Title: Vampire Academy
Author: Richelle Mead
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Young Adult
Stand Alone or Series: Book 1 in the Vampire Academy series
Why did we read this book: Other than the fact that we are having a Richelle-A-Palooza? Thea had read Ms. Mead’s Succubus series, and had fallen in love with her writing. Naturally, she had to try her other books–and then twisted Ana’s arm to get her to read this one too.
Summary: (from RazorBillBooks.com)
St. Vladimir’s Academy isn’t just any boarding school—it’s a hidden place where vampires are educated in the ways of magic and half-human teens train to protect them. Rose Hathaway is a Dhampir, a bodyguard for her best friend Lissa, a Moroi Vampire Princess. They’ve been on the run, but now they’re being dragged back to St. Vladimir’s—the very place where they’re most in danger. . . .
Rose and Lissa become enmeshed in forbidden romance, the Academy’s ruthless social scene, and unspeakable nighttime rituals. But they must be careful lest the Strigoi—the world’s fiercest and most dangerous vampires—make Lissa one of them forever.
Thea: To be perfectly honest, I feel like vampires have been done to death. They aren’t really my choice of paranormal creature–and with Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga sitting on a huge chunk of the YA Vampire market, I was not really sure what to expect with Vampire Academy. I certainly did not want to read a rehash of obsessed teenage true love. Also, as a fan of Ms. Mead’s adult fiction, I was slightly wary of how the change in audience would affect the writing.
Turns out, I had nothing to worry about–if anything, I should have picked up this series sooner! Vampire Academy is decidedly unique in its take on Vampires, and with a wonderful heroine (no woe-is-me milkface Bellas here) to boot.
Ana: When Thea told me she was organising the Richelle Mead special after raving about her books for months, I thought I should give Vampire Academy a go. (She really did not have to twist my arm – I bruise easily, dude) . I am not burnt out of vampires yet and I was excited about reading it – not only because I have heard great things about it from other bloggers but also because, honestly? I think the title is catchy.
But then, I started reading it and was taken aback a little bit as it seemed too YA ish. I had nothing to fear though, as with many of the characters and the environment they are in, nothing is what it seems at first. So, it may look like this is a Vampire novel about teenagers but it’s not – it so much more than that.
On the Plot:
Rose Hathaway and Lissa Dragomir have been inseparable best friends since the age of five, and there isn’t anything they would not do for each other. Linking the girls even closer is the bond that they share–Rose can feel Lissa’s emotions and can locate her, even slipping into Lissa’s head as an observer, through their bond. As a Dhampir, Rose is stronger and faster than humans or Moroi like Lissa, and she assumes the role as Lissa’s protective Guardian. At seventeen, Rose and Lissa have been on the run for two years, having escaped from St. Vladimir’s school after some unknown drastic event–but their short lived freedom has come to end, as Vampire Academy opens with Rose and Lissa’s recapture by imposing school Guardians. Forced back to St. Vladimir’s, Rose and Lissa are thrown back into their training and schooling, with Rose bearing the brunt of the punishment for putting her Moroi charge in harm’s way–for Lissa is the last surviving member of the royal Dragomir line, making her an honest-to-goodness Vampire Princess. Above all else, Dhampirs are taught to protect the Moroi, for Moroi are living vampires and they depend on the strength and agility of the Dhampir to protect them from their greatest enemies, the Strigoi. While the Moroi feed on human blood, they only take from willing participants (called feeders–or the more derogatory “blood whores”), and emphasize a peaceful, withdrawn existence from humanity. The Moroi have magical abilities, to control the elements, but refuse to use those powers offensively, and thus depend even more heavily on the physical strength of the Dhampir. The Strigoi, on the other hand, are the evil, blood thirsty vampires of legend–Moroi transform into Strigoi after they have killed a victim from drinking all their blood, but Dhampirs and even humans can also be forcibly transformed by a Strigoi’s bite and blood. The Strigoi know nothing else but their hunger and desire to kill all Moroi, and it is the purpose of schools like St. Vladimir’s to prepare the Moroi and Dhampir young to protect themselves from their ever present menace.
