Book Review

Undead And Unwed by MaryJanice Davidson


Title: Undead and Unwed
Author: MaryJanice Davidson
Publication Info: Berkley Sensation 2004
ISBN: 042519485X
Genre: Paranormal

I’ll readily admit that I live under some kind of rock. A rock liberally decorated with cat hair, bookshelves and Sealab 2021 DVDs, but a rock nonetheless. Why do I say this? Until less than a month ago, I had never heard of MaryJanice Davidson.

OK, picked yourself up from the floor yet?

See, I suffer from a mild case of kainolophobia when it comes to romance novels. Almost every hot new breakout author I’ve tried in recent years has, well, bombed for me. It got so that I just about winced every time I picked up something that had generated a lot of buzz. So I quit paying attention to buzz entirely for years and just worked steadily through my TBR stacks, pictured below.

Paperbacks galore! Hardcovers unite!


And as you can see, I still have miles to go before I sleep. The paperbacks are double-stacked so there are twice as many books as what are visible. I figured out that space-saving measure ALL BY MYSELF.

Then Sarah and I started this website. I started paying some attention to buzz again, and of course I encountered MaryJanice Davidson’s name almost right away. Then Sarah offered to mail me her copies of Undead and Unwed and Undead and Unemployed. How could I resist? (And of course, not resisting is exactly how my TBR stacks reached Death Star proportions.)

Anyway, with this author, my trepidation was unfounded. Y’all, Undead and Unwed is so much fun. It’s not really a romance novel despite being marketed as such, and it’s about as substantial as J-Lo’s love affairs, but it’s pretty damn hard to put down once you pick it up.

Not that everybody and their dead dog don’t know the storyline already, but here comes my usual overlong plot summary anyway: Betsy (originally Elizabeth) Taylor is having a pretty tough time. A couple months back, a bunch freaks with bad breath, no sartorial sense and unusually sharp teeth attacked her just as she’s leaving Khan’s Mongolian Grill. But the dentally enhanced thugs are the least of her problems, especially when her thirtieth birthday rolls around. On that happy day, she’s late for work, gets laid off, and then receives a not-too-gentle cranial adjustment from the fender of a car (an Aztek, no less, which is quite possibly the assiest looking car in existence) while attempting to rescue her cat. And to add insult to injury, she rises from the dead a few days later with a mean case of drymouth, which is bad, but for that special hellish touch, she’s wearing her stepmother’s castoffs—including what seem like a pair of cheap shoes. CHEAP SHOES.


Betsy decides this is some sort of weird fluke (and let’s face it, life with only Payless shoes to wear is not a life worth living anyway) and unsuccessfully attempts to off herself in various ways, none of which work because:

a) She doesn’t need to breathe any more; and

b) She heals at speeds that would make Wolverine swoon with envy.

She also finds to her complete horror that she now has a thirst for blood. Besides the major ick factor, her new fangs make her lisp whenever they make an appearance. There’s apparently no dignity to being one of the walking dead.

But there are a few benefits to being a vampire. People, especially heterosexual men, find her irresistible. OK, it’s kind of tiresome having to peel them off her leg every time they look into her eyes and decide WHOA SHE’S REALLY PRETTY, but it’s nice to finally have mojo. Her strength, reflexes and senses are supernaturally enhanced, and she doesn’t have to testify tearfully before Congress about how she got that way. She even makes a new friend when she talks a depressed doctor out of splattering the sidewalk when her supersensitive hearing picks up on his suicidal musings as she walks past a children’s hospital.

But those perks are pretty much outweighed by the assiness of the other vampires, who find her soon enough. There are two major vamp camps in town, and she has to decide whose to go with: the one headed by a preening Bela Lugosi-wannabe with a bad combover named Nostro, or the much-smaller contingent headed by a hot, hunky, terrifically built vampire named Eric Sinclair. (One of them ends up being the bad guy, and the other ends up being the love interest. Try not to let this puzzle confound you for too long.)

