A review of Sierra Dean’s The Secret Guide to Dating Monsters (Samhain Publishing Ltd., 2011)
By Derek Newman-Stille
Named “Secret” and a person at the crossroads of many secrets, Secret McQueen is a bounty hunter you will enjoy. Secret is a hybridised half vampire, half werewolf and treated as a second class citizen by the vampires she works for due to only sharing half of her identity with them. She would be treated even worse if they knew that the other half was not human, but the creature that vampires view as totally loathsome – the werewolf. In a world where vampires and werewolves are hidden from the public, Secret stands at the bridge between two hidden groups, blanketed in human disbelief for the supernatural. In order to keep the existence of the supernatural from humanity, Secret has become a bounty hunter for the vampires, suppressing any risks of exposure. She is a guardian and gatekeeper of whispered supernatural truths.
Secret’s human friend Mercedes has been able to find out about her werewolf side, but has an intense hatred for vampires, whose existence she has discovered. Her intolerance forced Secret to repress and suppress her vampiric side around one of her few friends.
In The Secret Guide to Dating Monsters, Sierra Dean deals with issues of being an inter-racial person, abstracting the social pressures encountered by inter-racial people onto the inter-monstrous figure of Secret McQueen. Like many inter-racial people, she is trapped between her identities, suspended in a place of intolerance by both sides where she is forced to find her own identity, and often hide aspects of herself. If the racist vampire council knew about her werewolf side, she would experience further workplace discrimination (which she is already experiencing for being only half vampire). She is constantly forced to “pass”, to pretend to be fully something that she is not – whether it be human, werewolf, or vampire. She is trapped in a constant need to pretend, to act, and to only express parts of her dual heritage.
Secret finds she has difficulty finding dates since she can never be totally honest with a lover, always having to hide some part of her identity from groups intolerant toward inter-racial people. She even notes at the start of the narrative “As a general rule, people don’t like to date monsters”, opening the story to the challenges involved in having to play something one is not.
The theme of playing identity, and performing identity is further expressed by the person Secret is sent to hunt, an actor who plays vampire roles in Hollywood movies… who happens to actually BE a vampire. Here is a character who is playing an actor playing himself, a lie trapped inside a truth. The actions of this vampire, abusing his power to control women and using his vampiric gaze to take away the decision-making abilities of the women he tries to seduce, he risks exposing the secrets of the vampiric world in addition to taking away the identity and selfhood of his victims. Secret has to suppress the risk of exposure posed by this vampire, but she takes a secret pleasure in doing so because slaying this vampire would do society as a whole a favour.
You can explore Sierra Dean’s work on her website at http://www.sierradean.com/ . You can purchase The Secret Guide to Dating Monsters in ebook format from Amazon, iTunes, or Kobo or by visiting the Samhain Publishing website at http://store.samhainpublishing.com/sierra-dean-pa-1639.html