When I originally started my journey back into the world of V.C. Andrews, I wondered if I’d even give the newer books a chance. Much of Andrews’ appeal seemed to slip in the 90s, but Simon and Shuster kept ploughing along with new gimmicks that ventured beyond the standard five-book family saga. Which takes us to Into the Darkness, a very rare standalone book in the V.C. Andrews canon.
Anyway, during one of my infrequent Value Village shopping trips, I came across a pretty pristine-looking copy of Into the Darkness, and so I took the plunge:
V.C. ANDREWS PORTRAYS HER MOST ROMANTIC COUPLE SINCE TROY AND HEAVEN IN THE CASTEEL SERIES . . .
As lovely as one of the precious gems at her parents’ jewellery store, Amber Taylor is shy and introspective–qualities misread by others as being stuck-up and superior. Facing a long, lonely summer working at the family shop, Amber’s world lights up when the Matthews family suddenly moves in to the house next door, a property that has stood neglected for the longest time.
And when she meets Brayden Matthews, Amber soon becomes infatuated with this handsome, quirky young man who seems to know her innermost feelings almost before she does, who takes her places she never knew existed in her small town. Their connection is electrifying, unlike anything Amber’s felt before. But as quickly as he appears, Brayden vanishes into the darkness. And finding out the truth about him will push Amber to the edge of madness . . .
About Into the Darkness
Typically these “the best since . . .” promises always fall flat, but honestly, I’m one of the rare V.C. Andrews fans who found Heaven and Troy’s romance to be awfully boring AF. I thought Troy was way too gloomy. All he did was share angst and make sandwiches, man. This Grown-Ass woman needed more passion in her V.C. Andrews men.
Into the Darkness was published in 2012. I got the first impression that it was Simon & Shuster’s way to cash in the whole Twilight trend of brooding teenage boys and vampires and shit. I mean, the back synopsis clearly states that there’s something “odd” about Brayden. Which I instantly assumed meant he was a vampire.
I also got this book confused with the very similar Daughter of Darkness book, so yeah.
My Copy of Into the Darkness
This isn’t the first V.C. Andrews novel to feature a cover without a stepback photo, nor is it the first cover using a damn stock photo model, but picking it off the shelf just felt wrong, honestly. It’s off-brand. It’s knock-off.
I, like many other V.C. Andrews fans, often feel there’s something odd about reading V.C. Andrews books in modern times. The Shooting Stars series didn’t feel quite so strange because the covers still featured illustrations and my coming of age occurred in the early aughts, so it fits in with the “retro” aesthetic for me, personally.
But again, this takes place in 2012, when flip phones apparently still existed? So I dunno. Is it retro? There’s a Kiera Knightley reference, though. The book takes place in a small town called Echo Lake, which is supposed to be near Portland. Another very un-V.C. Andrews-like setting.
All this to say that the cover is weird and I fucking hate it. The original illustrated covers appealed to the fanbase because it spoke to them. The paintings lured you in. They inspired mystery. Once you saw that spooked girls’ face, you just HAD to pull the cover open. They spoke through that universal appearance.
I don’t know what to read in this cover model. Is she horny? Does she want me to follow her? The cover and the title font don’t really convey a story here.
Into the Darkness: The Grown-Ass Review
Seeing that the cover and the synopsis don’t give us many clues about what to expect, we know we’re NOT getting a family drama, so let’s just dive right in, shall we?
An Innocent & Pretty, Yet Completely Naive Female Protagonist
Meet Amber Taylor, also known as Prudence Perfect to her “friends”, who always criticize her for being just that. At first, I quite liked Amber because she was less flowery with her language, unlike the former V.C. Andrews protagonists of the 80s. What she lacks in flowerly language, however, she makes up for in annoying obnoxiousness. Much of Amber’s internal monologue is about HOW MUCH BETTER THAN EVERYONE SHE IS.
She questions herself constantly too, which kind of makes me think back to when I was an insecure Christian teen with a ridiculous morality complex that made me assume I was somehow better than everyone. Like, shit just got a bit too real at times and I felt like I was reading my old high school blog. I wanted to die.
A Rags to Riches Plot
Amber’s family lives in Echo Lake, a small tourist town a few hours outside of Portland that all the teenagers hate living in. That is, except for “Prudence Perfect” Amber, who spends the first chapter of the book referencing every facet of her life to jewels. Why jewels, you ask? Because her parents own the popular jewellery store in town, which basically makes them middle-class boring-ass.
BUT at least Amber lives next door to the creepy house in town, which takes us to…
A Vivid Gothic Setting
The book starts off with Amber outside looking at the empty neighbour’s house, which is this old dilapidated place that a new family has recently moved into. Amber sees the only teenage song watching her. She doesn’t exactly give us the best impression of him, because he’s literally STARING at her from the bushes.
