If you haven’t read the first four books in this series, then I must say: Warning, warning! Endless spoilers ahead! This action-packed supernatural series for teens has so much stuff going on that you’ll regret perusing this post ahead if you’ve ever considered reading it.
I’ve read a few supernatural kids’ books lately, mostly because it’s a large portion of the teen market at the moment. Of course we can blame Stephenie Meyer for this (amongst other things) for showing that writing about vampires as a metaphor for teen sexual angst can make you wealthy at an almost cartoonish level. Many authors have now been able to publish their supernatural books and they are very hit and miss. Of the new deluge of books, I’ve read some terrible ones, and some okay ones. Being that it’s not my favourite genre (though what is may be still up for debate) none of them have really been angels-trumpeting awesome, but as far as pure enjoyment goes, Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series is the best I’ve read.
Vampire Academy is the nickname for St Vladmir’s, a school for Moroi (vampires, but good guys) and dhampirs (humans with a Moroi parent, who are on this earth to guard Moroi.) The Moroi get a standard education, while the dhampirs get both a normal education and then guardian training as well, because they will only ever graduate to fight for the Moroi. Who are they guarding against? That would be the Strigoi: vampires who have killed another person, or someone who has been forcibly turned by another Strigoi. Rose, our protagonist, is a sexy ass-kicking dhampir, who is happy being a guardian for her best pal, the Moroi Lissa, but also wants to get out there and beat down some Strigoi. Things become complicated when her trainer, Dimitri, who is so irresistible that even readers want to smooch him, finally caves in to a relationship with Rose, boffs her in a shed, and then is promptly turned Strigoi three pages later. That all took three books to happen, and book four was spent with Rose tracking him down to Siberia, where he kidnapped her and tried to convince her to turn Strigoi so they could go on murderous sexy rampages for eternity. She declined and smacked him down, but had learned that maybe, just maybe, there was a way to turn Strigoi back into who they were.
Spirit Bound finds Rose and Lissa after graduation from St Vlad’s, at the Moroi court, waiting to find what will happen with the next stage of their lives. Now is the time when the guardians are doled out to the Moroi, and while Rose always wanted to be with Lissa, she may not be able due to skipping school to head to Siberia for a few months the year before along with the endless dramas she gets caught up in, and because Lissa is a princess—and the last of her line—they need someone stable to guard her. So now Rose needs to show that she is a good influence, but because she’s the kind of person who will throw herself into ideas with abandon, she takes off, with Lissa and another guardian, to bust someone out of prison who could possibly help Dimitri. And I can’t really say more, because there are so many dramatic twists thrown in I’ll surely ruin something.
Vampire Academy is not a perfect series. It suffers from the overblown chapter endings I hate, where authors seem to feel the only way to get people to continue reading is to end a chapter with someone making a dramatic proclamation that leaves everyone reeling. To Richelle Mead’s credit, she’s not as bad as James Patterson, who does the same thing but has literally more than a hundred chapters per book that all end like that—Mead does rein that in, to about twenty-seven chapters. The writing can be a bit standard and clichéd, and there is a fair amount of brooding about boys. But it is much less painful than Twilight, mostly because Rose is a much better female protagonist, who doesn’t just sit around waiting for boys to be violent towards her and each other (because that’s what they all do, right?) but jumps into the fray, is loyal to her friends, has a finely tuned sense of right and wrong, and makes it her life’s work to fight for what is just. She’s much more realistic, in that she sometimes jumps to conclusions, gets angry or jealous, and gets into petty fights when she’s in a bad mood. She’s sixteen at the start of the books, and teenager or not, that’s how people are. Fallible humans. She’s also up for parties, loves pashing boys, and doesn’t have to worry about the poor helpless mens unable to stop themselves hurting her during sex. She lives in a fantasy world, but the reactions of the people around her make it seem much more grounded in reality than other books. It’s also fun—some of these books are so depressing I can’t figure out the point of trying to save the world when everyone is so annoying—and Rose’s sense of humour sustains her and the reader throughout hard times. And this book, above all others, really slaps her with some hard times.
There are a lot of characters that dash in and out of the books. Some are frontline characters during the first half of the book and then vanish from thought by the end of it. It can be hard to keep up with who’s who, though Richelle Mead will explain who every character is—there’s just a lot of them, and it’s difficult to remember why Rose likes or hates them. (She doesn’t really do neutral.) Despite that, Spirit Bound, and the whole Vampire Academy series, is a rollicking, enjoyable read that covers some familiar ground, makes for some interesting new drama, and is a much better example for the Youth Of Today than Twilight. The final book’s out at the end of the year, and while I’ll pretend to be mature and indifferent, secretly I can’t wait.