Since Rose is a Dhampir, daughter of a celebrated Guardian, her actions of taking Lissa into harm’s way are seen as incredibly irresponsible. Not only does she have to deal with confinements and detentions, but since she and Lissa have been gone from school for two years, Rose also must take brutal extra lessons from the aloof but brilliant Guardian Dimitri (coincidentally, the one that caught them out in the human world). While the administration and the rest of the Moroi and Dhampir think that Rose and Lissa simply ran off to party and be irresponsible teens, they must now confront the problems that had led them to run away in the first place–and Lissa’s strange, strong new powers. And then, someone begins sending Lissa dangerous messages with bloody, mutilated animals, warnings that someone else must know about Lissa’s secret abilities.
On top of everything else, St. Vladimir’s is high school after all, and there are the social and romantic entanglements. As a Royal, Lissa runs with the social elite at the school, and Rose, as a sassy, pretty wild thing has no problems getting guys to fawn all over her. With their dramatic escape and return, Lissa and Rose find themselves at the center of a lot of attention, and a whole lot of nasty gossip and malicious pranks from jealous Moroi like Mia, who has a huge chip on her shoulder against the pair.
Rose must work harder than ever to make sure that the threats against Lissa–both emotional and physical–are thwarted, to protect not only the last of the Dragomir line, but her best friend.
Thea: Vampire Academy opens a whole new world of vampires, starting with a fresh new set of ground rules. The differences and classifications of Moroi and Strigoi are wonderfully fresh in a tired genre, and I highly enjoyed the new appearance of Dhampirs–half-vampires–in this universe. This spin on Vampire lore, with living Moroi being inherently pacifist and lacking the strength of either their Dhampir protectors or undead Strigoi counterparts, evens out the playing field significantly. In fact, in this universe the Moroi are at a great disadvantage, relying on the Dhampir to not only physically protect them, but also to bear more Dhampir children. Moroi can have other Moroi children with each other, but in order to keep a population of Dhampir to protect them, the Moroi and Dhampir must mate (since the Dhampir cannot have children with each other–another checked balance to the power hierarchy). Since Strigoi can be created instantaneously from human, Dhampir or Moroi, the small community of Moroi and Dhampir must be kept safe at all times.
I also was fascinated by the taboo the Moroi have concerning biting and feeding from Dhampirs and Humans. Those who would allow a Moroi to bite them, craving the endorphin rush from the vampire venom, are regarded as the lowest of all junkies, labeled “blood whores”. Combine this act with anything sexual, and this is the greatest taboo in their society (quite a departure from the usual bloodlust/sex that dominates so many vampire books).
The society that the Moroi and Dhampirs have created for themselves is fascinating, and deeply flawed. The rigid, aristocratic Moroi refuse to change their ways of thinking, while the threat of the Strigoi grows stronger each day. The relationship between the ruling Moroi and the protecting Dhampir feels antiquated and backwards–should the Dhampir ever become dissatisfied with their way of life, dedicated to serving and protecting the weaker Moroi, they could easily flip the power in their society topsy turvy (and I believe this will be examined in later books from some foreshadowing in this book, and especially given the relationship between Rose and Dimitri).
World-building aside, the pacing for Vampire Academy was fast and furious. Everything was meticulously planned out, as every purportedly casual encounter or flash of memory would play a more major part in the story later. The gradual reveals of what Lissa’s powers are and why Rose felt it was vital to Lissa’s safety that they run away from St. Vladimir’s was also well planned and executed, as clue by clue readers gradually see the whole picture. The overall ‘mystery’ elements, of who is behind the menacing threats towards Lissa and what his or her motives are in frightening her, is similarly well done–albeit slightly predictable. Still, there are plentiful loose ends and enough tantalizing plot seeds planted in this book to hook even the most jaded readers for more.
Ana: Where to start? There is a lot going on plot-wise in Vampire Academy. I mentioned that at first I thought I was reading about any other high school but with vampires. Then it gets a little bit complicated and I was kind of confused for a while with the Moroi, Dhampirs and Strigoi denominations; but as things start evolving it became clear that this was a rich, layered tale that does delve in the used and abused dynamics of high school politics but taking it many steps further.
