Free will. Some have called it the greatest gift bestowed on humanity. […] Others say free will is a crap myth. (Prologue.1-3)
These are the first lines of the book, which lead you to believe that fate and free will will be a more important theme than it actually turns out to be. Although there's a lot of talk about it early on—and maybe it will come back in a future book—it's a fairly minor theme in this installment.
I, personally, don't believe in this crap. I say I control my destiny and my life. (Prologue.9)
Nick is required to say this, because a protagonist who thinks that has no control over his life would be pretty hopeless to read about. But what's the reality? How much control does Nick really have, if you think about it?
I am what I have become because of the interference and secrets of one creature. Had things been done differently, my life would have been a whole other enchilada. I would not be where I am today and I would have had a life worth living instead of the nightmare my life has become. (Prologue.12)
Does Nick not realize that he is contradicting what he just said about controlling his own destiny and life? It's possible the person talking here is actually future Nick, who goes by the alias Ambrose. By going back into the past, Nick wants to see if he can change his own destiny. (But then wouldn't the future be different, anyway? So how could future you go back in the past to fix things if things have already been fixed, and future you is already just fine? Don't ask us.)
His mom had already road-mapped his entire future with no diversions or pit stops allowed. (1.12)
As a teenager, it can be especially difficult to believe that you have any sort of free will, since your parents control everything you do. And when you're parents aren't controlling you, then there's school. And then at school, there is the terrifying, Darwinian nature of social life that controls you, too. Yikes.
You were human once too with no knowledge of your true birth or destiny. (7.156)
This is Acheron thinking to himself. That whole paragraph from the prologue about the freight train was Acheron's theory of free will, as explained to Nick. So it makes sense that Acheron feels he has a destiny. He feels his own life is mostly out of his control.
What irony, really. The fate of the entire world, of humanity and demonkyn, was in the hands of a fourteen-year-old boy who had no idea of the untapped powers he'd been born with. (11.43)
Nick may not believe in fate, but other people—and demons—sure do. And they think that their only hope is Nick. That is sure to change Nick's life in ways that are somewhat out of his control.
But he had no choice. When he was summoned, he had to obey. Those were the rules and any hesitation would only end badly for him. (11.5)
Caleb is also a victim of fate. He is being controlled by Nick's father. One of the only ways he can rebel against his harsh master is to try and change Nick's fate. So it turns out he has some free will, after all, right?
Nick Gautier had no idea how the random small decisions he was making right now would turn him into the beast Ambrose had become. (13.175)
Perhaps the Nick in the prologue is actually Ambrose. He got to be Ambrose by accepting his fate and letting it carry him down a dark path. But now, Ambrose wants to change his own fate by encouraging Nick to make different decisions.
"Unfortunately, Nick, you are living my life and God help us both, we're making all new mistakes." (18.217)
Maybe free will takes the form of mistakes, because these "mistakes" could change Nick's fate. Maybe we have a certain path or destiny, but we're still presented with multiple choices along the way that gives us chances to exercise some free will. It might be limited free will, but it's still free will.
Destiny is a freight train rolling along on a set course that only the conductor knows. When we get to the railroad crossing in our car, we can choose to stop and wait for the train to pass us by, or try to pull out in front of it and beat that bad boy across. That choice is our free will. […] If it is our destiny to be hit by the train, we will be hit by the train. The only thing we can change is how the train turns us into hamburger. (Prologue.4-7)
This is a good explanation of the complicated relationship between fate and free will. Is it really free will if your fate is still predetermined? Is there some kind of middle ground between fate and free will? Maybe we have a little of both?
My best bud, Acheron, once explained it to me like this. (Prologue.4)
When you first read the book, you care about what Acheron has to say about fate and free will. But thinking back on this quote, you realize that Nick is calling Acheron his "best bud." We're not sure when exactly they'll become friends, because they only hang out once in this book. It looks like they reach BFF status eventually, even though many people warn Nick to say away from Acheron.
"I just wanted to say that you should be very careful with what you learn from others and who you let into your life." (4.36)
This is good advice for anyone, but it's even better advice when your friends might be demons from another dimension.
