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Richelle Mead

REVIEW:  Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

REVIEW: Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

Dear Ms. Mead,

I’ll admit that the first time I saw your book series was when Twilight came out.   I was recently getting into YA at the time, but after having read Twilight, I felt like your series was just a pretender.   Vampire Academy.   You have to admit it’s a pretty ho-hum kind of name.   Obviously vampire.   And I was quite a little reading snob at the time so I didn’t think much of it.   But before long I had an urge to read it – an urge for the world behind the title.   A little less than two years later I finally got the chance to read it, and I am proud to say it kicks Twilight to the curb.

Vampire Academy by RIchelle MeadRose, a dhampir, is on the run with Lissa Dragomir, a Moroi princess.   The dhampir and the Moroi are the two respectable vampire species.   They are forever at war with the Strigoi, a race of vampires that are made instead of born with vampirism.   Rose and Lissa have fled St. Vladimir’s Academy because of an incident almost two years before that changed their lives forever.   A new dhampir professor named Dimitri captures the girls and returns them to the academy after almost two years on their own.

Their return to St. Vladimir’s brings new challenges for the two girls.   Rose is separated into dhampir classes while Lissa into Moroi classes.   The dhampir are the ones that protect and care for the Moroi, who are basically vampire royalty.   Rose has to catch up on combat techniques she missed learning with the other dhampir, and is assigned to be tutored by the handsome Dimitri.   While Rose is off training, Lissa is dealing with the world of Moroi politics and mastering her elemental affinity.   The two best friends are usually separated from each other – or so everyone thinks.   What they don’t know is that Rose and Lissa share a psychic bond unlike any other.

Through this psychic bond comes other troubles.   It isn’t normal for Moroi and dhampir to share such a strong bond.   Lissa’s also been getting strange mood swings, and finding mauled animals inside her room and backpack.   Someone’s targeting her, and Rose is determined to find out who it is.   Add in her attraction to Dimitri, as well as Lissa’s growing affections for a guy who seems creepy and suspicious, and the stakes (pardon the pun) are high.   Vampire Academy shows Mead’s skill in writing urban fantasy, but with a snarky teen edge.

Let it be said that not every vampire book has a doormat for a heroine.   Rose is quite the opposite of Bella.   She swears and isn’t afraid to kick ass if it means getting her way.   The odd maturity she shows despite her temper makes her a compelling heroine to watch, and her symbiotic friendship with Lissa really makes her a three-dimensional character.   She’s loyal and tough but still soft and forgiving.   Her attraction and romance with Dimitri makes her even better.   The age difference isn’t major, and as a reader I never once found it to be a big factor based on their connection.   Rose herself is almost 18, so her attraction to Dimitri, who is 26, isn’t seen as overtly gross.

Lissa is a nice mesh with Rose.   She’s softer and more of a people-person, but her own need to help other people makes her life harder.   The extremes that readers will see later on in the book because of her nature take this theme to a whole new level.   Her romance for an outcast Moroi boy is just as interesting as Rose’s romance, but is a lot more accessible for readers.   She’s a character that you come to care about early on, especially concerning the scenes where Rose actually gets into Lissa’s mind.   Readers really get to know a nice, fleshed out best friend despite the narrative being first person.

Your writing style is accessible, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that you moved from writing adult stuff to writing teen stuff without style issues.   Teen writing has to have more of a frankness to it, and more natural humor, and Vampire Academy had more than enough of that.   The general world building was also well done; everything felt really fresh for a vampire novel, and the whole ‘Vampire Finishing School’ idea was done better here than in other series such as the House of Night.   The action was always present, and the readers never have a chance to be bored.   However, it is still the first in a series, so the ending is just enticing enough to keep you wanting more, and the depth of the plot and the intrigue can definitely be upped in later novels.

Vampire Academy is a solid addition to the teen paranormal market and a great first novel in a six-book series.   The well-written romance and action will keep readers of all ages coming back for more, and it easily sets itself apart from the cliched books like Twilight and The Vampire Diaries.   It’s enjoyable, quick, and a good bridge novel if you don’t read a lot of young-adult paranormal or urban fantasy.   With the sixth and final book coming out this year – just before the start of a new spin-off series – readers who wait for completed series will be able to start it without too much trouble.   B

All the best,

John

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OMNIBUS REVIEW: Vampire Academy, Frostbite and Shadow Kiss by Richelle Mead

OMNIBUS REVIEW: Vampire Academy, Frostbite and Shadow Kiss by Richelle Mead

Dear Ms. Mead,

While it’s true I’m not a fan of your succubus novels, I do enjoy your young adult books.   In fact, I vastly prefer your voice in that genre.   When Jane linked the Publishers Weekly article about how well your Vampire Academy series was doing in this post-Twilight world, she suggested I review them here.   Since I never did review them here, I realize I’ve been remiss in my duties.   Now is as good a time as any to rectify that error.