My first thought was that there must be something mentally wrong with him. Why else would he stand there gaping at someone unashamedly?page 1
Not exactly hot, but Amber finds him attractive so she reciprocates to the attention in true “teenage girl written by a man” style:
For a few moments, I pretended not to have noticed him. I looked away and then sat on the wide moonstone blue porch railing and leaned back against the post as if I were posing for a sexy dramatic shot in a film. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath like when the doctor tells you to breathe in and hold it while he moves his stethoscope over your back. My breasts lifted against my thin, light jade-green sweater, and I held the air in my lungs for nearly thirty seconds. Then, as if some film director were telling me to look more relaxed and more seductive for the shot, I released my breath and brought my right hand up to fluff my thick, black-opal shoulder-length hair.page 2
The next day, when Amber catches the boy looking at her, she confronts him and they converse in the same flirtingly combative manner that Heaven did with Troy when they first met in Dark Angel. And sure, the back of the book says that this duo is like the next best thing since Heaven & Troy, but the dialogue honestly tries too damn hard to be snappy.
Brayden comes off as a recluse who talks a lot about Thoreau, which is fine, I guess, but also annoying. What I appreciate about him is that he’s pretty upfront and just asks Amber if she wants to go for a walk, which they do. The walk itself is kind of sexy. Because what can be sexier than a V.C. Andrews book with a romantic plot that kicks off from the beginning?
Usually V.C. Andrews books ramble on about perfection and naivete but hey, Into the Darkness simply introduces us to a dude and takes us for a walk in the actual darkness. I was very much down.
Flash Forward To…
The walk, which they go on. I liked this walk because Brayden sneaks Amber into some of the private properties by the lake and ushers her through the dark toward a lagoon full of birds:
It wasn’t only the birds and the surprise opening on the shore that gave us a wide view of the lake, with the moonlight and stars making the water dazzling, that impressed and delighted me. It was the unique silence when so many beautiful things seemed asleep or even, I should say, meditating. Never before has I felt so much a part of it all. It was as if I had suddenly come to appreciate my own home. I felt like someone who had been wearing blinders all her life and suddenly had them removed.page 39
Amber asks him how he found out about some of the areas he takes her to, considering that he’s new to the neighbourhood. Brayden explains that he’s just like “one with nature” or some shit. He then goes on to explain that his mother is a famous artist struggling with severe depression. His father is some brain trust dude who is never around, which subsequently makes Brayden miserable and angsty AF.
So goth, right?
I was feeling this late night teenage romp so hard, but after that first walk, the book goes off on a bit of a tangent.
A Beloved Doting Paternal Figure
Both of Amber’s parents prove themselves to be annoyingly perfect parent figures. Her mom occasionally references her dad by his full name on the odd occasion, which is one of those V.C. Andrews-isms that nobody ever really talks about much.
Much of the book’s entire first half ventures back and forth between Amber’s thoughts about Brayden and her parents continually telling her to basically get it on with Brayden while also WASTING PRECIOUS BOOK TIME on dumb stupid nonsensical parent rambling like this BS:
“As I recall, you quoted poetry when we first met, Gregory Taylor,” Mom said. She sat back and narrowed her eyes in a pose of faux suspicion. “Was it just a slick come-on or did you mean it?”page 25
Dad tugged his left earlobe as if he was hoping to shake the right response out of his brain. “It happened to be spontaneous. the moment I set eyes on you, I thought, ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou ar more lovely and more temperate…”
“That wasn’t the quote,” Mom said.
“No, you were a Jon Denver fan.”
“Oh, right.” Dad smiled. “‘You’re so beautiful, I can’t believe my eyes each time I see you again.'”
“I thought he made it up until he played the song for me,” Mom told me. “Of course, I wondered how many girls he used that line on, but he swore I was the first,” she added, looking at him suspiciously again.
“You were—the first and only, Noreen, and always will be.”
So unnecessary. And pointless. And frustrating. Because we all know that there’s NOTHING worse than a pErFeCt couple. Both in fiction and reality, mind you.
Some Good Olde School Misogyny
Later, Brayden takes Amber on another walk to a creek somewhere. She goes in her bathing suit and the two end up chilling on a rock. Amber falls asleep on said rock, and then, in what feels like a dream, they engage in some PG-13 antics.
“You make me feel alive,” he whispered, kissing my ear and my cheek and then found my lips turned and waiting for his. It was as if he had awakened another me, waiting to be awoken, happy to be awoken. I moaned and welcomed his touch everywhere, my heart beating like a racehorse finally permitted to gallop, to drive every part of itself to the place it was mean to be.page 111
Brayden disappears after the questionable rock make-out session and then Amber spends a TON of book time pondering whether or not she should lose herself to his uber angsty sex appeal.