"He's the best friend you'll ever make or your last enemy." (7.74)
This is said to Nick about Acheron. And by the end of this book, we're still not sure which Acheron is: best friend or enemy. Nick calls Acheron his "best bud" early on, but he also wishes he'd never met him. Maybe they're more frenemies than friends?
"My enemy's enemy is my friend." (9.36)
With demons, vampires, and other monsters on the loose, friendships can feel more like alliances against a common enemy. Is that still friendship? Maybe the beginning of friendship?
"What are you?"
"Your friend. Always. I'm the only being you'll ever be able to trust."
Bullcrap. The only person he could fully trust was himself. (10.52-10.54)
This little exchange is ironic. Nick says he can only trust himself. What he doesn't realize is that "Uncle Ambrose" is he himself from the future. So, yeah, he can trust Uncle Ambrose, because they're the same person.
"I'm on your side, Nick. You don't have many friends, and even fewer you can trust." (10.65)
Caleb is right when he says this to Nick. Although it again sounds like they're talking about being business partners instead of friends, they're one and the same when you're side by side facing off against zombies.
"In the case of Caleb, he's your protector. He would die to keep you safe." (16.6)
In war situations, even if the war in question is against a gaggle of zombies, brothers in arms become the best of friends. What is it about a tense situation like this that makes people bond more quickly than they would otherwise?
"It's why some of us haven't been real welcoming to you. We don't like being with mundanes who don't know about us. No offense." No offense? Most of them had been royal jerks to him. (16.131-16.132)
This is a flimsy excuse from some of the popular kids about why they've been cruel to Nick. While they won't be his enemies now that Nick knows their secret, we can't imagine they'll all be friends, either.
In the end, nothing could be crueler than leaving Stone to live his putrid life of false friends and petty jealousies. Friends who didn't really like him. Who only wanted to use him for what they could get. (18.9)
Nick makes a very astute observation. Popularity isn't important. What really counts is having friends who genuinely care about you, not the number of people you have in your social circle.
His enemies were the ones who told him lies under the guise of being his friends. The ones who wanted him to be like them. To ruin his life and throw away everything he'd worked so hard to become. (18.28)
We're not sure who Nick is talking about here, because he hasn't yet been betrayed by anyone who says they're his friend. But it's good that Nick realizes that this is a possibility in order to keep it from happening in the future.
Made up of three small rooms—the kitchen/living room, his mom's bedroom, and the bathroom—it wasn't much, but it was theirs and his mom was proud of it, so he tried to be proud too. Most days. (1.30)
As proud as Nick's mom tries to be of what little they have, Nick has a hard time keeping up with her positivity. He doesn't like his situation at all, and he wants to change things. It's not easy to be the poor kid in school, even if you're not at a hoity-toity school for rich kids.
What would it be like to live that way? He'd always wanted a dog, but since they could barely afford to feed themselves, a pooch was out of the question. (1.129)
Nick's situation is pretty bad. He and his mom don't just have to scrimp and save to be able to afford clothes; sometimes they can't even afford food. That's a terrible situation to be in.
He always mispronounced Nick's last name. He said it "Go-chay" instead of the correct "Go-shay." The difference being "Go-chay" traditionally had an "h" in it after the "t" and, as Nick's mom said so often said, they were too poor for any more letters. (1.58)
At least Nick and his mom are able to make jokes about their situation. It makes it a little less difficult to live the way they do when they have a sense of humor about it. Does being poor, in a certain way, make Nick and his mom a little stronger than others?
"There's nothing wrong with that shirt. Wanda told me at the Goodwill store that it came in from one of those big mansions down in the Garden District." (1.4)
Nick's family is poor, but they really want to be rich. Nick's mom seems to think she can be wealthy through osmosis. She only buys this tacky shirt because it comes from a rich family.
"Ew! Gross! He's dripping wet. Is he too poor to own a towel? Don't poor people ever bathe?" (1.65)
These poor jokes are cheap. Pardon the pun. Anyway, it just goes to show you how nasty and petty people can be, even about things—like how much money your family has—outside of anyone's control. Speaking of which, why is it that the privileged kids are so nasty?
