Heaven, the first book in V.C. Andrews’ beloved Casteel series didn’t exactly wow me upon reading, but I appreciated it more when I did my Grown-Ass V.C. Andrews review. Dark Angel, though? I looked forward to reading this book. Dark Angel is a universal favourite among die-hard Andrews fans, and continues the story of hill-scum Heaven Casteel and her cursed black hair.
AT LAST, HEAVEN WOULD FIND THE HAPPINESS SHE LONGED FOR . . . FREE FROM THE SCORN AND CONTEMPT OF HER PAST!
In her grandmother’s fine, rich Boston house, Heaven Leigh Casteel dreamed of a wonderful new life of new friends, the best schools, beautiful clothes and most important, love. The pearls of culture, wisdom and breeding would now be hers. Soon she would make the Casteel name respectable, find her brothers and sisters, and have a family again.
But even in the world of the wealthy, there were strange forebodings, secrets best forgotten. And as Heaven reached out for love, she was slowly ensnared in a sinister web of cruel deceits and hidden passions!
About Dark Angel
Dark Angel was the last book penned by Andrews herself before her death on December 16th, 2986.
Piking up where the first book left off, Dark Angel follows Heaven’s transition from hill-scum life to her new elite life with her mother’s family in Boston. It quickly becomes a hodgepodge mess of school, a romance in a literal hedge maze, and Heaven’s mission to reunite her family.
My Copy of Dark Angel
I located my review copy of Dark Angel at a thrift store and was thrilled that it was a first edition stepback in quite good condition. No dog-ears, just one crease down the cover and one very faint crease on the spine. Of course, I read this thing while breastfeeding my son at night, so I failed to maintain that quality.
The spine crease deepened as I read BUT IT WASN’T MY FAULT. Just like the knot in my back, once it’s there it’s impossible to not exacerbate the problem.
I love this stepback so much because it’s so simple and so creepy. Unlike other covers, this one shows the house in addition to our protagonist and a looming Tony Tatterton in the background. And while there is no family album featured in the book, I do love what it hints to in the illustration. It’s a wonderful stepback and probably one of the best in the V.C. Andrews canon.
Dark Angel: The Grown-Ass Review
V.C. Andrews’ writing honestly doesn’t do much for me. She can tell a bloody good story, yes, hell yes, but her prose fails to hold my attention. It tells. It ventures down every corridor. It’s like when your best friend tells you a mundane story about an argument with her coworker, but she meanders and sidetracks and you just wanna scream in her face GET ON WITH THE STORY I WANNA KNOW WHAT HAPPENS.
Frustrating prose aside, one can’t help but continue. Why?
BECAUSE V.C. ANDREWS IS YOUR BEST FRIEND
V.C. Andrews is your best fucking friend. V.C. Andrews knows you. She understands you, and she weaves a story that caters to every one of your deepest, darkest, ridiculous tastes. She doesn’t judge you. That’s why you keep reading these books. That’s why you’re here. So let’s dive right into those classic V.C. Andrews tropes and see how Dark Angel holds up.
An Innocent & Pretty, Yet Completely Naive Female Protagonist
Heaven starts this book in her mother’s childhood home, wondering why the hell her mother could ever leave it. Honestly, it’s a great opening that that proves that V.C. Andrews’s can write mood really effectively:
All about me the large house loomed dark, mysterious, and lonely. The shadows whispered of secrets, of incidents best forgotten, and hinted of dangers, but said nothing at all about the safety and security I needed most. This was my mother’s home, my dead mother’s home. The longed-for home that had called to me when I lived in that mountain shack in the Willies; called loud and sweet into my childish ears so I had been beguiled by thoughts of all the happiness waiting just for me, once I was here.page 3
Sure, Andrews has a tendency to abuse commas. Her sentences run on. The above paragraph continues on into oblivion, BUT she writes the house as a character. It does things. Says things. Moves Heaven to act.
