Author: Marta Acosta
Description from Goodreads:
Orphaned at the age of six, Jane Williams has grown up in a series of foster homes, learning to survive in the shadows of life. Through hard work and determination, she manages to win a scholarship to the exclusive Birch Grove Academy. There, for the first time, Jane finds herself accepted by a group of friends. She even starts tutoring the headmistress’s gorgeous son, Lucien. Things seem too good to be true.
The more she learns about Birch Grove’s recent past, the more Jane comes to suspect that there is something sinister going on. Why did the wife of a popular teacher kill herself? What happened to the former scholarship student, whose place Jane took? Why does Lucien’s brother, Jack, seem to dislike her so much?
As Jane begins to piece together the answers to the puzzle, she must find out why she was brought to Birch Grove—and what she would risk to stay there….
First Sentence: "On the night that I die, a storm rages, and the thin glass of the cheap windows shudders as if beaten by fists, and the wind howls like someone calling come away, come away."
Initially, I wasn't sure if I was going to read Dark Companion. I watched the reviews for it roll in, and they varied so much as to puzzle me exceedingly. Gothic fiction has not traditionally been my favorite genre, so I was hesitant. However, it was obviously meant to be since I won a giveaway for it. Well, I am glad that I did, because I ended up really enjoying this particular reading experience.
From reviews that I've read, I know that some readers found much of this book quite boring, but that was not the case for me. So long as the writing is beautiful and the characters vibrant, a slow pace does not put me off a novel the slightest bit. Acosta's writing really resonated with me, striking a perfect gothic tone that matched the quotes from classics included at the beginning of each chapter while also maintaining a modern flair.
The only thing I wasn't a huge fan of in the writing was some of the slang, which I felt went too far and entered the realm of the absurd. If there was a name that could be made into a swear word, that happened, like with these: Charlotte becomes harlot, Pritchard becomes Bitchard, and Helmsdale becomes Hellsdale. Thankfully, this trailed off as the book continued but it was really overused at first. Acosta also came up with other lingo for these characters, like using coitus as a swear word, going so far even to change OMFG into OMCG. I get it, but am not amused.
Jane also speaks and thinks in a very particular manner, using as many pretentious words as she can. This will likely alienate some readers, but I liked it, because, well, I'm a snob like that. Plus, Jane does that as a method of studying, which fits her perfectly, because she do desperately wants to escape her tragic past (group home, scars, best friend in prostitution, other best friend dead of meningitis).
Jane, through her own determination and hard work, manages to obtain a scholarship to the fancy schmancy Birch Grove Academy for Girls, which helps her obtain emancipation as well so that she can escape the horrid group home in which she was living. She leaves Hellsdale and heads to Greenwood for school. At first, everything seems to good to be true. No, really. This school would not exist. She gets there and the headmistress Mrs. Radcliffe (nice reference btws) shows her to her PERSONAL COTTAGE to live in BY HERSELF and takes her shopping to BUY HER ALL OF THE CLOTHES. No school would do this; she would at least have to share the cottage with one other girl. It had a full kitchen and everything! Also, Jane went back to the mall later, returned a bunch of clothes, and got money back. Why let Radcliffe by those clothes for her if she didn't want them? That was weird to me.
In case you're concerned about the fact that Jane's going to a girl's school, because that means there are limited sexy boy options, don't worry. Conveniently, Mrs. Radcliffe just happens to have two hot sons, one a junior like Jane, Lucian aka Lucky, and one two years older, Jack. As you may have guessed, a hot mess of a love triangle ensues. A lot of the things that happened in the love triangle-y part upset me, mostly because Lucian was a little shit and Jane's self-esteem issues make me want to shake some sense into her. Still, Acosta did manage to wrap things up nicely and she does write fabulous kissing scenes.
Several of her characters really mattered to me. Jane, dear plain, outspoken Jane, mousie Jane. I could not help but see her as a sort of Jane Eyre figure, with her unloved childhood, her fear that no one shall ever care for her, her vast intelligence, her determination, her strength in a crisis, and her stern perception of her own qualities. Needless to say, I loved her most of the time. Jack, of course, is scruffy and adorable, if, admittedly, a bit frustrating at times. Mary Violet, or MV, turned out to be a surprise favorite of mine, with her love for anything violet, even to the detriment of her grades when she refuses to turn in papers in anything but her trademark violet ink, and her ridiculous explanations for what foreign phrases mean. Though somewhat annoying, MV is a true friend, and I love finding those in YA novels.
The paranormal elements in Dark Companion are blessedly minor. They are important, yes, but they don't take over the story. In fact, the story feels as though it's mostly set in the natural world, a bit more magical realism than straight up fantasy. Not only that, but she did some really cool things with the paranormal bits she used, putting nice spins on some overused ideas.
The conclusion, admittedly, is not as strong as it perhaps should have been. It feels a bit rushed and overly optimistic, pairing characters up like the ark's about to sail. I didn't mark down for this rather cheesy conclusion, though, because of all of the Shakespeare references woven throughout. The ending just tells you that Dark Companion is a comedy, not a tragedy. I'm a sucker for Shakespeare references.
Though not a perfect read, I thoroughly delighted in every bit of Dark Companion. This is a good read for those who appreciate literary references and a gothic feel.
"'You know, I've always hated those stories about princes and princesses with some extraordinary ability, special because they're born special.'
'Like me?' He smiled wickedly, making me laugh a little.
'I didn't see how those were happy stories, because life has given princes and princesses enough unearned advantages. I'd rather believe that anyone can accomplish remarkable things when she really tries. Maybe her accomplishments will never be recognized, but simply loving and caring for someone else, that's miraculous to me.'"