"One day, Mom, I'm going to buy us a really nice house." With really nice stuff in it. (1.33)
Money can't buy happiness, but it can buy stuff. And Nick thinks that stuff will make him and his mom even happier.
"I just wish I made enough money that you didn't have to work too. If you'd been at home…" (2.130)
Nick's mom feels very guilty that she can't provide more for her son. Her guilt about being poor is made worse when Nick gets hurt. She thinks he got hurt because he has to work a part-time job; if she had more money, he could just be a kid like the other kids and stay out of trouble.
"Let me put it to you this way…money doesn't solve your problems. It just brings new ones to your door." (6.99)
We're not sure what these problems are that Kyrian has. Sometimes monsters try to kill him, but monsters try to kill Nick, too, and it's a lot harder to deal with monsters when you're poor. Kyrian, at least, can afford better weapons.
"There's nothing you can steal from me that I can't replace. Things mean very little to me." (6.137)
What was that Kyrian was saying about problems? His new problems are very easy to solve, simply by throwing money at them. Maybe we'll find out more about Kyrian's tough life in the later books of the series.
His jaw went slack as they pulled up to a gate that opened into what had to be the biggest house he'd ever seen. It was a huge Grecian-style home with Doric columns supporting what seemed to be a never-ending porch. Top and bottom. (6.54)
Kyrian is different not only because he's a supernatural creature of sorts, but also because he's crazy rich. Going to his house means that Nick is out of his comfort some in more ways than one.
Nick felt the color drain from his face. This couldn't be happening. They were mugging two tourists? (1.256)
Nick has violent tendencies, but he rationalizes these tendencies by only being violent toward people he thinks deserves it. These two tourists are innocent, so Nick is aghast that his friends attack them—and so he defends the tourists.
Before he could think better of it, Nick swiped him upside the head with his backpack as hard as he could. (1.78)
When Nick is stressed out or feels threatened, his first reaction is to turn violent. This will become a problem for him later on. He might have an easier time resisting the dark side if he were more levelheaded.
One day…one day he was going to get out of this hellhole. Even if he had to kill someone to do it. (1.194)
Nick is pretty desperate to change his lifestyle. Early on, it feels like this could be foreshadowing—like, Nick might have to kill someone to escape. But it turns out that he doesn't, so this line is simply characterizing Nick as a character who has no problem with violence if it acts as a means to an end.
Alan laughed as he squeezed the trigger. (2.1)
Alan is a bad guy because he takes joy in the violence he commits. When Nick was fighting at school, he didn't seem to enjoy it. That's one thing that makes Nick different from the zombies and the bullies.
On the one hand he was horrified the man had been eaten. On the other…he was strangely happy. The sanctimonious pig kind of deserved it. (4.215)
Nick always wanted his school principal gone, so he's glad when the dude gets eaten. That's a violent end for anyone, even someone you don't like, so it's a little shocking that it makes Nick happy. But violence isn't a big deal for him—and that's even before he finds himself needing to fight zombies.
Rosa grabbed the cleaver in her right hand before he could. His jaw went slack as she took the carving knife into her left and held the two of them like a pro as she faced their intruders. (7.2)
Is everyone in this book a trained assassin? Nick is shocked to see Rosa, the housekeeper, wield a pair of sharp knives like a pro. She's handy for food prep and for slicing and dicing bad guys.
"That's exactly what I'm talking about. That's the evil that's seducing you. […] You have to let that anger go before it's too late. Vengeance always turns inward and it will consume you until nothing's left by an empty hole that nothing can fill." (16.40)
A key conflict in the book is one that Nick isn't entirely aware of. It seems that if he lets his anger and vengeance control him, then he will become a Malachai, which is this book's equivalent of going to the Dark Side with Darth Vader. Ambrose, who is Nick from the future, is trying to guide Nick away from this violent path.
"Now take your vengeance on the ones who've mocked you. Kill them and eat their brains." (17.159)
Here we see the bad guys baiting Nick to come to the dark side. They want him to wreak vengeance against one of the bullies who's got it out for him. Nick's future pivots on this one violent act, and luckily, he doesn't commit it.
