Michael.
The main story arc is about Ariella wrestling with her self-identity with a subplot centering on her finding her mother. There are very few supernatural events in this story, because it is simply not the focus. In fact, half the novel is over before you encounter anything “extraordinary”. There are vampires living amongst us and that’s nothing new. The story is a bit heavy handed on the science behind vampirism and the advanced technology that has allowed this subculture to thrive in modern society. For instance, blood supplements being used as blood substitutes and the continuing research behind making artificial blood is imperative for their survival. Ariella speaks of “other” supernatural beings living amongst humans and having high positions in our state government and science community. Her goal in writing this journal is to relay those facts to us mere mortals in hopes of rendering a better of understanding of the vampire community.
The story is very uneven and most of it is uneventful. Ariella’s father’s brief time at Cambridge was one of the few interesting parts of the book as well as the love story. There’s also a murder investigation that really takes a back seat to the other two story arcs. Encountering evil in the academic setting is just not original to me and reminded me other such stories that use that backdrop as well. The author goes through the usual vampire folklore, acknowledging some of it (aversion to sunlight), dismissing others (shape shifters). They do have the power of invisibility (something to do with shifting electrons) and reading thoughts. Her vampires are quite evolved. You still have a few vamps who have disdain for humans along with other sects of this culture wanting to just blend in unnoticed.
There’s a few flashbacks, mainly of Ariella’s father telling her what happened to him at Cambridge and explaining the events that led up to her mother’s disappearance after she was born. I didn’t quite buy into the rationalization of why Ariella was left when she was a baby. It just didn’t make sense to me. Ariella starts having dreams of crossword puzzles and other things that relates to her mother. Over the course of a summer, there are subtle changes to Ariella that might be best described as “unusual” for a teen girl to experience. However, her father says that her fate regarding her “mortality” remains uncertain because since he was afflicted as a vampire, he’s not sure if she will become one, too.
The Society of S will not be as popular as Stephenie Meyer’s vampires, I’m afraid. I’d have to disagree with Ms. Harris on that cover quote because the two author’s narrative voice couldn’t be more different. The reviews I’ve seen of this book so far has been pretty mixed. I’d have to side with those who found this story less than captivating. The most intriguing character was Ariella’s father, Raphael and I wish he would have been the narrator because his back story of running across evil would have been much more interesting told from his pov. Ariella herself was an ok narrator but often I found her boring with her knowledge very limited for a sheltered 13 year old.
The author doesn’t allow supernatural events to override the telling of a young girl’s self-discovery. The “extraordinary” is incorporated into this story but, again, it is not the focus. The story is about a young girl ascerting her self-identity and finding her mother and possibly reuniting her parents. The ageless teen-age fantasy. The Society of S is a coming of age story and I’ve read my share of those and often I’ve enjoyed them. However, this story just didn’t make any impression on me despite the beautiful prose. The premise seemed promising but it was poorly executed, IMO. My grade, C-.