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Night School: Number 1 in series

Night School - C.J. Daugherty I liked Night School. But I say that with a massive caveat. (More on that later.) So, Night School and upcoming Night School sequel: you and your ratings are on probation. The synopsis is fairly ambiguous as to the genre of the novel. It drops hints about a strange boarding school and a mysterious loner guy, but is evasive on the specifics. Even the cover looks like it would be home among a shelf of paranormal romances. So while I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say this, I’ll put in spoiler tags all the same: Night School is not a paranormal romance. Which I appreciated, but I suspect might disappoint others.If you didn’t click on that spoiler, it’s going to be somewhat difficult to discuss the plot of the novel without giving it away, so bear with me as I attempt to dance around it. Night School relies heavily on intrigue and suspense. By creating an atmosphere of vague threat and unease, and by alluding to mysterious goings-on all around the central character, Daugherty sets up a fairly compelling premise. It’s hard not to wonder what, exactly, this school is hiding and how Allie has landed in the middle of it. The unsettling vibe of Cimmeria Academy is well done, and the “all is not what it seems” undercurrent is sufficient to keep the initial pages turning. That said, I’m not entirely sure the tension and mystery is enough to sustain the 451 pages of the book. To be fair, a lot of this time is used to set up character relationships so that they can effectively be broken down and convincingly illustrate Allie’s confusion as to who to trust. Daughtery does a good job of making everyone a suspect. However, that doesn’t change that fact that, well.. not a lot happens. There’s a fair amount of repetition to Allie’s routine (it is boarding school, after all) and the lack of and space between the action scenes compounds the issue of plot drag. I found enough tension to hold my interest, but reader mileage will vary on that front. At the end, Night School gives some partial answers, but leaves the majority of questions unresolved, while raising even more question marks. The premise is somewhat far-fetched, but it’s one I like, so I’m willing to suspend some belief pending the follow up book. There’s a slightly detached, cool quality to Daughtery’s writing. Night School is written in third person and I think this works for the story, although the reader is somewhat distanced from Allie. We’re still given insight into her character, while never completely getting inside her head. It’s a plot driven novel, and while Allie undergoes considerable development throughout, the focus is primarily on the secrets she finds herself caught up in. Nevertheless, there’s a toughness to Allie that I liked. She’s a character with assertiveness and drive, and she has agency beyond being buffeted between the brooding gazes of the love interests. (Although, of course, that happens).Now, on to that caveat: Bloody hell. I can’t believe I have to say this: would-be date-rapists are NOT LOVE INTERESTS. No, okay. Just no. A guy who, by his own admission, encourages a girl to keep downing alcohol, then takes her outside and engages in pushing her into a situation she’s clearly not into, and only stops when he’s interrupted, is not a love interest. Hear that? I have NO SWOONS to give. NO EFFING SWOONS. And although this character later apologises for his actions, and Allie calls him out on them, its going to take a metric crap-tonne of contrition to bring this character back in the realm of my good graces, although I have a suspicion that he may figure in the follow up book in the obligatory romantic tangle. Actually, while we’re on this subject, it would be remiss of me not to mention that almost all of the male characters engage in some level of tosser-like behaviour at some point. Even the other potential love interest displays some less than desirable conduct, and its these type of interactions throughout the novel that are the main source of conflict as to how to rate it. Having not realised that Night School was not a standalone, I was pretty irritated to reach the final page only to find out I still had a plethora of questions to answered. However, I do want them answered, so I will pick up the sequel. Additionally, the Doc Martens scene at the end of the book was a nice touch, and the promise of some Allie kick-assery yet to come is a welcome note to conclude on. Fingers crossed she delivers.