“In Secret Lives, the first installment in the Darke Academy series, Cassie Bell has spent most of her life in a children’s home having been abandoned by her mother who didn’t want her. When she wins a scholarship to the prestigious Darke Academy she hopes to make a fresh start. She soon finds herself out of her depth with the wealthy elite students, particularly a mysterious group known as the Few. Beautiful and intimidating, the other students seem to be in awe of the Few and covet a place among them while the teachers secretly fear them.
Cassie finds a friend in her roommate Isabelle as well as Jake Johnson. However, one night while wandering the corridors, Cassie is puzzled to witness Jake prowling the corridors. She is filled with a sense of foreboding when Isabelle explains that Jake’s sister, Jessica (a scholarship student like Cassie) died in mysterious circumstances the previous year and Jake is bent on finding answers and bringing those responsible to justice. Cassie finds herself attracted to the distant elusive leader of the Few, Ranjit, whom she later discovers was Jessica’s boyfriend. Cassie in turn finds herself pursued by the irascible Richard who is a member of the Few. In search of answers, Cassie uses Richard’s interest in her to find out what secrets the Few are guarding so jealously.
Cassie realises she’s bitten off more than she can chew when she’s abducted by several hooded members of the Few and comes to discover that the answers she sought are beyond her wildest nightmares. Will Cassie make it out alive and at what cost?
A secret elite academy, a mysterious death, demonic initiation rituals with sinister methods of feeding, gloomy catacombs set against the backdrop of Paris sum up this young adult urban fantasy novel which is aimed strictly at younger teens. I had originally assumed that the Few were vampires so the demonic angle came as a surprise. There are some tense moments throughout the book as Cassie tries to get to the truth. The prologue in particular was creepy and terrifying as Jessica desperately tries to flee from her ruthless pursuers.
My only problem was with the main character who I found to be at times extremely annoying. Granted she has had to learn to take care of herself as a consequence of being abandoned by her mother at a young age and then bullied in the children’s home she grew up in. I found her disparaging, judgemental, irrepressible and obnoxious in her pursuit of answers.
Great original plot however – I was reminded of Melissa de la Cruz’s Blue Bloods and Claudia Gray’s Evernight series. Instead of vampires we have demons inhabiting human hosts who suck the life force of humans to survive. The idea of an academy that never stays in one place but moves around every term is also a clever twist. There's a pulsing beauty and an undeniable air of arrogance of those that only know how to live the charmed and glamorous life. I’m looking forward to reading the next installment to learn more about some of the characters as well as how Cassie deals with the conniving malevolent Estelle’s influence on her.”