A review of Vampire Academy (Vampire Academy #1) by Richelle Mead
Razorbill (Penguin), 2007
A special guest review by S. Dubs, September 17, 2012Crunchers & Munchers, it is my delight to bring you a guest review by the lovely and mysterious S. Dubs! S. is something of a cross between Scarlet O’Hara and Mata Hari (yeah—they’re almost the same name and don’t try and tell me that’s a coincidence). She has recently relocated to the Big Easy, where she divides her time between dirty jazz clubs and questionable sports bars. That’s when she isn’t reading young adult literature and watching Supernatural. Sam. Because obviously that was your next question. Welcome, S. Dubs! —Rebecca
Rosemarie Hathaway: Our plucky heroine, Rose is a dhampir—half-human, half-vampire— in training to be a royal bodyguard for her Moroi (i.e., good vampire) best friend, Lissa.
Vasalisa Dragomir: Rose’s best friend and the last living member of the royal Dragomir line. Beautiful, kind, but slightly unstable. The object of Rose’s unwavering loyalty, the two have a special bond in that Rose can “read” Lissa’s thoughts and feelings (though Lissa can’t read Rose).
Christian Ozera: A snarky outcast who is shunned by his peers for the sins of his parents. The fact that that he is delightfully sarcastic and tends to tell hard truths doesn’t help his social standing. He and Lissa form an unlikely connection.
Dimitri Belikov: A super hot, super badass Guardian—a dhampir bodyguard for the Moroi. He is tasked with tutoring Rose in battling Strigoi (i.e., evil vampires). As will happen during mock combat, sparks between the two fly.
Mia: Obligatory Mean Girl, and obstacle to Rose and Lissa’s re-entry into Vamp Academy popular society. In their absence (see below), she has become the Queen B. and isn’t ready to give it up.
Rose and Lissa have been on the run for two years, trying to escape a mysterious but very real threat to Lissa’s life. They are found and returned to St. Vladimir’s Academy, a boarding school for Moroi—a race of vampires who are born (not made, as the Strigoi are) and eventually die—and dhampirs, who train to become Guardians, defenders of the Moroi against their enemies, the Strigoi. Rose and Lissa now have to face the consequences of their unsanctioned flight, reintegrate into the socio-political vipers’ nest that is high school, and uncover the threat to Lissa’s life is and how to stop it. NBD.
Richelle Mead turns to the vampire legends of Eastern Europe (Romania, specifically) and Russia to help create her world of warring vampire races: the Moroi, “living” vampires who wield magic and drink blood, but don’t kill their ‘donors,’ and the Strigoi, who give up their magic and morals for true immortality by killing their victims when they take their blood. Moroi blood is the Strigoi’s favorite snack so, to protect themselves, the Moroi hire dhampir bodyguards. As half-human, half-Moroi, dhampirs have a mix of human and vampire qualities: they are super strong, have fast reflexes, can go out in the sun, don’t drink blood, and, oh yeah, can’t reproduce with other members of their species.
For me, this biological sidebar is one of the more interesting aspects of Mead’s particular take on the vampire legend. Dhampirs can’t make babies with other dhampirs and so, in order to perpetuate their race, they must reproduce with Moroi (the offspring of a Moroi/dhampir coupling is always a dhampir child). But the Moroi tend to want to marry and make Moroi babies with other Moroi, so there are a lot of single dhampir mothers around. In fact, there seem to be two occupations available to dhampir women: Guardian or baby mama. Guess which one Rose chooses? (She herself is the daughter of a famous Guardian mother and unknown and absent Moroi father, and has plenty of mommy issues and daddy issues to deal with throughout the series.)
Basically, the Moroi and dhampir live in a mutually beneficial arrangement, though dhampirs are socially subordinate to the Moroi, who have a ruling aristocracy of twelve royal families. However, the main worldview of Vampire Academy is boarding school and all the delightfulness that this entails (mainly teens running around with minimal and/or ineffective adult supervision for large swaths of time which allows them to participate in various madcap adventures).
what were this book’s intentions? does it live up to them?
Unless you have been living under a rock for the past ten years, you know that the market is glutted with vampires. So what makes Vampire Academy so special? Honestly? Not much—though I do like the Old World Russian flavor of Mead’s particular take on vampire society (itself not super original, but well-executed here). If I had to pick one intention, I would say that Mead is after entertainment, and on that front she delivers. There are some interesting moral and political quandaries raised throughout the series, which give the books a bit of added depth, but overall they are just fun to read.
Mead’s characters are gratifyingly complex, her Rose Hathaway the anti-Bella Swan. Indeed, Rose is Buffy-meets-Katniss and neither of them at the same time. She is quippy, hot-headed, impulsive, moral (but comfortable with grey areas), loyal, strong, simultaneously practical and a romantic. And she (along with the rest of the main characters) grows over the course of the series, rather than becoming a stronger version of a one-dimensional self (*cough* *cough* Bella).
Mead’s dialogue is fun and funny, and the overarching plot arc has lots of delicious teen angst to propel you through the series. And, despite the overt dualism of “good” vs. “bad” vampires, Mead offers a realistically complex view of the world in which the good and the bad mix on an individual and social level and people are always more complicated than they first appear.
One of the things I most appreciated about the novel is the way that Mead deals with sexuality: sex is both something that just happens and a big deal. Rose is an alluring individual and she knows it. What’s more, she takes pleasure in being found attractive, without being (too) obnoxious about it. She has a basically healthy self-image; she can be self-deprecating, but she generally likes herself and understands her value, which is plural. (Side note: I kind of hate the cover art for the whole series, but the model on the first novel’s cover looks uncannily like a young Angelina Jolie, which is actually a fairly good correlative for Rose’s appeal.) As urban** fantasy/paranormal romance, the novel could easily dwell on the racy and/or romantic and there’s definitely an entertaining amount of that going on. But, like the best young adult works out there, the primary relationship is friendship:
“Lissa and I had been best friends ever since kindergarten, when our teacher had paired us together for writing lessons. Forcing five-year-olds to spell Vasilisa Dragomir and Rosemarie Hathaway was beyond cruel, and we’d—or rather, I’d—responded appropriately. I’d chucked my book at our teacher and called her a fascist bastard. I hadn’t known what those words meant, but I’d known how to hit a moving target.
Lissa and I had been inseparable ever since.” (8)
The bond between Lissa and Rose is the stuff of fantasy—and not just because it involves a mystical psychic connection. Theirs is a do-anything-for-each-other relationship, one that pushes both of them outside of their comfort zones and contributes to the aforementioned personal growth/character development.
[**The series actually ends up spanning quite a geographical range, but the primary action takes place at St. Vlad’s Academy, which is in The Middle of Nowhere, Montana. So anti-urban fantasy?]
I discovered this book through reading Richelle Mead’s adult urban fantasy series about the adventures of Georgina Kincaid, Succubus. Both series were guilty pleasures/secret shames, until I remembered that I was pretty shameless in my tastes and started telling all my friends about them. There are some real similarities between Rose and Georgina and if you like one (and are of an age to enjoy both adult and young adult fiction), there is a good chance you will enjoy reading about the other. But I am new to this whole book review thing, so hit me up in the comments if you have read either series and want to fangirl and/or disagree with me (or suggest a good read-alike!).