Published 2012 368 pages
Summary (author’s description)
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…
Dark Companion is the renamed and rewritten final published version of “The Shadow Girl of Birch Grove”, a free novel that the book’s author briefly made available to readers through the Scribd website back in 2010. Since that time the book was snapped up for publication by TOR and after a lengthy period of editing, rewriting and polishing the book is now finally ready for sale. Dark Companion is the same story as Shadow Girl yet it has a new start, an extra part in the middle and different twist the end. What was a good story before is now even better. If you think you’ve already read Dark Companion because you’ve read Shadow Girl, trust me – you haven’t.
To read Dark Companion I put aside one of my great bibliophile prejudices and read the story in e-format on my computer. Reading fiction from a computer screen usually makes me fidgety with the result that I find it impossible to connect with the story. However I read this from the computer screen in a couple of sittings without my attention wandering. So it’s fair to say that this book is exceptional whether in paper or pixel format.
Written for the Young Adult market Dark Companion is the story of orphan Jane, who finds that education and study are her ticket out of her foster home into the elite Birch Grove Academy – but she soon discovers that nothing is quite as perfect as it seems. As an orphan in foster care in a poor inner-city neighbourhood Jane’s life choices are Iimited. Life on the streets of Helmsdale (a.k.a Hellsdale) offers crime, drugs and prostitution – yet what will Jane have to do to earn her place at the smart private school which offers to give her a better chance at life?
There are huge parallels between Dark Companion and Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel Jane Eyre and this was part of the story’s attraction for me. (Jane Eyre was the first book that I stayed up all night reading when I was a teenager and it’s an understatement to say I loved that book.) Initially Jane Williams and Jane Eyre tread the same path, just swap out the cruelly cold Victorian school setting for an equally bleak modern day inner-city foster home – both places are ones from which there are limited means of escape…
Jane Williams, like Jane Eyre, is a plain and serious teenager. She channels her energy into bettering herself and escaping her poor inner-city roots through education, but (like Eyre) she isn’t without passion and feeling. Seizing her opportunity to leave Hellsdale in the form of a full scholarship at the posh Birch Grove Academy for Girls, Jane willingly leaves everything and everyone she has ever known behind, setting out to Birch Grove as a sixteen year-old emancipated minor.
Upon Jane’s arrival at the Academy the plot of Jane Eyre and Dark Companion split further apart, the story giving readers a modern day gothic treat with characters that are far easier to identify with than those in Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel. The fog shrouded Birch Grove setting is creepy and atmospheric, its whispering trees and hints of hidden dark secrets are guaranteed to keep readers quickly turning pages.
Fans of Acosta’s Casa Dracula books will recognise the signs that indicate vampires are present. New readers will just be left to worry about why so many people in this remote picture perfect town prefer their meat to be served extremely rare…
Dark Companion lacks Casa Dracula’s trademark witty comedy but laugh-out-loud humour would detract from the sinister gothic feel of the story. Besides Jane Williams is already serious and sincere and an entirely different character to Casa Dracula’s Milagro De Los Santos who would like to be serious and sincere but frequently fails to be so due to her silly nature. That said the story isn’t all doom and gothic gloom. Jane’s new friend at Birch Grove, the frivolous Mary Violet (MV) makes a great counterpoint to Jane’s more serious nature and lifts the mood of story on many an occasion.
Dark secrets, hidden mysteries, disquieting realities, passion and romance… without a doubt this is my favourite YA book of the year. Dark Companion is recommended reading for teen gothic/vampire fiction fans as well as for Jane Eyre fans of any age. Bloody brilliant!
LoveVampires Review Rating: