Vampire Academy

Vampire Academy

Vampire Academy was written by Richelle Mead and first published in 2007. It is the first of a series of six books that focus on the lives of a teenage dhampir and the vampire that she has sworn to protect as they try to survive high school. The story continues in Frostbite (2008), Shadow Kiss (2008), Blood Promise (2009), Spirit Bound (2010) and Last Sacrifice (2010) and also has a spin-off series called Bloodlines. A film has also recently been released based on the plot of the first novel.

The story is set in a society where peaceful mortal vampires called Moroi are on the verge of extinction because they are the primary food source of the Strigoi – evil undead vampires. In order to have a chance of survival the Moroi rely on the protection of their Guardians, dhampir soldiers who have been trained specifically to kill the Strigoi.

Following a terrible car accident, Rose Hathaway has found herself drawn to her best friend Vasilisa “Lissa” Dragomir, a Moroi Princess. A rare psychic bond has formed between the two of them, allowing Rose to sense whenever Lissa is in trouble. Swearing to become Lissa’s Guardian, Rose spirits her away from their home at St. Vladimir’s Academy as she believes that she can keep her safer away from the school’s heavily guarded walls.

It is two years later when the school finally retrieves them, punishing both for their transgressions. For Lissa, her absence is more of a social death. The Moroi culture is highly political and now she has fallen out of favour with the other eleven noble houses. For Rose, it means gruelling training with a private instructor called Dimitri. If she wants to become Lissa’s official Guardian she needs to be strong and she has fallen far behind in her studies.

Yet something is horribly wrong at the academy. Someone watches Lissa from the shadows and soon makes themselves known by leaving a grizzly present in her dormitory. As the macabre gifts grow more frequent, Lissa’s sanity begins to suffer. Rose knows that she must protect her friend but is struggling with troubles of her own. Every day she grows more attracted to Dimitri, even though he is seven years her senior. Only one thing is clear – St. Vladimir’s is not as safe as her tutors would claim. Rose needs to figure out her feelings and decide what is most important to her or it could be too late to save Lissa from her inner demons.

Vampire Academy is one of those novels that I find it really difficult to review. On researching this novel, I can see that it has a massive and dedicated fan base. People speak really highly of the story and its characters and can be very incredibly defensive of any criticism of it. Perhaps I am just the wrong audience for this story because I felt that, while it did show some promise, it had a lot of flaws that I was completely unable to overlook while reading.

Beginning with the novel itself, the story suffered from some utterly abysmal pacing. While it did pick up (and actually become really enjoyable) towards the end of the novel, this really only took place over the last fifty pages or so. A Strigoi doesn’t even appear in the story until ten pages before the end. Up to this, the story really did crawl along at a snail’s pace. Most of the story was taken up by typical high school drama. While this is not a bad thing (there is nothing wrong with choosing a high school setting in your novel), the nature of St. Vladimir’s Academy made the situation seem absurdly over the top.

Everyone who has ever attended high school will be aware that there are many different cliques of students, forming a social hierarchy with the popular kids at the top of the food chain. In St. Vladimir’s, this pyramid seems to have some abnormal weighting. 90% of the people that Lissa and Rose interact with are the popular kids (known as the Royals in this story). These are the Moroi nobility – the back-stabbing social climbers whom everyone loves despite the fact that they are all horrible people. While there are a few students that don’t fit this description – Christian, Natalie and Mason – it did strike me as weird that so many students in the school were part of this popular crowd, especially as the school taught dhampir as well as pure-blooded Moroi. Surely not everyone can be popular in a school as it defeats the purpose. It also made them all seem utterly detestable as – excluding Lissa and Christian – the Royals were some of the most disgusting people in the world.

You see, the Moroi culture is built on extreme prejudice. Essentially, everyone who isn’t a Moroi is viewed as being inferior. The humans that volunteer to be “feeders” for the Moroi are shown respect for their contribution but are mocked behind closed doors for being drug-addled losers. Similarly, dhampir women also easily become viewed as “blood whores”. As they are only able to procreate with Moroi men, the dhampir that do not become Guardians seem to largely end up living in communes which are frequented by Moroi looking for easy lays. It is seen as disgusting for a Moroi to marry a dhampir and so one night stands are the only way that other dhampir are born. Similarly, two dhampir having a relationship is viewed as being selfish and taboo – as dhampir can’t have children together, such a union is viewed as being wasteful.