The ancient warrior and predator inside him wanted to hunt them down and kill them for what they'd done. (2.213)
The only reason Kyrian doesn't pursue Nick's attackers is that he must rush Nick to the hospital. Does this mean Kyrian is evil? The book casts violent revenge as a Very Bad Thing, and that's exactly what Kyrian is considering here. Or is this all okay because of the fact that Kyrian is avenging someone else?
They'd barely moved before Madaug fired at the zombies outside. The rocket exploded in the door, sending glass and zombie parts everywhere. Green and red ooze streaked through the night. (14.53)
Every action story needs a gratuitous rocket launcher blast. This one is overkill, and it ends up putting the team at a disadvantage. If you're barricading yourself inside a building, it helps if the building has a front to it.
So much for not getting into trouble. But what was he supposed to do? Let the weasel scum insult his mom? (1.87)
Nick will sacrifice himself to protect his mom's reputation, even though Stone doesn't technically say anything that isn't true about her.
From what he'd seen, the kid was a tough little scrapper. He'd give him that. And the boy could take a vicious beating without begging for mercy. There weren't many adults who could have gone through what he had without crying. That alone made him respect the kid. (1.213)
Kyrian has tons of money, so he doesn't seem to care who has it and who doesn't. He is drawn to people whom he respects or admires. And Nick, lucky for him, happens to be one of those people.
If it wasn't the shirt, they'd humiliate him over something else. His shoes. His haircut. And if all else failed, they'd insult his name. […] Didn't matter what he said or did, those who mocked would mock anything. (1.24)
Nick has found himself at the bottom of the social totem pole, and that means that everyone is free to pick on him simply because he's unpopular. And he's unpopular because people pick on him. It's a vicious cycle. But that sure is how it works in high school.
"I am a socially awkward mandork." (1.1)
This is our first line in chapter one, which lets us know right off the bat that having a reputation is important to Nick…and that he doesn't have a good one. Although we can think of several things worse to be than a "mandork."
"If anyone sees me in this, I'll be an outcast relegated to the loser corner of the cafeteria." (1.3)
We wonder if the loser corner of the cafeteria is cordoned off from everyone else. Is it separated by a moat? Who are these losers in the corner? Nick acts like every single person in the school is popular except for himself.
Wow […] he didn't sneer her name. He actually said it like he respected her. (2.93)
Nick isn't used to people treating his mother with respect. She is a stripper, so people generally treat her like nobody, or worse. But Kyrian sees her as a person, either because he's not the type of guy to dehumanize strippers or because he knows she is the mother of Nick, who could one day becomes a powerful being.
His mother sighed. "That man is your father and you're supposed to be asleep, young man." (4.67)
Nick's mom goes back and forth with her attitudes toward Nick's father. Sometimes he's a horrible evil jerk, and she doesn't want Nick to be anything like him. Sometimes she demands Nick respect him, anyway.
"I have enough trouble coping at school. I'm pretty sure killing three members of the football team when we're coming up for a championship would ruin my rep forever." (5.113)
Even when zombies are on the loose, Nick is worried about his reputation at school. When you're a teenager, reputation is everything.
The only respect he wanted was from himself and the people who really mattered in his life. The people who really loved and cared about him. (18.22)
In the end, Nick's decision all comes down to respect. All that fretting about getting the popular crowd to respect him is thrown out the window because Nick realizes he doesn't care about those people's opinions, even if they like him.
He was not his father. He would never be like that man. (1.223)
Ah, that answers our previous question. But we're still not sure what Nick's problem is with his father. All we know is that Nick is glad he is not in the picture.
I'm the man of the family. It was his job to protect her. It was all he knew. (1.178)
Here the fact that Nick's mom is a single mother is alluded to, and it helps explain why the two are so protective of one another. But why is Nick's dad out of the picture? Does Nick think he is better off without his dad in the picture anymore?
He could handle insults directed at him. It was the ones against his mom that elevated him to fighting mad. (1.121)
Nick is very protective of his mother. She is also very protective of him, so it's a relationship that works out well.
Adarian Malachai was his father and he was a monster. (4.63)
With Nick's attitude toward his dad being totally negative, this sentence makes sense on that level. But we'll later learn that Nick's dad actually is some sort of monster. Any reference to a monster in this book is literal as well as metaphorical.