Heaven spends much of Part One (the Andrews penned books had parts, yo!) navigating her new life. Her step-grandfather, Tony, oversees Heaven’s day-to-day adventures. The book’s synopsis makes it seem as though he’s supposed to be a domineering figure but Heaven breaks his rules constantly and is never reprimanded for it.
A Rags to Riches Plot
We didn’t get much of this trope in Heaven, but boy oh boy does Dark Angel make up for it. Heaven quickly acquaints herself with her new privileged life at Fathinggale Manor, otherwise known as Farthy. She makes home in her mother, Leigh‘s, old suite and fits herself with new clothes chosen by Tony. The clothes are fancy and noticeably always blue.
Later on, Heaven’s admitted to a prestigious school, which she boards during the week I found the school settings to be the most engaging content in the book. Heaven goes in with her fancy clothes old-school clothes, only to discover that all the cool kids wear worn-out jeans and jackets and stuff. Because you know…
IT’S THE 80s!
Heaven excels in school but fails to make friends. They do the whole high school routine of pretending to be interested while setting her up for failure. In the only scene where Heaven doesn’t don blue, she attends the school dance in a form-flattering crimson dress that’s waaaaaay too formal for the occasion.
The below quote is Tony buying Heaven the dress:
“Yes, indeed, much too mature. But dresses like this aren’t easy to find, and I love this shade of red. This will never go out of style. My ward can wear it ten years from now. When the right woman wears this she’ll seem to be made of liquid fire.”page 144
The dudes flock to Heaven and grab at her for a dance. She enjoys being the centre of attention for once, up until she notices that all the other girls at the dance are staring not out of envy, but in expectation of something. Then a cramp hits Heaven’s stomach.
She tries to leave but the boys keep harassing her for more dances. She quickly realizes that they are in on it too. The cramps worsen and quickly she runs to find a bathroom, only to find all the doors locked.
Turns out the girls spiked Heaven’s drink’s with some laxative. GASP! Heaven narrowly makes it back to her room so she can shit in one of her garment bags.
FOR AN HOUR!
Heaven then chucks the bag full of her diarrhea down the laundry chute and confronts the mean girls for hazing her. The ringleader, Pru, finally agrees to let Heaven join their clique, but only if she does their silly initiation challenge: to slide down the laundry chute and find her way out of the locked cellar.
Heaven takes advantage of the situation, daring Pru to complete the task first, and well, it’s pretty satisfying. She overcomes the bullies at their own game. Few V.C. Andrews protagonists get this kind of joy.
A Vivid Gothic Setting
Farthinggale Manor doesn’t exactly play the role that the book’s opening promises. Heaven spends most of her time in her own suite. The rest of the house comes off as dark and brooding and empty. Of main focus is the goth AF hedgemaze that Heaven finds herself getting lost in one weekend. She discovers a cottage inside the maze, which houses a brooding sexy man named Troy, who is Tony’s young brother:
Mistaking Heaven for a servant, Troy demands that Heaven leave. Heaven then becomes offended because Troy doesn’t appreciate her liquid fire bod in a lustful way. She rages at him for not properly looking at her, but then Troy finally snaps and looks at her CORRECTLY. Lust is shared. Then anger again.
IT IS A GREAT MEET CUTE MOMENT, RIGHT?
Many V.C. Andrews fans love this scene. I found it decent. I like the characterization, even though Heaven comes off as petty and vain. That being said, the scene still annoys my minimalist sensibilities by consuming several pages with only somewhat intriguing but still poorly-written sexual tension:
Even without looking my way, he appealed to me immediately… as if he sent out his need to me… that it was telling me it would be my need too! It also warned me to tread slowly, to be careful, and keep my distance. I didn’t need or want a love affair at this stage of my life. I’d had enough of men forcing sex on me when I wasn’t ready for it. Yet I stood there trembling, wondering what I’d do when he turned full-faced, when just his profile excited me so much. Cynically I told myself that he’d be flawed when I saw all of him, and maybe that’s why he was taking such pains to keep most of his face hidden in shadows.page 42
They argue back and forth but then Troy makes up for his lack of accommodation by serving up some fancy-ass sandwiches and wine. Which is nice, I guess.