In fact, the cleverness of the book is that the dynamics inside the Vampire Academy (where 99% of the story takes place ) is a reproduction in small scale of the dynamics of the world outside it. With every single person inside the Academy having its own place that was a mirror of their own place in life. In that sense, the structure of the society divided into Moroi, Dhampir and Strigoi is replayed inside the school – this is a book about status quo, about keeping things in place and about choices that you may or may not have. There many twists though – the Moroi who are clearly the ones that wield the power are also the ones that have the physical disadvantage – they are weak even though they can weave magic. The Dhampir on the other hand, are much stronger (and not only physically – sometimes sit seemed they hade the higher ground on moral strength as well) and yet they were bound to the Moroi in such a way I kept thinking to myself how it was so. Because the Dhampir are bound by an inner sense of duty that were inherent and truly felt by them and not because they were made to by the Moroi. It seemed a little bit off that both casts – that’s how I saw them – have enough reasons to reassess their own existence and yet only a few question the order of things. I have a suspicion that there is going to be a revolution at some point in the series and I would greatly welcome it and I was completely taken with the Dhampir’s plight – which ironically, was a plight to me, not to them.
I think the above speaks of a great writing achievement because that tension is dealt in small doses and subtly throughout the book, like a thread that was present in all plotlines and yet I was able to feel so strongly about it.
And this is only but the tip of the iceberg – there are a couple of mysteries that took most of the book to be solved and even though it was clear what was going on, still, the execution was extremely well done with things falling into place little by little.
Also worthy of mention is the strong friendship between Lissa and Rose and how this is really the things that set everything in motion; and their subsequent relationships with Christian and Dimitri? For a romance addict like myself, It was heaven. Loved both love stories.
Honestly, the more I think of it, the more I like the book.
On the Characters:
Thea: Once again, Richelle Mead manages to create characters that are fully fleshed out, and at once flawed yet completely endearing. Rose, the narrator of this tale, is as sassy-pants as anyone could hope for in a heroine. For those Twilight victims in the house, I’ll say it again–there is no danger of wishy-washy ‘someone will always save me’ Bella here. Rose is hot-headed, brash, with serious authority problems and mommy issues (hooray for the mommy issues, for once!). She lacks self control in a lot of things, and searches for attention in all the wrong ways that parents warn young teen girls about. And yet, for all this she also is a fierce friend and will do anything–even at her own expense–to protect Lissa. Being privy to Rose’s thoughts helps give a more sympathetic understanding to this sharp character, and I could not help but feel for her (even when she is being infuriatingly pigheaded). Rose certainly makes a lot of mistakes and jumps to irrational, wrong conclusions–but that’s part of her raw appeal as a character. What’s more is, Rose’s portrayal as a hormonal teen (eager to have sex and get into trouble with boys to get her mind off other problems, or her growing jealousy of Lissa’s new relationship with Christian) is completely genuine. Ms. Mead does a brilliant job at realistically portraying some of the problems teens go through–which are universal to humans, Moroi princesses and Dhampir hardasses.
Lissa lacks the fire and spunk of her Dhampir best friend, but she still holds her own as a character. While Rose is the brash heroine of this story, Lissa is the more careful, sweeter temperament of the duo. Initially, Lissa felt a little too helpless and sweet, always leaning on Rose to take care of her, freaking out about her own personal problems without ever asking Rose about what she might be going through; and to some extent, Lissa remains that gently ignorant of a lot that is going on in Rose’s life (her romantic attachments with Dimitri, the biggest glaring example)–though a lot of this has to do with Rose’s desire to protect Lissa from being hurt. And, to be fair, Lissa does have some serious emotional problems of her own. Still, Lissa undergoes some growth and flashes her hidden strength–when it seems that Rose’s reputation is in jeopardy and that Lissa is helplessly dragging down her best friend without offering anything in return, Lissa makes a decision to use her own powers go take care of things herself. Her dedication to Rose, and the deep friendship between these two characters is, in a word, awesome, and a great message for younger readers.
