Books,  Geektastic

Vampire Academy **** & Bloodlines Series ***1/2 by Richelle Mead

Hello, readers-mine.  It’s been a while, so I thought that I would do something I’ve never done before.  This entry is a twofer…and not just on two books, but two series written by the same author, Richelle Mead.

So, here’s the thing with the Vampire Academy Series…My students told me that I should read it and I always try to keep up with what they enjoy.  While the covers make this series seem like erotica for teens, it really isn’t.  Is there a romance at it’s core?  Sure.  Is there a triangle that isn’t really a triangle?  Yep.  Is it playing off of the popularity of books like Twilight?  Definitely.  All of that is true, but thank God not all vampire books need a sappy, soppy, milk toast main character.  Is it the best book series ever written?  No, but it is fun and unlike Bella Swan, Rose Hathaway can kick some ass all on her own.  The heroine is smart, funny, and rings true as someone who is nearly eighteen.  Mead has managed to capture the interior monologue of a teenager brilliantly.  This is a series for smart alecks.  It’s dark, a bit twisted, and full of lines like: “Juliet had it easy; she never had to kill Romeo” and “‘What the hell?’ I asked.  ‘Is this daring escape being sponsored by Honda?'”  Along the same lines as the verbal commentary, there’s some physical humour thrown in.  At one point, Rose, the super athletic, kick ass and take names heroine is taken down by a bench.  Yep.  A bench.  Not a flying bench.  Not a magical bench.  Nope.  Just a I’m-sitting-here-where-I’ve-always-been bench.  Parts of this series made me laugh out loud, and for that alone, I would recommend it to my vampire-loving friends.

Are there things about the series that I’m not in love with?  Sure.  The first book took a while to get going, but thankfully, the other books sped along nicely.  The teacher/student romance thing bugs me.  As a teacher, the ick factor of being with a student is super high.  However, I know that it is written for teens, most of whom have a crush on a teacher at some point.  So, I get it.  Just, as a teacher, it made me groan and squirm.  The other bit that annoyed me was the initial focus on Rose’s looks.  There a lot self commentary on how she feels she looks good in a bra and how she is all curves in comparison to her best friend’s more waif body type.  As we go on in the series though, this falls to the wayside and the focus becomes the dynamic relationships between characters, the rather complicated background/politics of the world, and the looming threat of the Strigoi (the deadly, no moral compass type of vamp).  The other thing that drove me crazy is that my favourite character in the series really stands no chance of getting what he wants. 

That said, Richelle Mead manages to get high school politics down pat.  The cliques and general cattiness of teens is represented solidly–even though not a single main character is human–and the books never take themselves too seriously.  Mead manages to pull less punches than most YA supernatural books.  She deals with realistic issues for teens like depression, cutting, and knowing when to balance supporting with getting them help.  She also wrote in some less realistic for most teens, but necessary for the books, moments around torture, PTSD, and massive amounts of betrayal.  My favourite thing about the books is the build and how they become darker and gain a harder edge throughout the series.  Where the first book felt a little sloppy, the author’s style and comfort with the characters grew each time.  Overall, the Vampire Academy Series is fun, dark, and relatively complex, especially once you get beyond book one.

 The Bloodlines Series has a totally different feel from the previous series.  Secondary characters that you wished got more page time in VA take main stage here.  Sydney, the caffeine addicted, racist Alchemist from VA, is the primary focus of this series.  Initially, I didn’t like her.  I found her boring and her extreme hatred for people made me want to throw some Civil Rights Movement knowledge at her.  You know from page one that living with the Moroi is going to force her into a reality check and that she’s going to gradually change her tune.  I just wish that Mead was a little less realistic with the slowness of this change because I spent the first part of the series wanting Sydney to grow a spine and stand up to her family and her superiors.  Spoiler for all you frustrated people out there, she eventually gets her butt in gear and becomes straight up subversive.  Don’t worry, you won’t want to smack her by the end.  Hang in there.

Jill and Angeline, two characters who had almost no focus in the last series, crack me up in this one.  Jill, who is fifteen mind you, seems to attract every male in the area except for Adrian.  I get that she’s pretty, royal, and looks like a model, but my first thought was a line from 10 Things I Hate About You: “What is it with this chick? She have beer-flavored nipples?”  I mean, the level of drama around who she was dating was so high school/junior high I could barely stand it.  At some points I was dying laughing over the ridiculousness.  With a ridiculousness all her own, Angeline comes in as the faux cousin from crazy town.  Angeline is a punch first, ask questions later sort of gal.  All physical to Jill and Sydney’s mental.  She manages to get in trouble for wearing next to nothing because she’s hot and she wants to get Eddie’s attention, gives Trey a concussion with a math book, and knocks over two biology mannequins full of plastic organs while breaking into a classroom because she left her homework in the room. At one point, she forgets her locker combination and suddenly she’s going at the thing with an axe.  No one even figures out how she gets the axe.  She just has an axe because she’s Angeline and what else would she do if she couldn’t get her locker open.  Angeline and Jill were so dramatic in their own ways that they had me laughing out loud at various points.

Eddie, on the other hand, I spent the whole time wanting to hit him upside the head.  I know that he doesn’t feel worthy.  Poor guy is dealing with some serious PTSD and depression.  He’s a good Guardian, a solid person, and someone who needs one hell of a hug.  I like the fact that he gets to play the big brother in this series and that they have both Jill and Angeline as love interests for him, but just like Vampire Academy you know that one is a placeholder for the other.  The result at the end made me happy though.

Also, Adrian is back.  Unfortunately, his snark is lessened by the fact that he’s depressed over the whole Rose thing in book one.  By the time we get through to book four, however, he’s returned to himself and become more stable as a person.  Where Sydney has to deal with her family problems (including divorce, brainwashing, sister troubles, and an overbearing father), Adrian has to deal with his internal demons.  His self-medicating through smoking and drinking, his bipolar disorder, and his betrayal by Rose are all things he’s forced to come to terms with through his relationship with Sydney.  Mead manages to make his plight realistic, sad, and endearing at the same time.  Book four ends with two questions: “How far will Adrian go to save Sydney?” and “Will Sydney make it through the madness that results from betraying the Alchemist rhetoric?”

While this series is less of a fun read, it does have more emotional depth.  Where VA is about vampires, action, and wit, Bloodlines is about characters dealing with emotional trauma and problems.  It took me longer to get through the four books of this series because it was less of a fun romp, but I found myself coming back to it and wanting to see what happened next regardless of the lack of snarky humour and action scenes.  These books are mental to VA‘s physical.  The characters are smarter and more analytical about their lives.  Watching Sydney go from completely closed off to someone willing to experiment and talk to anyone, listening to other points of view, was rewarding in a wholly different way from watching Rose go from physical and simplistic character to a more well-rounded character with emotional depth.  Overall, both series were an interesting read and I am looking forward to reading the rest of the Bloodlines series as it has now progressed into the darker, mental games sort of story.

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