"My parents died a long time ago. And you know the sad thing? I still miss them every day. […] I swear to you, you'll miss them when they're gone." (6.112)
This sentence feels like foreshadowing. We doubt Nick would care if his dad died, but he would be devastated if anything happened to his mother. She's fine in this book, but we wonder what her fate looks like in the rest of the series.
The true monsters in this world, the people like his dad, were real and human through and through. Which was what made them so dangerous. (6.8)
This is a good line, but keeping in mind what we said earlier about the literal monsters in this world, this isn't exactly true. When we later get to know Nick's father a little more, we learn that he isn't entirely human. Does that make him less dangerous? Or does it make him more dangerous?
Nick didn't even want to think about his gene pool for fear of the infection it might contain. (9.236)
As much as we don't want to be like our parents, it can be inevitable. After all, you have their DNA in you, so you are probably much more similar to your father and mother than you'd like to admit. So is it nature or nurture? What does Nick think about it?
Soon there would be no way back from it. It would consume him and he would become his father. (13.173)
Many people say things like this as a joke, but for Nick, becoming his father is serious business. As we learn from Ambrose/future Nick, if Nick turns evil, he will become a Malachai like his father, and the safety of the world will be in danger. That's some serious business.
"You are killing your mother and brother." (15.12)
The bad guys capitalize on Madaug's guilt about hurting his family to lure him to them. Like Nick and his mother, Madaug is fond of his family. It's a trick of dictators and monsters everywhere: if you can't convince someone to do what you want, threaten the safety of those that person loves. It's nasty business, through and through.
"We take care of my mom first—she's my number one priority. I have to make sure she's safe." (15.100)
In case you haven't caught by this point, Nick's mom is his number one priority. He risks his own safety to make sure she's safe, and it pays off.
She laughed like an angel. A beautiful, perfect…I am so in love with you. Get a grip, Nick….Get a grip…. (1.96-1.98)
There is plenty of romantic love in this novel, too, if that's more your thing. Nick falls for Nekoda at first sight. Is it destiny? Or is it lust, because Nick is only fourteen? Or is everybody wrong when they say that teenagers only know about lust and infatuation and not about love?
As soon as her parents had learned she was pregnant, they'd offered her one choice. Give up the baby or give up her nice home in Kenner, her education, her family. For reasons he still didn't understand, she'd chosen him. (1.37)
There are a lot of types of love represented in this book, not just romantic love. The love between Nick's mom and her son is very prominent. She loves him unconditionally.
"You are my little man, Nickyboo. And I'm so grateful I have you. You're the only thing I've ever done right in my entire life and if anything ever happened to you, they'd have to dig two graves 'cause I couldn't live a single day without my baby beside me." (2.137)
Okay, Nick's mom loves him. That's sweet. But this is a little intense, and it maybe borders on co-dependency. How will Nick's mom react when he finally moves out of her house? Maybe they both have a little growing up to do.
"Honestly, you have no idea how much your parents love you until something happens to you—then it's too late." (6.91)
We're not sure what Kyrian means here. What happened to him? Why is it too late? Does this have to do with immortality, and dying to achieve it? Perhaps he was able to see how his parents grieved for him after his own "death." That would be difficult to witness.
That was the one order Caleb couldn't understand. Again, he would attribute it to love, but there was no way the Malachai could love anything except himself and his quest for power. (11.39)
Adarian wanting to protect Nick's mother is suspicious. Maybe he does actually love her, in his own twisted way, because there doesn't seem to be a practical reason to keep her alive. At least that we know of. Or maybe it's just about power, as usual.
Caleb would accuse [Adarian] of loving the boy, but he knew better. This wasn't about love. It was about power. (11.29)
Nick's father isn't capable of love. Caleb makes an interesting observation that love and power are basically mutually exclusive. Some people will sacrifice their loved ones for power, which means they didn't love them that much to begin with.
I have to save myself. More than that, he had to save the ones he loved. Before it was too late. (13.176-13.177)
Nick shouldn't be worried about becoming his father, because here is a major reason why the two of them are different. Nick is motivated to preserve the wellbeing of others. Adarian only cares about himself. Night and day, folks.