Then there are the boys. Dimitri is wonderfully, sexily written as a foil to Rose–I loved all of their interactions throughout the book. Christian, survivor of both his parents conscious decision to turn Strigoi, is an outsider at St. Vladimir’s, but finds a softer tone with Lissa. Their relationship also blossoms nicely–though I far prefer the tension of Rose and Dimitri. The cast of secondary characters are all well written and fleshed out. Even the bitchy Mia–who is seemingly willing to do anything to bring down Lissa and Rose–has a reason for her bitterness, and none of the villains come off as one-note.
Ana: I have to echo Thea’s thoughts on Rose – she was an incredible character and an amazing narrator. She is the strongest of the duo Lissa-Rose at least at first whilst also being vulnerable. I loved her fierceness in protecting Lissa and she has such a sense of duty and a strong wish of making things right and taking care of Lissa. I did feel for her though, particularly when it was clear how hard it was for her to balance the life of a normal teenage girl – which is what she was at the end of the day – with the immense burden that a life as a Guardian proved to be. Still, she has a strong resolution to always put the Moroi first which is also one of the reasons for her deep connection with Dimitri.
Speaking of Dimitri, and Christian: loved them both. There are great lines of dialogue between the girls and the boys – as Thea calls them and I was equally engaged with Dimitri and Rose and Lissa and Christian.
Lissa – even though we see less of her as Rose is first person narrator of the story and that what see seems to point to a weaker character, I feel like she will surprise us in the future. In fact out of the two, I think Lissa will be the one that will have to face more dangerous situations. I shall wait and see.
One last word about the villains – Thea mentions that they are fleshed out. I couldn’t agree more. So much so, it just so happens I even agree with one of them and its agenda (no gender as to not giveaway anything) even though I appreciate the fact that the way it went about it was completely wrong.
Final Thoughts, Observations and Recommendation:
Thea: I was very, pleasantly surprised by Vampire Academy. I don’t think there’s much more I can say for it, except that I immediately read through book 2, Frostbite, and eagerly await Shadow Kissed (book 3) next month!
Ana: I already expected Vampire Academy to be good, given it was Thea’s recommendation and she has yet to fail me. I just didn’t expect it to be THAT good. I can’t wait to read Vampire Academy 2.
Thea: Here’s one of those sassy interactions between Rose and Dimitri I loved:
Three weeks after my return to the Academy, I walked into the gym before school one day and found [Dimitri] sprawled on a mat, reading a Louis L’Amour book. Someone had brought in a portable CD player, and while that cheered me up at first, the song coming from it did not: “When Doves Cry” by Prince. It was embarrassing to know the title, but one of our former housemates had been obsessed with the ’80s.
“Whoa, Dimitri,” I said, tossing my bag on the floor. “I realize this is actually a current hit in Eastern Europe right now, but do you think we could maybe listen to something that wasn’t recorded before I was born?”
Only his eyes flicked toward me; the rest of his posture remained the same. “What does it matter to you? I’m the one who’s going to be listening to it. You’ll be outside running.”
Ana: I just loved how sassy and spirited Rose was. She could get away with a lot just by being snarky – she actually managed to work the crowds and put people at ease with that. I love her interactions with the other guardians in training and with Dimitri, of course. There was also one scene between her and Christian, the guy that loves Lissa and whom she always thought was not the best for her but she realises that he is not that bad. They have one convo about how to take care of Lissa and she says:
“Lissa wouldn’t like that.! I considered. “Neither would I”.
“Yeah, well, we all have to do things we don’t like. That’s life”
My snarky switch flipped on. “What are you, an afternoon special?”
A ghostly smile flickered across his face. “If you weren’t so psychotic, you’d be fun to hang around”
“Funny, I feel that way about you too”
Thea: 7 Very Good – I really enjoyed this start to a promising new young adult series.
Ana: 7 Very Good – I really liked this too!
Reading Next: Vampire Academy 2: Frostbite by Richelle Mead