Tantalize, by Cynthia Leitich Smith

I have loads of horror/fantasy novels on my shelves—everything from Carmilla to Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell—but Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Tantalize is unique: it stands alone as the only book that has ever inspired me to genuinely freak out. I’m a pretty unflappable person, but when I saw the words “chilled baby squirrels, simmered in orange brandy, bathed in honey cream sauce” on the restaurant dessert menu featured on page 174, I needed to lie down. Ew, ew, ew....

The baby squirrels weren’t the only sign that this wasn’t going to be your average YA dark fantasy novel. (Although they were the grossest—does anybody actually eat baby squirrels? I would Google this, but I’m not sure I want to know the answer.) Tantalize features a genuine sense of foreboding, contrasted with the frenetic atmosphere of a major restaurant opening. This unusual combination made for a constantly surprising and highly effective horror story.

The heroine of Tantalize is an ambitious young woman named Quincie Morris*. Quincie has two goals in life: she’s determined to seduce her hybrid-werewolf best friend Kieren and make a success of Sanguini’s, the Italian restaurant she inherited from her dead parents, even if that means transforming it from a respectable family joint into a vampire-themed extravaganza. Unfortunately, when Kieren proves tough to seduce and Sanguini’s head chef is brutally murdered mere weeks before the restaurant’s big re-opening, Quince discovers that hard work and willpower may not get her as far as she’d hoped.

The creepiest thing about Tantalize (apart from the squirrels) was how disturbingly plausible it was. Quincie loses control of her life by teaspoons. She’s an intelligent, put-together young woman who does everything she’s supposed to, but things keep sliding past her guard. The people around her shift from friend to foe, and it becomes increasingly clear that she’s not sophisticated enough to understand their true motives. The werewolves and vampires might be imaginary, but I suspect that teenage readers (or readers that clearly remember being teenagers) will have no problem identifying with Quincy’s sense of vulnerability, helplessness, and dread.

*Named after Quincy Morris, the Texan character in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and just as lucky in love as her namesake!
Posted by: Julia, Last edit by: Julianka


18 Feb, 2007 11:08 AM @ version 0

I don't know about having them for dessert, but people do eat squirrels. My grandmother has some old White House cookbooks that feature squirrel recipes!

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