And then there was the way he looked at me. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was that disturbed me. I didn’t see him gazing at me with that sly, licentious look that could make a girl feel naked, but I did have the feeling that he could see through not only my clothes but any attempt I made to hide something about myself. I concluded that it was the look of someone wise beyond his years, just as I did when I’d said he sounded as if he had lived for centuries. It was as if he knew things about me that I had yet to discover about myself and that would only come form wisdom. Wisdom was different from intelligence. Wisdom came from years of experience. How did someone my age have so much of it?page 51
A Hostile Maternal Figure (+ Bonus Mean Girl!)
As Brayden fades into obscurity, Amber finds herself spending more time with her “friend” Ellie, a girl who seems to hate her but also VERY BADLY wants her to come to this stupid teenager party at Charlotte’s house. Who’s Charlotte, you ask? It doesn’t fucking matter!
At the party, Amber gets kind of slutty and drunk on herself. Not on the booze, because she’s FAAAAAR to prudish to stoop to everyone else’s level. Nevertheless, she thrives on the attention and on her confidence and actually gives jock Shane a chance to try to impress her when he offers to take her away from the party. At that point, Amber realizes that everyone at the party is getting unhinged, and so she and Shane go to the nearby diner and hit it off.
The two start “dating” but Amber’s attention always drifts back to throughts of either Brayden or of comparing herself to the other girls, who she spends a miraculous amount of time disparaging:
I know none of my girlfriends at school would understand how being attractive brought responsibilities, but I always felt obligated to make sure that I didn’t flaunt myself or take anything anyone said for granted. I also felt I had to be careful about whom I showed any interest in, even look at twice. People, especially older men, were always telling me I would be a heartbreaker. To me, that didn’t sound very nice. I envisioned a trail of men with shattered emotions threatening to commit suicide everywhere I went.page 9
In this scene, Amber puts on a two-piece bathing suit for her boat date with Shane:
If I wore it, thought, I’d bury Prudence Perfect forever. I turned every which way, gazing at myself in the full-length mirror. I pictured Shayne’s face after I stripped down to my suit. The look I imagine coming into his eyes brought a blush to my cheeks and neck, but rather than any shame or embarrassment, it brought a sense of power with it. How easily I could make him tremble with desire, I thought. I held a pose, lifting my breast and turning my waist. Was this a terrible thing to feel? How do you know when you’ve moved from pride into arrogance, an arrogance that causes you to flaunt yourself and perhaps diminish the respect any man would have for you?page 153
Afraid of just that, I quickly took off the two-piece.
GAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!! IT’S FUCKING 2012, ANDREW NEIDERMAN! STOP IT!
Amber stands naked in her bedroom and feels Brayden’s presence there with her. She feels him touch her, feels him kiss her. Then she puts on the totally modest one-piece and some clothes over it and goes out for the lake date with Shane.
The date goes well. The two flirt and a rather convincing, albeit annoying manner. They end up at Shane’s house. Amber changes in the spare bedroom, only to be confronted by Shane’s bitchy sister, Wendi.
As she drew closer, I thought Wendi would single-handedly make some plastic surgeon wealthy. I foresaw liposuction, breast enhancement, and endless Botox in her future.page 173
Wendi mocks Amber for losing her virginity to Shane, claiming that Shane was just flirting with Amber so he could bone her. Rumours start flooding, but Wendi’s “trick?” doesn’t amount to much, because Amber “feels” Brayden tell her to pretend the rumours are true. Amber tells all her “girlfriends” that Shane was a crappy lay, referring to him as the brilliant and totally 2012-insult, “Mister Missfire” .
Several chapters are wasted on this plot point, though its during Amber’s fake sexual revelation that she feels Brayden cheering her on. Shane takes Amber on a date at a fancy restaurant and Amber quickly goes Shania Twain on him.
In the falling out, Brayden makes a quick physical reappearance, taking Amber back into the woods, where they bone and brood and Brayden says that his mother’s condition is worsening.
A Tragic Death
Tension builds in an awkward manner, with Brayden frequently disappearing and Amber trying to call his cell phone that he never answers. Then, when his father comes to take his mother to the hospital, Brayden hides out a cabin in the woods. Amber goes to
Then, Brayden disappears entirely. Frantic to find him, Amber trespasses into Brayden’s house, finding all the rooms empty but his bedroom. She then ventures into the attic that housed mom’s painting studio, but all Amber finds is this single painting:
…[I]t was clearly a portrait of Brayden, but everything about him was distorted. It was as if she meant to depict his face on a raindrop. The shape of it was elongated in places and widened in others. His eyes looked as if they were spilling out of their sockets and running down his cheeks. His cheeks were porous, the skin looking magnified so that each pore was clearly seen. his nose was shaped so strangely so that it seemed to be riding on a wave, and his mouth, wide open, was cavernous and dark like the inside of a pipe. She had done the head, but the neck was still in drawing stage, and it, too, looked like liquid, spilling down from under his chin and jawbone.page 226
Amber leaves the house, bones Brayden a few more times before he gets really ominous and disappears entirely. Like for good. She trespasses the house again, only to find the house vacated entirely. Then Amber’s parents find out and ground her.
