1 Point, Fantasy, Gothic & Horror, LGBT+ Fiction, Reviews, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult

“UNNATURAL” BY MICHAEL GRIFFO

Unnatural | Archangel Academy #1 | ISBN  9780758253385 | Kensington, 2011 | 1 out of 5 Points

Lesson 1: Nothing is ever what it seems… In the town of Eden in northwestern England stands the exclusive boarding school known as Archangel Academy. Ancient and imposing, it’s a place filled with secrets. Just like its students…

For Michael Howard, being plucked from his Nebraska hometown and sent thousands of miles away is as close as he’s ever come to a miracle. In Weeping Water, he felt trapped, alone. At Archangel Academy, Michael belongs. And in Ciaran, Penry, and especially Ciaran’s enigmatic half-brother Ronan, Michael finds friendship deeper than he’s ever known.

But Michael’s only beginning to understand what makes the Academy so special. Ronan is a vampire—part of a hybrid clan who are outcasts even among other vampires. Within the Academy’s confines exists a ruthless world of deadly rivalries and shifting alliances, of clandestine love and forbidden temptations. And soon Michael will confront the destiny that brought him here—and a danger more powerful than he can imagine…

ELLA’S REVIEW

Jesus on a bicycle, what did I even read? Look, queer representation in Young Adult fiction is important. It is very important in fact and that’s why we – writers, that is – need to do it well. You can’t just toss some gay characters into your novel and call it a day and having queer main characters doesn’t mean your book is allowed to be hella problematic otherwise. Just like being gay is no excuse for a man to grab a woman’s boobs, having gay main characters is no excuse for sexist tropes, stereotypes and other questionable content. But it looks like Michael Griffo didn’t really get that memo. “Unnatural”, the first in a series, ticks a lot of boxes on my “Never ever do that in a YA novel ever” list. Needless to say, I did not have a good time.

THE ANGSTIEST ANGST TO EVER ANGST

The book starts off with Michael – for some ominous reason the main character has the same name as the author, I wonder why that is? – from small town Nebraska recounting his plight of being the only gay teenager around and being bullied and spending a lot of time crying and being unloved. We get it, Michael, this boy is sad. Nobody likes him because he’s gay, nobody understands him, nobody wants to be friends with him. Writing about homophobia is important, okay, I know that but Michael is a horrible protagonist. He closes himself off, wallowing in how much people hate him, while people actually try to talk to him. There’s a scene where a boy tries to approach him but Michael is so busy being angsty he brushes him off. Like, people want to be his friends and he just ignores it because “Omg, nobody likes me, everybody hates me”. I wasn’t even 10% into the book and I was already rolling my eyes so hard I lost a contact lens.

Michael then gets the chance to leave his small town and America for good to go to boarding school in England. England is, apparently, paradise. Nobody is homophobic there! Everyone loves Michael! I lost the other contact lens right then and there. This book is set in the north. The north is the most conservative place in all of England, okay? It’s not some kind of ideal paradise where homophobia doesn’t exist and everyone is really cool and open minded. I just really dislike how unrealistic Griffo’s portrayal of both American small towns and England is. It’s either all or nothing with him. Either every single person in a place is conservative and homophobic or no one at all is. Both of Griffo’s settings are lazy and stupid, any kind of world-building is non-existent.

Look, obviously the town of Eden is fictional and whilst I think the town’s name is a bit on the nose, naming Michael’s new school “Archangel Academy” is like a kick in the teeth. How lazy can you be? Yes, we get it, there’s something supernatural afoot here, it’s a special place. This is uninspired and stupid, especially since this book is about vampires and not angels, so what the hell even.

Quick rant on the side here: Eden is the most unrealistic thing a town in northwestern England could be named. Eden, that’s the kind of thing the puritans would have named a settlement in New England or the pioneers would have gone for when settling the American West. It’s so American. Places in northwestern England are called Bridlington, Huggate, Holme-on-Spalding-Moor or Sladmere. They are not called Eden. Schools are also not called Archangel Academy in case you were wondering. What I’m getting at is, Griffo seems to have done absolutely zero research which is unfortunate to say the least. His England is basically America with a different accent. The setting is an absolute fail which did not bode well for the rest of the book. At all.