I gazed too long at his face, watching the play of the florescent lights on his hair, stared too long at his body, astounded at how responsive my body was just to the sight of him.page 51
Because there’s nothing sexier than florescent lighting. V.C. Andrews really knows how to set an enticing environment.
Throughout the book, Heaven ventures into the hedgemaze to meet up with the forbidden Troy.
BUT WHAT ABOUT LOGAN, YOU ASK?
Logan Stonewall ghosts Heaven for a bit. He dates a few girls because that’s what college bros do. Then, when Heaven seeks him out, he tells her that he’s not into her whole rich girl makeover.
“You don’t seem vulnerable anymore, you seem like you don’t really need anyone or anything.”page 163
Logan accuses Heaven of wanting to bone Tony like she boned Cal. Sure, she’s super hot now but that the real Heaven was “destroyed in Candlewick” after she fell victim to Cal’s grooming.
Understandably, Heaven runs back into Troy’s (NOT Tony’s!) arms. A blizzard overtakes the hedge maze, trapping Heaven with Troy.
PRO TIP: DON’T GIVE YOUR CHARACTERS NAMES THAT START WITH THE SAME LETTER. SUBSEQUENTLY, DO NOT GIVE YOUR CHARACTERS NAMES THAT VISUALLY LOOK THE SAME ON THE PAGE.
They lounge on the floor, eat sandwiches and drink brandy. Troy talks Heaven out of her funk and then shows her the shows her the secret tunnel beneath the cottage that leads her back to the manor. More gothic stuff, yeah!
Throughout the book, Heaven almost bones Troy over and over but Troy always relents. At some point they do hook up for realsies and then Troy confesses that his angst is all about that he gets sick easily and is CONVINCED that he’ll die young.
So brooding. So goth.
A Beloved Doting Paternal Figure
To be honest, I loved Tony. Perfectly menacing, he shadowed over most of Heaven’s antics, though I did find that Heaven got away with a lot of her infractions far too easily. Would have been nice to get just one scene where she was reprimanded for sneaking out, but whatevs.
I kept expecting Tony to make advances on Heaven. Some scenes drew so near to this happening that I was like I CALLED IT, ANDREWS! I SEE YOU!
But nope! Tony’s just a maker of fancy toys (remember the doll from Heaven?) who is invested with maintaining his image like a true VP Arbonne representative.
A Hostile Maternal Figure (+ Bonus Mean Girl!)
Heaven’s grandmother Jillian becomes an elusive character in this book. Obsessed with her appearance, she refuses to admit her real age. Tony (NOT Troy!) tells Heaven that he assumed Jillian was only ten years older than he waswhen he met her, but it was later revealed that she was 20 years older.
Jillian spends much of her time getting beauty sleep, which alienates Heaven, who just wants a legit maternal figure in her life. Jillian also has some weird friction with Troy that is never really understood. From what I gathered, it was because Troy took up a lot of Tony’s devotion or something. It doesn’t really matter so there’s no point in dwelling on it.
In the book’s second half, Heaven takes a convoluted side plot to reconnect with her two younger siblings, Keith and Our Jane (now just Jane). She reunites with Fanny, who sold her baby back to the priest who adopted (and subsequently raped) her and is now prostituting herself for money. Heaven also reunites with Tom who now works at a carnival with her father, Luke, who now owns a travelling circus for some reason.
Heaven heads back to The Willies and finds her grandfather still squatting on the old Casteel land. The old cabin, however, has been demolished and replaced with a new bitchin’ cabin. She also discovers that Logan now cares for her grandpa.
A crazy storm overtakes Winnerow, and Heaven’s car gets stuck in the mud. Logan saves her and brings her back to the cabin, but OF COURSE Heaven gets sick with a horrible flu that leaves her bed-ridden for several days. Logan insists on taking care of her and it’s this weird sort of hostage situation that I found intriguing (I like sexy hostage stories, okay?), save for the fact that Logan sucks the big one and I hate him.
