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Blood Promise – Richelle Mead

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Can I say again how much I wish the covers to this series were a little edgier? This is such a quality YA/cross-over series, but the cover art does it no justice (no offence to everyone involved but it put me off for a long time).

OK, now I’ve got that out of the way… what follows is look at the fourth book in Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series (past reviews here and here). If you’ve read the first three books but not this one, you won’t find any spoilers here. If you haven’t read the other books yet – and plan to – stop reading now!

Blood Promise takes Rose and the series into new and darker territory, as the dhampir goes on the hunt for Dimitri in Russia. It’s not giving too much away to say that Rose meets a long list of interesting characters with mixed motives.

The clever plot device allowing Rose to see the world through Lissa’s eyes proves very handy. It allows a change in perception, the appearance of familiar characters, and also creates another thread of tension.

Occasionally the perception shift raises some time continuity issues, but it works well to show how Lissa copes without Rose and their bond (no prizes for guessing the answer there).

What Mead does particularly well in this book is deal with the issue of addiction. Rose struggles with the ultimate temptation in Russia and doesn’t always succeed in resisting it. It’s incredibly frustrating to watch Rose – usually such a hot-headed fighter – give in to the oblivion, but it at least gives her experience a sense of truth. And makes her ultimate choice that much more meaningful.

We learn more about the nature of Strigoi, and the social attitudes of dhampir away from the walls of the heavily structured St Vlad’s campus. There’s real growth in Rose and Lissa’s relationship as well – paralleling the changing dynamic between the Moroi and their dhampir guardians.

All in all, this is a good addition to the series, setting up plenty of conflict and plot development for Spirit Bound (the second last in the series). There are so many threads at play here, I’m curious to see how Mead will pull them all together in the next two books.

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Shadow Kiss – Richelle Mead

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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!

I’m late to the party – Vampire Academy

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OK, so let’s just call this a lesson in not judging a book by its cover.

I’ve been walking past Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy books at my favourite book store for a while now (two years, in fact). The covers didn’t grab me, and neither – to be honest – did the synopses.

Granted, I picked the first one up in the middle of Twilight mania, and wasn’t quite ready to become so vampire-centric in my reading (a quick flick through this blog will reveal I’ve since overcome any such concerns.)

But with all the fuss over the release of Spirit Bound in recent weeks, I thought it was time to check out the first book.

A week ago I ordered Vampire Academy from the library. Devoured it. Immediately ordered the second book (Frostbite). Devoured it. Today, I went to the aforementioned book shop and bought all five books.

The only good thing about dragging my heels for so long on this is that I now have immediate access to all five books (with a sixth due out in December, I believe), which doesn’t bode well for all the other things I need to do in my life…

So, for those of you catching on late, like me, here’s a quick overview (don’t worry, there’s no spoilers):

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). The story opens with their recapture after being on the run for a year, and then explores the threats that drove them away from their home – the academy of the title – and the threats that still linger.

I know I’m forever talking about great narrative characters, but Rose is particularly unique in the world of YA. She’s tough, smart-mouthed and promiscuous, and frequently makes bad decisions. But underneath her abrasiveness and hot-headedness is a fierce protectiveness of Lissa, which anchors her erratic and impulsive life.

Things for Rose become increasingly complicated when she’s forced to train with experienced dhampir guardian Dimitri. They fight (verbally and physically), and even as she resents his discipline and focus, she craves his approval – and ultimately his affection.

The best thing about Rose is she’s real. She behaves like a conflicted teenager. She doesn’t always do the right thing, even in the face of her growing responsibilities as a guardian. Of course, her bad choices always come to back to bite her, and she’s not oblivious to the irony.

Contrasting Rose’s strength is Lissa’s fragility and vulnerability (in the first book at least). The nature of first person narrative means she’s a more distant character (although there’s a clever plot device that offers occasional glimpses into Lissa’s view), yet it’s easy to understand Rose’s desire to protect her.

Richelle Mead doesn’t shy away from tough topics in Vampire Academy, tackling self harm, bullying and teenage sex, which really gives the opening book an extra edge.

The tension increases in Frostbite with a brutal Strigoi attack on a royal Moroi family. It not only puts the vampire community on edge, it brings Rose’s estranged mother (who happens to be a legendary guardian) to the academy. The entire school heads to the snow for the academy’s annual ski trip, and with Moroi, guardians, parents, rejected lovers and competing egos thrown together, it can only lead to trouble.

For Rose, of course, not all of that trouble comes from external sources. In this second book, her biggest challenge is learning self control. She’s caught between the pull of two worlds:  that of a rebellious and reckless outsider, and that of selfless, disciplined guardian.  What makes her such a textured character, is that she also doesn’t necessarily learn her lesson the first time around.

And in Frostbite, the learning curve is steep, with much higher stakes.

So, yes, there’ll be more reviews to come as I read the rest of the series.

(And yes, I’ve also bought a copy of Succubus Blues, the first in Richelle Mead’s adult series, so I’ll get to that soon too.)