Seriously, we’re supposed to be rooting for these guys? The only reason that the dhampir protect them is because if the Moroi go extinct, there can be no more dhampir (Rose says at one point that the male dhampir tend to become Guardians just to ensure that their female relatives will be able to have children). That takes some loyalty, to remain as servants to Moroi just for the tiny chance that they will choose to have wild flings with your loved ones. It also has disturbing implications to how the people in this universe must view homosexuality. If the relationship between two sterile dhampir is viewed as being wrong because they can’t have children, what would they think of a same sex couple?

Sorry, bit of a rant there, but I hope you can see what I mean. Too much of the novel is taken up by this – social dramas, ladder climbing and slut-shaming. It made for some very tiring reading and it was only the faintest glimmers of a bigger plot beneath all of this melodrama that kept me reading.

Part of the trouble was that the novel was told entirely from Rose’s perspective and so we missed a lot of what was going on. Most of the social side – particularly Lissa’s return to popularity – was related to Rose by a third party. There is a lot of exposition – “she said”, “he said” – rather than allowing the reader to see events as they pan out. As Rose was separated from Lissa for a large portion of the novel, this quickly became very tedious. I think I would have preferred the story if Lissa had been the narrative voice – to see her struggle with her powers and growing madness first-hand – as her story seemed to be a lot more interesting than Rose’s.

While Rose was an unusual protagonist for a paranormal romance – bull-headed, confident and full of attitude – I had trouble connecting to her as a main character. A lot of the attitudes that she held were contradictory and sometimes outright hypocritical. She did not want to be viewed as a Blood Whore, yet she would openly flirt and make out with as many Moroi guys as possible. She expressed disgust at the idea of two dhampir being in love, yet she never seems to have any internal conflict about her relationship with Dimitri. Actually, on the subject of her relationship with Dimitri, I did not really buy that either. There is no real chemistry between the two. They obviously both fancy each other but they don’t appear together enough in the story to form a true bond. I hoped for most of the story that she would wind up with Lissa instead as their connection was far more genuine and seemed to even border on attraction at times.

While some of the secondary cast did show better development, this was primarily in exposition. We see nothing of Christian and Lissa’s relationship forming, it just kind of happens off focus. Similarly, the reader is told of Mia’s tragic back story and yet all of her actions within the story are malicious. I don’t really care how sad her story was, I never see any reason why I should like her. I’ve never really been one for this style of storytelling. Seeing events unfold is always far more effective for me than learning about them later.

Wow, this review is getting long – sorry about that! In summary, Vampire Academy must have something going for it as it has a huge fan base. Unfortunately, I found it to be slow moving and far too heavy in expository dialogue. Rose was just not likable enough for me as a lead character and I would much rather have seen the events play out from Lissa’s point of view. However, the climax of the novel was great and it really did draw me in over the last fifty pages. I really hope that Frostbite carries on this level of tension as, if it does, it could be a much more interesting read.

Vampire Academy can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kate Holden (@darthmongoose)
    Sep 28, 2015 @ 15:33:22

    I had to come and see what your opinion of this was after trying reading it myself and…um….giving up about two thirds of the way through. I tried the book because the graphic novel adaptations, illustrated by Emma Vieceli, a friend, were pretty enjoyable and I thought the original book would be like those but going into the meat of the setting and character development more. Plus I thought I could read ahead on what happens next, since the GNs can only come out so fast and the plot was getting pretty interesting! In actuality, there’s no more substance in the book, just a lot of meaningless padding. I strongly recommend the Graphic Novels over the books; it’s a condensed version of the stories and the visual element is a nice antidote to the bland prose and tendency to tell rather than showing that the books have. Plus unlike the movie, the GNs didn’t whitewash the protagonist.

    Reply

    • Kim
      Sep 28, 2015 @ 15:57:21

      I can fully understand giving up on this book. While there were flashes of an interesting plot in there, the sheer amount of high school politics made it difficult to find. I still haven’t felt any real desire to pick up Frostbite and heard that the movie was dire, perhaps I will give the graphic novel a try.

      Reply

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