BOYFRIENDS FOREVER BUT I WISH YOU HAD ASKED FIRST

And I was right. It’s so bad. It’s the worst case of insta-love I’ve ever seen in a book and I have read a lot of paranormal romance so that says something. Michael is whisked off to England by his totes rich father (who conveniently shows up right after Michael’s mother dies) and enrolled in Archangel Academy where he soon meets Ronan. Ronan is hot and cool and experienced and from then on out Michael and Ronan shoot each other heart eyes every chance they get. But Ronan has a dark secret: He’s a vampire, guys! Oh buddy, oh man, I would not have seen that one coming. What then follows can only be described as gay Twilight which is a concept I love but I do not love this book. Ronan has this horrible conflict where he wants to be with Michael but he can’t because making him a vampire would destroy Michael’s soul! Oh no! What do?!

That conflict is resolved like 10 pages later when Ronan and Michael have sex for the first time and Ronan turns Michael into a vampire without fucking consent. And Michael is all like: Oh well, okay, I love you so this is fine. IT’S NOT FINE, YOU IDIOT. Like, not at all fine. He basically killed you, boy, you’re dead now, but it’s okay because he loves you so much, right? Man, I was so over this book by that point but I read on because apparently I had brain cells to spare or something. Michaels father, who doesn’t know Michael is gay, wants Michael to date Brania for some reason. Brania is also a super powerful vampire and she’s evil, okay, she’s hella evil which of course is why she’s a slut, wears skimpy clothes and the whole she-bang. Then there’s Nakano, another vampire, also quite evil, also a total slut. See, Nakano goes and fucks a flight attendant in the plane’s washing room while they’re flying to America at one point for no other reason than Griffo wanting him to despite Nakano being freaking underage. That scene isn’t even relevant, it just happens because Griffo said so.

It’s not just the sucky characters I disliked here but the plot as well. For some reason there are normal vampires and then there are water vampires. Don’t even ask me. Water vampires, okay? They’re just there and they like water because apparently sometime in antiquity an Atlantean (like, from Atlantis) had kids with a vampire. Okay, Griffo. Then there’s Brania who apparently has a big evil plan that is never disclosed. Everything’s just super vague for some reason or other. Brania has an army of secret vampires at Archangel Academy but Griffo won’t tell us why, we’re just meant to accept she does and is up to no good. I’m not really sure Michael Griffo knew what he wanted this character to do himself, at least not when he was writing book one of this series. Maybe her big evil plan is revealed in one of the sequels but lol at you if you thought I was going to sit through another one of these books to find out.

SELF-INSERT VAMPIRES & ONE MILLION VOICES

Strike three was the writing because it’s atrocious. There is so much inner monologue. It was so boring and confusing and unnecessary. I didn’t need to know what everyone was thinking about every single thing in detail. There’s also loads of head hopping. This book is told from about ten different perspectives and sometimes Griffo switches perspectives mid-paragraph for three sentences before he switches to someone else again. It’s just not well written. Quite the contrary. I have no idea how and why an editor or a publisher approved of this drivel but for some reason they did and published the whole trilogy and another trilogy by Griffo. Like, good for him but why?

I mean, I know a lot of us want more queer representation in our fiction and whilst there are more and more contemporary YA titles with lgbtq characters, they’re still mostly absent from paranormal and other speculative fiction. When a book like “Unnatural” comes along it’s like a blessing at first. Finally a vampire romance with gay main characters! But this book isn’t worth anyone’s time, trust me. It’s badly written and the characters are bland puppets, there’s nothing interesting about any of them. The English setting reads like Griffo did exactly no research at all. There’s also a lot of problematic content here which turns my rating from “meh” to “what the hell”. Consent is apparently optional in this novel, turning your new boyfriend into a vampire without even telling him vampires exist and that you are one just because you selfishly want him with you forever is totes okay and sixteen year olds have casual sex with adults just because more than once.

A lot about the plot doesn’t really make sense: Water vampires? A bad girl whose plan isn’t ever disclosed? Looking back I can’t even tell you what this book is about, what the plot is, what’s going on here. If I was mean, which I am, let’s be real, I’d say “Unnatural” is a self-insert wish fulfilment story of the worst kind. I don’t know anything about Michael Griffo but I know that this book is bad and that it’s a shame one of the few paranormal YAs with queer main characters had to be this horrible but that’s just how it is. This book sucks. It has no redeeming qualities at all, there was nothing here I liked and a lot I found highly problematic. Do yourself a favour and pass on this one even though it looks intriguing. It’s a trainwreck. I’m going to give it one star because that’s our lowest possible rating but I wish I could just rate it nothing because that’s exactly what it deserves.

About Ella

Ella is a writer and historian by day and a reader by night time. She lives by the North Sea and has managed to fill all empty spaces in her small apartment with books. She's 24.

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