The problem is, Betsy doesn’t want anything to do with vampire politics, and her conviction that they’re all freaks with no lives (har) is only strengthened when they tell her she’s the Vampire Queen prophesied by the Book of the Dead. All she wants is to be left alone so she can lead a normal life. Well, normal except for that occasional uncontrollable-need-to-chomp-into-a-human-neck thing. But goddammit, Sinclair is offering her an unlimited supply of designer shoes for her allegiance, and she’s undead, not made of stone…

This book is narrated from a first-person perspective, and I dig Betsy’s voice. She sounds exactly like what she is: a shoe-obsessed, irreverent, street smart (if not necessarily book-smart), wisecracking Super Secretary. It’s to Davidson’s credit that Betsy embodies many things I find irritating in people, both in real-life and fiction, yet I like her anyway. Part of it’s how Betsy doesn’t take anything, including herself, too seriously. Everything’s fair game for her snarking, from vampires skulking around in graveyards (“Ooooh, the CARLSON mausoleum. How sinister! What’s next, a plate of lutefisk and square dancing?”), to her stepmother (“I could not forgive her for chasing my father while he was married, bringing him down like a wounded gazelle, and then marrying the carcass”), to her smarts (“I could have gone to medical school, except for all the math and stuff”).

Then there’s Sinclair. Dude, he’s HOT. But there’s not enough of him in the book. At the end, I know certain basic facts about him (how he turned into a vampire, some bare basics about his background) but not much else. And he’s crazy about Betsy, of course, which is obvious to everyone except Betsy herself. Ultimately, though, he remains something of a cipher, which is a pity, because he provides such a nice foil for Betsy’s good-natured bitchiness.

The secondary characters are mucho fun. There’s Marc, the suicidal physician whom Betsy saves. Marc is gay, and it’s okay ‘cause gay means happy and happy means gay. No, scratch that, he has an anxiety disorder, but eh, he does much better once he moves in with Betsy and gets to be her Gay Sidekick. And hooray for Marc being a doctor—most fictional portrayals of gay men I’ve seen in the mass media involve them being in the arts, and usually the more flaming varieties at that.

Jessica, Betsy’s best friend, is also worth mentioning. She’s black, and damn, I cannot remember the last time I encountered a black person in a romance novel. (Actually, I can’t remember the last time I encountered a black person in ANY kind of fiction since reading Snow Crash three years ago. Hmmmm.) I got a chuckle out of seeing the two of them disagreeing over Gone With the Wind and cracking jokes about the race issue—God knows my friends and I have made some pretty tasteless jokes about the “yellow peril” I represent and my alleged affinity for calculus. I especially like Jessica’s obsession over her “best friend” status because it rings so true. I had a friend in junior high who was very much like that, and lemme tell you, it’s much more amusing to read about it in a book than to experience it in real life.

One aspect of the story has me scratching my head, and it’s Betsy’s antagonism towards Sinclair. OK, he’s pretty high-handed, and Betsy is not always the sharpest knife in the drawer so I didn’t expect her to realize that what she’s interpreting as asshattedness is an overdeveloped protective instinct, but I find her continued antipathy towards Sinclair kind of puzzling since he saves her ass more than once, and he’s hot, and he smells nice, and he provides the most excellent orgasms, etc., etc., etc. Frankly, the antagonism feels kind of forced; I get the sense Davidson is trying to drag on the antics and put off the HEA until later in the series. Nothing wrong with prolonging the sexual tension, but I wish she’d picked a less lame species of conflict on which to base it.

Much as I enjoyed reading this book and had a hard time peeling myself away once I started it, I feel absolutely no urge to re-read it. I think part of it is how it didn’t really engage many of my emotions apart from my sense of humor. It’s fun and fluffy, but just a little bit too fluffy. If the conflict between her and Sinclair had just had a little bit more bite to it (I SWEAR TO GOD I didn’t even notice that pun until I typed it), if I’d gotten a better sense of the other characters besides Betsy, if the resolution to their troubles hadn’t been quite as abrupt—in short, if the book had been a bit more substantial, I think I would’ve liked it even more than I did. As it is, if you’re looking for some funny-ass bitchiness and Snarkywood is down for some reason, this book is a pretty decent substitute.


