It’s great to read a YA paranormal series where the narrative character actually grows and changes with each book, as opposed to just facing and overcoming a series of challenges.
That’s certainly the case with Rose Hathaway in Richelle Mead’s excellent Vampire Academy series. (See review for Vampire Academy and Frostbite).
A quick recap: The series is set in a meticulously imagined world of elite pacifist vampires (Moroi), their not-quite-human guardians (dhampirs) and the murderous vampires who stalk both classes of beings (Strigoi). Rose is a dhampir and the guardian of Lissa, her best friend (who’s also a member of a royal Moroi line).
They live at St Vladimir’s Academy, where Lissa is being groomed to fulfil her political potential as the last member of the Dragomir royal line, and Rose spends her days in more physical training, so she can officially become Lissa’s guardian after graduation.
Rose also happens to be in love with her dhampir mentor, Dimitri. Although he returns her affection, the structure of their society (and the fact Rose is his student) means they can’t be together. Especially because they’re both destined to guard Lissa and their role demands their Moroi always come first.
As much as she loves Lissa and looks forward to spending her life as her guardian, she begins to quietly resent the fact Lissa can have a semblance of a normal life – parties, make-up and romance, which no longer have a place in Rose’s life.
There’s even an undertone that the level of selflessness demanded of dhampirs by Moroi requires a certain amount of self abuse – fascinating subtext for this genre.
Rose fights these feelings, but they grow throughout the book and reach their logical conclusion when the unthinkable happens (which I won’t give away here), and Rose really must choose between Lissa and Dimitri. (At last, a threat on a book cover that’s more than just a marketing ploy!)
Shadow Kiss has multiple plot threads: Rose discovers her psychic bond with Lissa has a dark side; she’s visited by ghosts; and the attentions of bad boy Moroi Adrian have wider implications.
Despite all this, it doesn’t feel like a lot happens action-wise … until the last 100 pages. And then it all happens.
If you haven’t read this series, try to resist the temptation to read the back covers of later books. It will make the twists at the end of Shadow Kiss that much more forceful. Unfortunately, the version of Vampire Academy I read had the first chapter of the fifth book, Spirit Bound at the end (why??) and reading the first few pages of that completely removed the intended shock at the end of Shadow Kiss. Bad publishers!