"I'm trying to calm you down, love. You shouldn't do this to yourself. It pains me to see you suffer like this." (13.171)
This is the goddess Artemis speaking to Ambrose—i.e., future Nick. Is love just a pet name, or is it possible for a goddess to love someone who is essentially her manservant?
It wasn't just the emotion, it was the sensation of his arm around her. (14.231)
Before things can get too sappy, we have Nick's romantic feelings for Nekoda resurfacing. They're a classic Romeo and Juliet type couple. Even though Nick doesn't know it, Nekoda may have to eventually kill them. That's about as star-crossed as two people can get.
You love her, Nick sent his thoughts to Ambrose. Ambrose nodded, then met his gaze so that Nick could see the sincerity burning in his eyes. "I would do anything to keep her safe. Anything to keep you on the right path." (16.49)
This should be a clue to Nick that Ambrose is really his future self. Who else would have Nick's mom as his number one priority other than Nick himself?
Out of the darkness, a blur rushed in at the same instant Alan fired the gun. (2.9)
We make it through an entire chapter without anything supernatural happening, so it's startling when a creature rushes out with super speed to save Nick. This will become commonplace by the end of the book, but Kyrian's debut is a dramatic one. And while the book doesn't explicitly say Kyrian's supernatural, he's faster than Usain Bolt, so you know something is up.
Nekoda locked the door of the storeroom to keep anyone else in the hospital from innocently coming in and seeing Sraosha's form. Tall and graceful, he was so beautiful that it was hard to look straight at him. His powers were so great that they manifested as an ever-moving aura that illuminated his skin with a bright yellow glow. (3.70)
You know Sraosha is supernatural not because he glows but because he has an unpronounceable name. If we had a magical mentor, we'd want her to be named Susan. Just to mix things up a bit.
He was younger than the other Malachais she'd fought. More innocent. Sweet even. (3.74)
We're not sure what a Malachai is, but it's capitalized, so you know it's important. Also, it appears that Malachai is a bad thing, since it's something Nekoda has fought before. And it's something Nick has the potential to become. Maybe that explains the sinister voice?
She's dangerous to you. Avoid her. He scowled at the deep, scary voice in his head. It sounded almost demonic. WTH? (3.66)
While it's never explicitly clear who this deep scary voice belongs to, we assume it belongs to Ambrose/future Nick. At this point in the book, though, we're not sure. We do know that Nick hasn't exhibited signs of schizophrenia, so this voice sure does seem supernatural.
"That single act of drifting toward violence against another has unleashed his Cimmerian Magus. The dark powers are uniting now to train him." (3.89)
Nick's Cimmerian Toast Crunch isn't ever mentioned again. We have no idea what it is. Maybe a power that gets soggy in milk?
"You won't believe this…Brian Murrey tried to eat Scott Morgan." (4.157)
After a few Resident Evil references, we officially have zombies. At least that's a supernatural creature we recognize. How are the zombies in this novel different from the zombies in Resident Evil?
"I'm telling you, we need to notify the council and the Dark-Hunters. This has Daimon written all over it." (4.225)
Nick overhears Tad talking about his super-secret society early on. Well, we say they're super-secret, but they have no problem talking about Daimons, whatever those are, right in the open, so come on—how secret can they really be?
"Bokor. The person who creates and controls a zombie. What rock you been living under not to know that?" (5.121)
Sherrilyn Kenyon didn't come up with "bokor." A bokor is someone of the vodoun religion (you probably know it better as "voodoo") who can create zombies and control them with a talisman of sorts. So what's the talisman controlling these zombies?
Only this time, Nick didn't see Acheron in the body of a young man. He saw…Someone with fangs, mottled blue skin, black lips, and horns. The image was there in a flash and then gone. Like a freaked-out hallucination. (7.35)
As opposed to a completely cool, calm, and collected hallucination. But basically, nobody is who he or she seems in this novel. In that case, how can Nick figure out who to trust and who to run away from?
"FYI, Nick, not all demons are bad. Like people, they're complicated life forms with varying personalities and quirks." (16.6)
As we said, nobody is who he or she seems to be. So it's good that not all demons are bad, because almost everyone in this book, even Nick, seems to be some sort of demon.