THE BIG REVEAL…
Tony gets all pissed with Heaven for not calling back to Farthy. Turns out Troy gets sick too. (He fell asleep in his house with all the windows open.) Heaven immediately goes back to Boston, only for the massive truth to get blown wide open when Tony reveals that Heaven’s mom Leigh was a hot teenager who was also a total slut whocouldn’t keep herself away from him.
So yeah, Tony slept (ahem, RAPED) Leigh and get her pregnant with Heaven. T
Tony is Heaven’s dad-grandpa.
A Tragic Death
This whole time, Troy’s sickness worsens and eventually Heaven makes her way back to Boston to bone Troy one last time before he runs away. Then, upon hearing that Heaven has discovered the truth that TROY IS HEAVEN’S UNCLE, Troy rides one of Jillian’s prized horses into the ocean and dies.
Heaven’s (now not biological) Grandpa also dies.
Also Tom dies in this HORRIBLE tiger attack at the carnival.
Jillian also goes crazy at the end of the book, which isn’t so much as death as it is another V.C. Andrews trope ticked on the checklist.
Some Good Olde School Misogyny
I didn’t find the misogyny as bad as other Andrews books. Maybe because it wasn’t written by an effin’ man, but this was written in the 80s so that “women gotta be beautiful” sentiment definitely exists here.
Take, for instance, this quote from Jillian:
I sat one evening in Jillian’s room watching her put on makeup, wishing I could talk to her as a mother, or even a grandmother, but the moment I brought up the difficult tests I’d taken that way, she flung her right hand out impatiently. “For God’s sake, Heaven, don’t bore me with talk of school! I hated school, and it was all Leigh could talk about. I don’t know what difference it makes anyway, when beautiful girls like you are so quickly snatched off the market they seldom have use for what brains they have.”page 77
There’s another scene where Jillian gets all horny with Tony and begs to go on another honeymoon IN FRONT OF HEAVEN. In response, Heaven has this sexist revelation:
Were all so acutely turned to their sexual lives that they lost control of common sense when a beautiful woman flattered them? Oh, it was true, Tony didn’t seem like the same man who had templed his fingers under his chin only moment ago.page 84
Lastly, here’s a great beauty tip from dear old Jillian:
“Never go to a woman stylist; men are so much more appreciative of a woman’s beauty and seem to know just what to do to enhance it.”page 85
EXPLAIN TO ME WHY THIS MAN IS SO GOOD AT STYLING HAIR, JILLIAN. MAYBE HE WENT TO SCHOOL FOR THIS. MAYBE HE’S JUST NATURALLY GIFTED. AND UNDERSTANDS HAIR ON A MOLECULAR LEVEL. IT’S CERTAINLY NOT BECAUSE HE WANTS TO BED A WOMAN.
In one of Dark Angel‘s hasty B-plots, Heaven reunites with her younger slutty sister Fanny, who we all remember was sold to the Winnerow reverend and was subsequently raped. After selling her daughter to the reverend and his wife, Fanny left Winnerow and prostituted herself for cash, only to find Heaven to ask for more cash and to also please please please get her daughter back.
Heaven tries to do Fanny a solid. She visits the reverend at his house and the reverend tells his sob story about he couldn’t control Fanny and gave in to her sexual wiles. Heaven threatens to call the police but the reverend gets all typical with his response:
“My congregation will sympathize with me. Knowing that in my own home that wicked, sinful girl did steal int my bed and with her lewd, naked body that she pressed against me, she seduced me, for I am only a man, and a human…pitifully, shamefully human.”page 357
I want to scream because real Christians sympathize with real garbage “Christian” leaders like this ALL THE TIME. It’s rage-inducing, but let’s continue with the scene, in which the reverend reveals more of his misogynistic toxic thinking about women:
“You are the most dangerous kind of female the world can ever know. You carry the seeds of your own destruction, and the destruction of everyone who loves you. And a great many will love you for your beautiful face, for your seductive body; but you will fail them all, because you will believe they all fail you first. You are an idealist of the most devastatingly tragic kind — the romantic idealist. Born to destroy ad self-destruct!”page 359
I mean, I guess Andrews got the whole prophecy aspect of his character down, so props for that? Nevertheless, Heaven fails to procure Fanny’s daughter and Fanny gets angry and that’s about that. Just sisters being sisters.
