“Everything may be the same all around me, but I wasn’t the same girl anymore. I’d fallen in love with a flesh-eating member of a superior race currently living beneath our feet.”
I “met” Kate Evangelista online and helped promote the trailer for Taste. Later, I was able to convince her to send me an ARC of her book so I could review it here. I’m so happy I had the chance to read this book.
Phoenix is a boarding student at the Barinkoff Academy. She has been sent there by her father, a distant and gruff man who is having trouble dealing with his wife’s recent death. The students at Barinkoff Academy have only one strict rule: all students must be off campus and back in their dorms by sundown, or face expulsion. One fateful day, Phoenix unintentionally breaks curfew when she falls asleep in the library and awakens to a dark, silent room. When she tries to sneak out of the school and back to the dorms, she runs into a band of eerily beautiful but dangerous-looking people who call themselves “Night Students.” The leader of the group, Eli, threatens to “taste” Phoenix’s flesh, but a suave and mysterious boy named Demitri comes to her rescue.
On the way back to the dorms, Demitri stops by the chemistry lab and Phoenix meets another Night Student named Dray, who mysteriously gives Demitri a pill. (We later learn this pill helps stave off the urge to eat flesh.) Phoenix’s curiosity is peaked, and the next night she decides to set out on her own to get some answers about who these enigmatic students really are. Before long she discovers several interesting things about them. They are a race called Zhamvy, or flesh eaters, who used to survive by eating human flesh. Now, however, the Zhamvy are forbidden to taste humans, and subsist on a diet of synthetic flesh called yusha. Zhamvy Dray convinces Phoenix to help him with an experiment that will potentially keep the race from dying. What she doesn’t realize at the time is that Dray has infected her with a compound that will turn her into a Zhamvy herself. After passing out from the painful injection Dray has given her, Phoenix awakens to find Demitri by her side, and in an uncontrollable burst of passion, she bites him, unknowingly marking him as her property.
What follows is an emotionally charged narrative as Phoenix learns more about her new friends, meets some enemies, falls in love with not one but two Zhamvy, and comes perilously close to dying. We are introduced to yet another Zhamvy hottie named Luka, who also falls for Phoenix. The drama culminates at the Winter Solstice Festival, where the Zhamvy Prime Minister Vladimir plots to overthrow the royal family and bring justice back to the race by allowing Zhamvy to eat flesh once again. I found myself unable to put down the book once I started. Kate’s writing is impeccable and flows beautifully, except for the occasional foray into overwritten prose (“I pressed a hand to my chest, preventing my heart’s attempt to burrow its way out.”) I love stories that take place in boarding schools, and this one had me hooked from the start for that reason alone. The characters all have the right mix of charm, mystery and flaws to hold the reader’s interest, and the romance is well done and leaves you wanting more. I especially liked the character of Preya, Phoenix’s roommate at the academy. She was feisty and interesting, and I wish there had been more of her in the story.
Kate’s creativity is abundant. I loved many of the unique touches to the story, such as the fact that each Zhamvy has his own unique scent, like honeysuckle or apples. And the word itself, “Zhamvy,” evokes images of zombies but with Kate’s own unique twist to zombie mythology. We also discover that Zhamvy City is located under Barinkoff Academy, which is why the Zhamvy can stay hidden. I’ll have to admit I was a bit confused by this, although Kate does a great job of describing the hidden elevator that takes you underground, it was still hard for me to picture. And even though I also felt the “flesh eating” descriptions were too vague, I can see why the author chose to keep her story free of the usual zombie gore. It wasn’t really needed, and after all, the Zhamvy are civilized.
One touching moment involves Phoenix re-connecting with her father near the end of the book. In a running subplot, we learn that Phoenix’s mother died of unknown causes, and the doctors were unable to save her. Phoenix spends most of the book trying to make up for this by helping Dray save the Zhamvy.
Except for the rather abrupt ending, I liked the pacing throughout. What’s clear to me after reading Taste is that Kate Evangelista has writing chops and has actually studied and practiced her craft. For that I am very grateful, and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.
Many thanks to the author for supplying a review copy.