In the Vampire Academy world, there are two kinds of vampires: Moroi and Strigoi.   Moroi are living vampires, able to tolerate weak sunlight for short period of time and to wield magic from one of the four elements.   Strigoi are their evil counterparts — the undead vampires with which we are more familiar.   Unlike the Moroi, they are unable to wield magic and tolerate the sun but to compensate, they are immortal (unless killed by one of the classic methods: stake through the heart, fire, or decapitation) and ridiculously strong.   Strigoi can be created by one of two ways: a Moroi kills another living being by draining them of blood, which then transforms them into a Strigoi, or a Strigoi drains a victim of blood and then gives them their blood in return, which then turns the victim into a Strigoi.   In addition to the Moroi and Strigoi, there are dhampir: half-vampires who serve as the guardians of the Moroi against all threats, including and most particularly the Strigoi.

Vampire AcademyVampire Academy introduces series protagonist, Rose Hathaway, a dhampir whose only desire in life is to protect her best friend, Moroi princess Lissa Dragomir.   Two years ago, Rose and Lissa ran away from St. Vladmir’s Academy.   Unfortunately, they’ve finally been found and dragged back in disgrace.   But there’s more than meets the eye going on here; Rose and Lissa ran away for a reason, not because they were being needlessly reckless and immature like everyone assumes.   Much of the book’s mystery revolves around discovering the reason why they left and how it relates to things going on in the present.

While Vampire Academy is an enjoyable read and an entertaining example of the vampire teen novel, it doesn’t really bring anything new to the table.   We have a sassy protagonist in Rose.   We have a supernatural boarding school in St. Vladmir’s Academy.   We have the forbidden romance between 17-year-old Rose and her 24-year-old mentor, Dimitri.   We have Lissa’s conflict between following social mores and sticking with her elite social Moroi circles or choosing to spend time with Moroi outcast, Christian, whose parents turned Strigoi.   We have catty rivals who wank to bring both Rose and Lissa down, and demanding teachers who have no patience for Rose’s attitude and mouthiness.   There’s really nothing new here.   It executes a familiar storyline well, but there’s nothing particularly innovative about it — with one exception.

Rose and Lissa have a unique bond that has existed between them since a car accident in which Lissa’s parents and older brother died and only Lissa and Rose survived.   Because of this bond, Rose can sense Lissa’s feelings and even locate her.   Sometimes she can even slide into Lissa’s head and see through her eyes.   When I first read this book, I thought the occasional sliding into Lissa’s head was a cheat in that it let us conveniently see from another perspective to fill us in on story gaps but having read the next two novels in the series, I now realize it was just setting us up for things to come.   B-

FrostBiteIn Frostbite, Rose’s Qualifier (a sort of interview-like exam which dhampir novices must take to determine their competence in becoming guardians) leads to disaster when Rose and Dimitri arrive at the interviewer’s home to discover that he and his Moroi charges have been murdered.   It’s a complication no one predicted.   One thing that’s remained consistent about Strigoi is that   they’re notoriously incapable of working together.   The attack proves otherwise because a number of Strigoi would have been needed to take out all the guardians and Moroi in the house.   Even worse, it looks like humans are involved — and they’re on the side of the Strigoi.   This is bad.   Because while the Moroi have their dhampir guardians to brave the bright sunshine without ill effects, the nocturnal Strigoi traditional have no one.   Human conspirators change the playing field in a way Moroi hadn’t anticipated.   As more attacks on Moroi incite panic in their society, the students at St. Vladimir’s are sent to a ski resort during the winter holidays, to serve as a sort of haven for them and their families who come to visit them.

Even though I felt that the Strigoi attacks on Moroi society served more as a convenient plot excuse for the students to have a field trip rather than the major, society-shaking events they were, I did like how this book explored Rose’s conflicted feelings regarding her best friend, Lissa.   For one, it showed the downsides of being able to slide into Lissa’s head (like when she’s having sex with her boyfriend).   Talk about awkward.   One thing I’ve always liked about Rose’s character is that she’s that girl you knew in high school — the good girl who had a reputation for being a slut.   Because while she is an incorrigible flirt — or used to be because she realized the gravity of being a guardian and the price you have to pay for your duty — she’s still a virgin.   It’s a nice reversal to have the delicate princess Lissa be the sexually active half of the pair while Rose is relatively chaste.

