BOOK REVIEW: Jennifer the Damned

Jennifer the DamnedAuthor: Karen Ullo

Publisher: Wiseblood Books

Publication Date: 31st October

This is a really difficult review to write. I finished the book several days ago and I’m still not quite sure what to say about it. It was a book I really wanted to like, for two reasons. Firstly, the author gave me the ebook in return for an honest review, and she seems nice so obviously I wanted to be able to be positive about it. Secondly, I have several sets of notes for ‘Vampire Redemption’ type novels waiting to perhaps one day make it to the top of the list and be written, so I was excited to read something similar—Ullo described the book as a ‘Catholic Vampire Novel’.

Unfortunately I just plain did not like it. Okay, so it’s possible in a vampire novel that some innocent people will die—because the pesky bloodsuckers can’t always control themselves, especially at first. That’s often what a ‘redemption’ type novel is about, after all: the vampire finding some way to control his/herself/be redeemed/reach heaven. Though to be honest, I always much prefer the ones where the vampire manages not to kill anyone. But no such luck in JENNIFER THE DAMNED. People begin to be killed quite soon and they go on being killed for practically the whole book. On the first couple of occasions it is clear that the young vampire truly cannot help it—but by the third murder it is wholly premeditated. Even worse, the descriptions of the murders would be more appropriate as descriptions of the mystical union of a saint with God. I understand that what Ullo is really trying to show is the awesomeness of the immortal soul and the human being’s heavenly potential, but it’s still very unpleasant to read a murder written in such terms.

Murder after murder takes place, each a bit worse than the last, until just after half way through, the protagonist commits a murder that is so horrible, so not ‘necessary’, so wholly committed simply because she was jealous and she felt like it, that there is no doubt whatsoever that if I hadn’t promised a review I would have put the book aside and never opened it again. As it was, I had actually resolved to do so and to review just the first half when I decided, no, I really did have to finish the thing, it wasn’t fair otherwise. So I read on. And shortly afterwards the protagonist commits another, double act of pure evil! But I made it to the end.

You’ll be glad to hear, there is some redemption eventually, and redemption that doesn’t shrink from just punishment (though it’s all left a bit vague exactly what will transpire), but it was too little too late as far as I’m concerned. It didn’t make it worth ploughing through the rest. The first half was blighted by the horribly described murders; the second half dragged a bit, partly because I didn’t find the love interest a wholly appealing or convincing character.

There was also a moment in the climax when I thought blood was coming from a crucifix, miracle-style, and once I’d finished I thought back and wondered if, and then became fairly sure that, it was supposed to be the protagonist’s blood. A relatively small point, but the wrong time to have any confusion.

A large part of what made it so unappealing to me was the lack of any true remorse. Yes, Jennifer is often sorry about what she’s done, and yes, she is supposed to be conflicted about things, but for most of the book, even after the very first killing, she never once resolves not to do it again (not even while knowing that she’s unlikely to manage to hold to it). Genuine sorrow for one’s sin requires a firm purpose of amendment, i.e. the resolution not only not to do it again, but to try to avoid things that will lead us to do it. I’m sure we’ve all made such a resolution knowing we’re likely to fail to keep it, but we’ve still made it because we want to keep to it. Not Jennifer. She just wrings her hands briefly and starts planning her next kill.

In a way, this problem, along with the vicious killings in the middle of the book, really move the genre of the book from redemption of a vampire (who really can’t help it or at least not very easily) to bog standard redemption of a serial killer (who chooses to kill). I’m not a fan of serial killer books, so that’s probably why I disliked this so much. I don’t for a moment dispute that a serial killer can repent and be forgiven, nor that it may be a long time coming. In fact I absolutely love books or films with a bad character who is redeemed (hence why I had such high hopes for this). But something about this totally failed to do it for me. I just don’t like to read all about crimes in detail. It’s not necessary. The writer can convey plenty about what they did in ways that move us without making us endure murders in loving detail, let alone murders described as raptures.

So although the redemption at the end is quite satisfying, I’m afraid my overall reaction was overwhelmingly negative. But that’s only my opinion, so if you’ve got a higher tolerance for serial killer stuff, do give it a try, don’t let me put you off. According to Ullo, Wiseblood is a Catholic publisher, although it doesn’t state this explicitly on the website. So maybe other people will read this and explain to me that there were deep meanings and amazing metaphors all the way through that I totally missed. In all seriousness, I do feel like there actually is quite a lot there and that if I read it again I might be able to write about the themes and the meanings of this and that in the book. But seeing that I finished reading it only under the deepest compulsion to give it a fair review, a second read just isn’t going to happen. 😦

To be quite honest I could go on and say quite a bit more, but this is too long already! But for the more squeamish, I should mention that the disposal of a couple of the bodies is described in quite considerable detail.

The Blurb:

When a sixteen-year-old orphan vampire adopted by an order of nuns matures into her immortal, blood-sucking glory, all hell literally breaks loose.  Yet with every rapturous taste of blood, Jennifer Carshaw cannot help but long for something even more exquisite: the capacity to experience true love.  As she struggles to balance her murderous secret life with homework, cross-country practice, and her first boyfriend, Jennifer delves into the terrifying questions surrounding her inhuman existence, driven by the unexpectedly human need to understand why she is doomed to a life she never chose.

Bridging the gap between the literary tradition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the modern teen vampire romance made popular by the Twilight series, Jennifer the Damned reexamines the legendary monster as a conflicted and complex being.  Jennifer is at once the quintessential vampire, embodying an unholy union of life and death; yet she is also a sympathetic young woman full of spiritual anxieties, gifted with a limitless sense of ironic humor, and possessed of a beautifully persistent hope in the love she yearns for.

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2 thoughts on “BOOK REVIEW: Jennifer the Damned

    • It’s not really highly graphic in the gory sense (with the slight exception of some unnecessary detail concerning body disposal in a couple of places) so I hope I didn’t give that impression. It’s the whole ‘killing is euphorically wonderful’ that turned me off, plus the totally gratuitous murders.

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