* Screaming lady image shamelessly stolen and modified from the DVD cover for The Day of the Triffids, which was a pretty scary book that got made into a very campy movie.

Comments are Closed

  1. Meljean says:

    Can I just say, “Yep and Yep!”?

    I read this when it came out from EC, and was thrilled when I’d heard it had been expanded for print release from Berkley, but aside from the introduction of Sinclair’s three honeys, not substantial seemed to be added (even though the word count doubled).

    What I noticed more was what had been taken out: Betsy actually having sex with the cop in the beginning, kissing Tina, the more explicit scene with Sinclair and his ladies—it was all sex stuff, but it seemed to add a bit more to Betsy and her relationship with Sinclair. I realize they toned it down to make it more mainstream, and the addition of the (doomed) Sinclair-lady made Betsy a bit more sympathetic, but I still like that original version better—it felt the right size.

  2. Nicole says:

    Oh yes.  I’m always amazed how MJD can write a character who is SO snarky, annoying and bitchy, yet I can’t stop reading.  I’ve heard that she is upping the sex in her future novels, though.  I still need to get her Secrets stuff.

  3. Candy says:

    I had no idea that Undead and Unwed was reelased by EC before it was published by Berkley. And I’m disappointed that the scenes with Nick and Tina were excised, frankly. Gives me the impression she was trying to sanitize it for the masses. “Oh we CAN’T have Betsy kissing Tina! Then everyone will think she’s *gasp* A LESBIAN.”

    Dangit. Is the original version still available? Because now I want to read it.

  4. Sarah says:

    I disagree on two points: 1, I would have graded it higher because I love to go back and flip through to my favorite scenes (swimming pool – oh yeah!).

    And 2, I think that part of Betsy’s antagonism with Sinclair comes from that overprotectiveness and “follow me, little clueless lady” attitude. While MJD doesn’t expressly say so in the book, when we meet Betsy, she’s got a job and an apartment – though she does get fired from said job – and she’s pretty independent. She doesn’t seem to have any major esteem issues and is good to her parents, has a good relationship with her mom, etc. She’s a happy, self sufficient autonomous woman.

    So for her to be thrown into a situation where she’s both powerful in the literal sense and powerless in the knowledge sense-she’s the Queen but she doesn’t know the rules or particularly want all the responsibility – would be very disconcerting for her, even though she doesn’t master synaptic function to address these concepts specifically.

    Then, to have a masterful, hot, and overbearing sexpot of a dude be all, “Get behind me little girl and shut up and listen to me” would just amplify feelings of inadequacy which she very likely isn’t used to having and most likely couldn’t identify.

    Because, before and after death, she was young, thin, pretty, blonde, possibly also hot, clever, snippy, and wait, why do I like her again? Either way, Betsy isn’t going like like following behind anyone, much less someone she’s attracted to. So for her to be constantly antagonistic to the point of it becoming a habit makes sense.

  5. Candy says:

    See, when you explain it, it makes a lot more sense. Unfortunately, Davidson didn’t nearly as good a job as you did, heh. And yes, Sinclair is definitely overbearing, but I didn’t really get so much of a “shut up and get behind me” kind of a vibe from him so much as a “Holy crap you’re a completely clueless new vampire who’s very probably our long-prophesied queen and you’re fucking some serious shit up so won’t you LISTEN once in a while so you don’t turn any more people into quivering husks of lust oh wait you’re really hot I’ll steal a kiss now thx” kind of a vibe.