In a long and convoluted manner, Amber finds out who the landlord of the house is, and then she drives all the way to Portland to confront the landlord (a businessman who is actually Brayden’s grandfather!) about where the Matthews’ went.
Fantastic Psychological Horror
Caught off-guard, the grandfather explains that Brayden died in a car crash and that his mother never recovered, leaving Amber with the realizing that she was seeing a ghost this entire time.
Honestly, this was not a revelation that I expected, especially not in a V.C. Andrews book. The entire time I expected he was going to be a vampire, so this revelation was actually a fun surprise for me.
I liked the gothic spin on it, the subtle horror, and especially the sadness. In the end, Amber goes back home and comes to terms with her delusion. She sees a therapist and returns to school and plays normal again. But then she makes a trip back to the magical fuck-cabin where she and Brayden got it on, and it’s there that she finds a notebook buried under the floorboards filled with angsty poems.
There’s boning but it’s nowhere near incestuous boning. Just spectral boning, which would be kind of fun if it weren’t written like it was fucking Christie Longchamp telling me about her perfect and amazing and utterly life-changing the boning was.
I felt my whole body soften in his arms. I was a total surrender, a willing surrender. I was eager to see what other places on my body would tingle and awaken. The woman I often pictured curled up inside of me like some mature fetus awoke and quickly unfolded throughout, slipping under my breasts, around my heart, and down through my thighs, even to my toes.page 262
Like if you’re gonna bone a ghost, at least make it hot.
Some Really Bad Writing
Let’s continue with the sex, because I know you’re all waiting for more more classic Neiderman mentions of breasts:
My breasts seemed to blossom under his touch, his lips. As small as our space was inside his sleeping bag, I never felt uncomfortable for a single moment. My whole body had turned into soft clay to be molded and shaped so it would fit neatly against his, but what surely made it more wonderful was the way we moved together as if we had truly become one body, every part of me anticipating every part of him.page 262
Hot. Super hot.
I’m gonna continue focusinng on the sex here because the entirity of the V.C. Andrews sex universe can be found on this gloriously horrible page.
I felt my whole body soften in his arms. It was a total surrender, a willing surrender. I was eager to see what other places on my body would tingle and awaken. The woman I often pictured curled up inside me like some mature fetus awoke and quickly unfolded throughout, slipping under my breasts, around my heart, and down through my thighs, even to my toes.page 262
I can’t, Andrew. I don’t want to think about a baby unfurling INSIDE of my breasts. Why are you doing this? Why in the world do you think women would enjoy reading this?
Stop talking about breasts and put some fingerbanging in your sex scenes, dude.
Lastly, I share with you some more of Amber’s judgemental sex wisdom. This passage really cemented my frustration with her BS rambling.
Would it always be like this? How could any of my far more sexually active friends experience anything like I was experiencing? From what I heard them say, their sex seemed purely selfish, each of them caring only for what satisfaction he or she could draw out of the other. I thought of them as being crude and boisterous lovers who rushed in and out of pockets of pleasure, barely recalling where they had been or why. For them, sex was nothing more than a good piece of chocolate.page 262
The judgemental horny Christian girl who read I Kissed Dating Goodbye and still masturbated every day is TRIGGERED with shame, dammit.
My Final Rating
I find the problem with the more “modern” V.C. Andrews books struggle with is feeling less shocking than the ones form the 70s-80s. I guess partly because times have changed and what shocked before fails to shock now. But we still see the same themes of “purity” and “naivete” that have lingered around forever. These themes are integral to V.C. Andrews protagonists, which means that Amber simply wouldn’t have been a proper V.C. Andrews character if she were a bit more free with her sexuality and confident in herself.
But as a teen in 2012, she just comes off a bit obnoxious and, quite frankly, annoying. She has her head on her shoulders but she also doesn’t. I mean, she did totally bang a ghost, so…
To be honest, I liked the ghost take on this one. Again, I expected vampires, but got a ghost. and I feel the overall reveal was done a bit sloppily. Its impact on Amber was well-executed. There were parts I could appreciate about this book and it was a nice supernatural twist on the standard V.C. Andrews love story. I just wish we didn’t have to slog through a bunch of lacklustre teen drama to get there.
Into the Darkness
- A pretty decent ghost love story.
- The ending actually pulled a bit of emotion from me.
- A nice spin on the V.C. Andrews tropes
- Woods setting was pretty dece.
- Amber is obnoxious AF.
- Brayden is also obnoxious AF.
- There are waaaaay too many "deep" conversations.