Amelia Atwater-Rhodes published her first novel, In the Forests of the Night, in 1999 at the age of 14. She has gone on to publish another novel every subsequent year since. In the Forests of the Night tells the story of Risika, a young vampire who still remembers her human life with pain. She finds little pleasure in her vampire life, save visits to watch a captive Bengal tiger in the New York Zoo. But when she runs up against an old and feared rival, Risika must evaluate her own quiet existence.
Risika wasn’t always a vampire. In 1684, she was a normal 17 year-old girl named Rachel. But when she receives a black rose from the mysterious Aubrey, her fate is sealed. She is turned into a vampire to punish her twin brother, and though she initially resists giving in to her new dark side, she eventually succumbs. 300 years later, Risika finds a similar black rose on her pillow, heralding the return of Aubrey and his cruelty to her life. She cannot seem to stop taunting and baiting him, though she knows if it comes to a fight, she cannot hope to win. Haunted by memories of her past and the dangers of her present, she must stand up once and for all, or be run off her land.
While this is not exactly what you may call a ground-breaking novel in the YA vampire genre, its importance lies with Risika as the clear protagonist. All the other characters are clearly secondary, and for once, THERE IS NO ROMANCE! This is just a story about a girl trying to find her place in the world, period. She spends a lot of time in her own head, and her journey is that of understanding her own light and her own darkness: claiming a new identity, if you will. She is a strong character: in her refusal to feed, in her self-inflicted isolation, and eventually in her own power. And no one else helps that to happen, she figures it out all on her own.
The plot premise is difficult – how do you keep one character’s thoughts interesting? – but it’s a short book, and never really has a chance to lag at all. Atwater-Rhodes’ writing definitely matures with her – I find I prefer her more recent books: Hawksong being my favorite. They’re all short, easy reads, and can be enjoyed across the age-range, though I’d suggest middle-readers primarily.