Some Really Bad Writing
The funny thing is that Andrews’ writing isn’t inherently bad. Not in the purple prose way that Neiderman’s “poser-Andrews” writing is. Andrews attempts to write description but her focus drifts from active characters and onto passive objects, thus making her scenes IMPOSSIBLE to engage with.
Here’s a scene where, after a date with Heaven, Troy tries to avoid talk of marriage:
He turned on his heel, crunching beneath his shoes loose gravel on the flagstone walkway, and with some effort to tactfully get away from me, from the specialness of this night, he gave me his congratulations again from ten feet away, then wished me a good night.page 208
THIS MAKES ME WANT TO FUCKING SCREAM.
Here’s the scene where Heaven confronts Jillian about Tony being her dad-grandpa, which is written so ridiculously that I can’t exactly call it bad so much as it ironically bad. Enjoyably bad, which is, ultimately, V.C. Andrews GOOD:
“Grandmother…” and I said this clearly, sharply, causing her to shudder as she went dead white. “Was Tony the reason why my mother ran from this house?”page 394
Her cornflower blue eyes, so like my own, went wide, stark, bleak, as if I’d snatched the floor from beneath her feet. Gossamer strands of sanity seemed to shred before they snapped behind her eyes, and her hands fluttered helplessly to her face.Her palms pressed tight on either cheek, so tightly her lips parted and from them came screams, terrible, silent screams that tortured her face — and suddenly Tony was there, yelling at me!
This is the best part of the entire book and I cannot recommend it enough!
Fantastic Psychological Horror
With the above prose mentioned, there’s no denying that Dark Angel has got it’s share of psychological horror. It definitely takes a lot of high school drama and stupid tragic romance to get there, but it is there, my friends, and it is good.
Here’s the aftermath of that Jillian confrontation scene, wherein Heaven realizes that her existence has implications:
He carries Jillian to her bedroom, and I watched him lay her carefully on her ivory satin spread, and only then did her mute anguish find its voice.page 395
Over and over she screamed! Hysterical rising and falling screamed that buckled her back and flailed her arms, and as I stood there almost paralyzed by what I’d brought about, I watched the youth peel from her face is if all the time she’d worn a mask of onion peelings.
OH YEAH, and at the very end, Heaven dyes her hair blonde so she can look like her mom to get Luke to notice her, which is what causes the ruckus in the circus that kills Tom in the tiger cage incident.
Dark Angel: My Grown-Ass Final Thoughts
I found that Dark Angel took its sweet time putting Heaven into predicament. I expected this book to contain a lot of deep dark family secrets. Instead, we meander through Heaven’s new life like bored tourists. It wasn’t until Heaven tried to reconnect with her siblings that I really found myself invested.. Tony could have been creepier but he came off as a gross sad-sack loser by the book’s end.
And look, I KNOW that people will hate me for saying this, but Troy felt like a whole lotta filler. That’s just my Grown-Ass opinion. He’s supposed to be hot and brooding. He’s supposed to be a forbidden love, but once Heaven’s relationship with Troy is discovered, nobody even gets all that grossed out by it. Tony even approved of their marriage (which I guess makes sense because he has this ridiculous obsession with keeping the Tatterton Toy Company in the family, and what better opportunity is there to continue the legacy with a paired bond between his brother and his daughter-granddaugther?) but I digress.
To be entirely honest, I would have rather had more shitty Logan being shitty because he’s fun to hate, but that’s just me, right?