    And after seeing what she did to Nick and everything Tina and Sinclair had to do to fix it (especially Tina—aieeeee), I would’ve found it more convincing for Betsy to be a bit more… I dunno. Appreciative? More cognizant of how much she doesn’t know that Sinclair can show her? Plus he saves her ass—multiple times! And she reads his mind while in the pool and he does NOT sound like somebody with an ulterior motive. (I admit I swooned when he thought the bit about how she’s his queen and he’d die for her. Sigh.) He also offered to give up his harem, for her and only her. He’s giving up his major food and nookie source for her! I dunno, I find that pretty swoontastic too.

    So I dunno. I can see where you’re coming from, but to me, her continued antagonism to Sinclair is still pretty unconvincing to me.

  6. Sarah says:

    I can conceed the idea that she’s not properly grateful for the efforts to fix her mess – that grated on me too.

    I also wonder if her previous autonomy also helps craft her inability to express gratitude (am I misremembering that she makes some sort of gesture/mention of thanks to Tina but not to Sinclair?). She doesn’t like having to rely on him or anyone and doesn’t like being directed, even when she is in a position of inferior knowledge.

    Can you tell how much I like Betsy that I’m willing to forgive her a bit.

    And MAJOR swoonage with those two Sinclair moments. My joints get all gooey just thinking about it. *sigh*

  7. Candy says:

    You know, that’s the thing: I don’t think Betsy is the one being the asshead, I feel that Davidson is forcing her to act this way to prolong the conflict for two or three or however many more books—if this makes any sense. My sense of what Betsy is and how she would act is clashing with the way Davidson is making her behave, you know what I mean? Which leads to my irritation. I really dig Betsy too.

    Do I sound like one of those really, really creepy people who talk about fictional characters as if they’re real life people who have an independent existence outside of the books? I am, aren’t I?

  8. Sarah says:

    Or one of those authors who swears her characters “tell” her what to do with them each day. I mean, I understand a personality so well developed it starts to write itself as the writer gets to know that person so intrinsically. But yeah, do you have little Betsys and little Sinclairs sitting on your shoulder saying,“No, I would SO not do that!” That could be creepy.

    But I totally understand what you are saying about your impression of Betsy going against her actions. I do think she is contrary enough to get her back up at the idea of giving Sinclair an inch, but you do raise a good point about inconsistency.

  9. Candy says:

    Yeah, I agree that Betsy is the type who’d delight in flipping someone the bird and going her own way just to be ornery—I just wish Davidson had given her more convincing motivation to act that way.

    I agree about the authors who talk about how their characters dictate how the book goes. The thing that drives me nuts is, 99% of these authors DON’T write character-driven books; a lot of times you can hear the plotting devices clonking and clanking and hissing away in the background, interrupting your reading experience with TSTL moments or conveniently villainous parents who start and then foster Big Misunderstandings, etc. I’m like, “If you talk the talk, then goddammit walk the walk, beeeyotch!”

  10. Sarah says:

    Character-driven books with plotlines advanced by believable character actions are indeed oddly few and far between. However, one of the things I like about “Undead and Unwed” is that a few major things happen to Betsy, and then Betsy starts happening to those circumstances – know what I mean? She got bit and somehow she fulfills a prophecy, but she also doesn’t take all of it from a prone position. Unless said position is required for hot booty call. Which is good. Because dang that Sinclair is a hot one.

    Motivation for Betsy is a difficult thing to pin down, too. I like my investigation into the origins of her personality based on existing context clues (context clues! I got way tired of them in 2nd grade but they are so useful!) but you are right that there are some holes to fill in.

  11. cw says:

    I have the EC version of U&U (and the PB) but haven’t gotten around to reading the “lite” version in paperback. (And since that was the first ebook I ever bought, and there weren’t many reviews of it, that was a total leap of “F- it”!) From what I understood they excised some of the heat (and accompanying characterization) and doubled the wordcount without adding more…“meat”. That sort of sucked out the fun for me, making it more comedic vampire chick lit than the comedic vampire romance I felt it was before. Which is okay, but I miss MJD’s kick-ass *romances* (as in her “Love’s Prisoner”). 😀

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