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.)