I also liked the way Rose struggles with her feelings for Dimitri.   I’m probably in the minority in that I didn’t care either way about the forbidden Rose-Dimitri relationship.   I wasn’t invested in their romance in and of itself.   I was more interested in the way Rose grappled with it, tried to deny it, and tried to make things work with Mason, who’s perfect for her in every way — except for the fact that she can’t make herself feel for him what she feels for Dimitri.   I must admit, however, my interest perked with the introduction of Adrian.   I don’t really expect anything romantic to develop between him and Rose, but I just like his character.

So even though the overall plot itself didn’t really impress me, I really liked Frostbite for the final 50 or so pages in which Rose learns the grim realities of battle and that even the best laid plans only last until the first encounter with the enemy.   And, of course, the awkward — but very realistic — depiction of Rose’s troubled relationship with her long-absent but legendary guardian mother.   B-

Shadow KissShadow Kiss continues Rose’s maturation as a character, woman, and warrior.   As the title suggests, it explores Rose’s bond with Lissa and its effects on her.   As with its predecessors, the plot serviceable but what really makes the book is Rose’s realization that Moroi society is broken, dying in its stagnation, and the ways in which that clinging to tradition affect every aspect of their lives.   As more evidence comes in, proving that the Strigoi are gathering in united numbers the likes of which no one has ever seen, it becomes more and more apparent that the Moroi must adapt or die.

What I found more interesting, however, was how this struggle against deeply seated Moroi tradition was mirrored, or more closely focused if you will, by Rose’s realization that she’s given up so much for Lissa.   It’s a kind of loss of innocence — all her life, she’s wanted nothing more than to be by Lissa’s side always, protecting her and being her best friend, but as the story unfolds, we see that Rose actually resents it.   She might actively deny it, but the way she refuses to think about it or changes the subject when it comes up suggest that she doesn’t dare think about the alternatives because to do so might destroy her entire worldview.   Those therapy sessions regarding her supposed PTSD only support this, as does the ending.

But what makes the book, what truly made the book for me, is the climactic battle where the Moroi’s greatest fear becomes reality, the results of which finally drive Rose to cast off the expectations and traditions Moroi society has placed on her.   I don’t want to spoil but the ending here is what finally made me interested in the Rose-Dimitri relationship.   Again, not so much for the romantic aspect, but in the sense of what it means for Rose, what it makes her do, and how it influences her character development.   That’s all I’m going to say here.   B

If I have to pick a favorite book in the series so far, it’s definitely the third one, Shadow Kiss.   One of the things that frustrates me about vampire books is that they introduce these new vampire worlds and settings but don’t always explore the ramifications of the worldbuilding rules they present.   Shadow Kiss was the first book in the series where I felt a lot of the problematic things about the Vampire Academy world were addressed.   It’s obvious from here on out that things will not be easy for Rose and that her choice at the end of the book will have aftershocks — on St. Vladimir’s and on Lissa, most especially.

Another thing I liked about the book was that it was where everything changed.   You know how if you read enough books of a certain type, you start getting a feel for how a story will unfold?   Well, what happened in Shadow Kiss (and people who’ve read the book will know exactly what I’m referring to) really caught me off-guard.   I wasn’t expecting that at all but then I looked back over the previous books and realized that it’s been hinted at since the very beginning.   In some ways, it does remind me of a certain season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer but since that was my favorite season, I’m not complaining.

In the end, I think the highlight of this series for me is Rose.   We talk about stories and the heroines who live them, the changes and character arcs they go through to read the happy ending they work for.   But when it’s done well, really well, it stands out in a reader’s mind.   Rose’s story is one of those.   She’s a character who does not stagnate.   Oh, her basic personality stays the same — she’s sassy, fierce, and a smartass through and through — but the Rose we meet in Vampire Academy is the not Rose who rejects Moroi expectations at the end of Shadow Kiss.   There’s no way Vampire Academy Rose would have made the ultimate choice she did in Shadow Kiss.   And for that, I am very glad because a series protagonist who doesn’t grow and change from one book to the next is a boring one indeed.

My regards,
Jia

These books can be purchased in trade paperback form from Amazon. Vampire Academy, Frostbite, and Shadow Kiss can be purchased from the Sony Store and other etailers.