A boy crazy college co-ed finds herself torn between several supernatural studs

“I’m a senior at a small Southern college and I never thought this would happen to me.” Thus should begin Strange Loves: Vampire Boyfriends, the new interactive romance novel by Tin Man Games. This so-called send-up of the supernatural romance genre uses the choose-your-own-adventure model to confuse its audience and offer up an abundance of cliches, cheesy storylines and schlocky endings.

Vampire Boyfriends is about a young woman on the verge of adulthood, with one year left to go at a college in North Carolina. Once you’ve named her and given her a college major, you get her ready for the first day of school. Things of course vary depending on your first few choices, but no matter which foundation you lay, two things remain constant: your squeal-prone besties, Cindy and Alyssa, and a parade of impossibly gorgeous men all ready to throw themselves at your feet.

Strange Loves: Vampire Boyfriends     Strange Loves: Vampire Boyfriends

Alright, now it’s only fair I admit I’m not a romance novel kinda girl. I do however, enjoy things like Anne Rice’s vampire trilogy and the Sookie Stackhouse novels. Further, I’m a fan of the choose your own adventure stories and I’m always down for a good vampire tale. With that in mind, I went into Strange Loves: Vampire Boyfriends expecting to really enjoy it. Boy, was I disappointed.

Romance novels are about fantasy (duh) and it’s interesting to recognize what they suggest about women’s fantasies. Naturally there’s a sexual aspect to things, but most women fantasizing about the ideal man have more in mind than just the physical. (I remember seeing a greeting card years ago, where a woman hired a male prostitute—to vacuum and listen to her talk. The fact that so many women identified with that card and thought it hilarious is fairly telling.) Granted, Vampire Boyfriends indulges in a good amount of corny, Stephenie Meyer-ish description of its handsome hunks (lots of “chiseled jawlines” and “chocolate brown eyes”) but it also points to ideal male behaviors. For instance, there’s one gorgeous male vampire who not only wants to marry the main character on sight, he’s also “passionate about celebrity gossip”. Yeah, as if.

What becomes clear the more read-throughs of the story you do, is that Tin Man Games thinks all women really want is for a guy—an extremely ripped, sexy guy with a huge bank account—to commit. You can make the main character a theater major or a vampire hunter, you can make her a goody-goody or as evil as they come, but as far as the whole instant soul-mate thing goes, it all comes to about the same thing. Yes, there are some choices that result in abrupt and horrible endings, but the main goal it seems, is to achieve the “happily ever after.”

Well, to be fair, there are a few side goals. In addition to seeking out a handsome, rich, loyal husband, the main character spends her time talking about clothes and cute boys and doing a fair amount of squealing with glee. Call me crazy, but when she’s first presented, the main character’s shown as a smart, ambitious young woman. In light of that I ask you, what kind of smart, ambitious young woman spends so much energy on those kinds of things? Or on trying to impress strange men and their mothers? Tin Man does no justice to their heroine and their presentation of her is fairly insulting in its  thirteen-year-old girl-ness. Then again, maybe the stories are supposed to be for the tween set? No wait—the steamy sex scenes peppered throughout them would probably preclude that.

 Strange Loves: Vampire Boyfriends     Strange Loves: Vampire Boyfriends

Though written in a highly juvenile way, Vampire Boyfriends also presents itself as a book for an adult audience, mostly due to its suggestive sex scenes. While containing nothing explicit, these scenes are unlikely to be something most parents would want their kids to read. There’s a strange blend of Barbie Super Model and Fifty Shades of Grey going on here; a tween sensibility mixed with fire-setting sex scenes that’s frankly, somewhat baffling.

Content aside, Vampire Boyfriends works fine as a choose your own adventure kind of story. It also has some nice black and white scratchboard illustrations (the more you read, the more you see). Bookmarks can be placed at critical points so if you’re unhappy with the results of a choice, you can start again from that point and take the other path. There’s also a pointless inventory that shows the things you’ve collected and the things you know, an even more pointless campus map and an Achievements gallery with icons to commemorate the high points of each story thread.

Strange Loves: Vampire Boyfriends calls itself a send-up, but doesn’t present its case convincingly. In place of clever commentary on the supernatural romance genre, we get self-conscious references to romance novels and other pop culture phenomena that’s simultaneously unsuitable for kids and too childish for adults. And although it functions well as a multi-threaded adventure with multiple endings, it fails to create a heroine compelling and believable enough to render those multiple threads and endings worth reading.