Monday, December 13, 2010

richelle mead, last sacrifice

As someone who rarely reads books that are part of an ongoing series—apart from Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy Kid and Stephenie Meyer’s satirical Twilight series, I can’t think of anything since Harry Potter—making it to the sixth book in a row is a real effort and means that something must be right. While this is true—the Vampire Academy series is great fun—there is also a lot wrong with this book.

To rain down spoilers from the first five books in the series, Last Sacrifice opens with our heroine, Rose Hathaway, locked away in jail accused of the murder of Tatiana, queen of the Moroi. Rose and Tatiana didn’t particularly get along—Tatiana had recently passed a law lowering the age that guardians graduate and become fighters. As Rose is a guardian herself, trained to protect the Moroi—the good, consensual-bitey vampires—from Strigoi—the bad, murdery kind of vampire—she is not well pleased with the decision, but not enough to kill Tatiana. After a previous court outburst and some shifty bribing, Rose has been framed for the crime—but by who? As she is stuck in her cell, her friends and family do all they can to help her, from trying to find the real perpetrator to using a dramatic diversion to bust Rose out of the big house.

The Vampire Academy novels rely highly on throwing twists and shocks in every chapter, so I’ll try not to say much more. Suffice it to say the series relies heavily on action and drama, neither of which really can happen in a jail cell, so Rose is out and about breaking hearts and staking vicariously shortly into the book, making new friends and new enemies and smooching—well, who? Longtime readers will be either Team Dimitri (Rose’s first boyfriend, guardian trainer and someone who was turned Strigoi then brought back by Rose’s best friend, Lissa) or Team Adrian (when Dimitri became evil then broke up with Rose, in that order, Adrian was there to pick up the pieces and smoke heavily in the background.)

As Rose blusters her way around the countryside, her best friend Lissa, who brought Rose back to life during a car accident years before, is coping with her own dramas back at court, where she is thrown into much bigger turmoil than expected. The series is written through Rose’s dramatic, biased point of view, but due to her resurrection she shares a bond with Lissa that means she can see from the other girl’s point of view. Doing this means Rose is free to keep tabs on what’s happening in court even while getting up to more hasty crimes in the American backwoods.

It remains good, action-packed fun, sufficiently dramatic, a bit sexy (but not too much for the innocent eyes of teen readers—most dalliances get interrupted at inopportune times) and full of the characters you’ve enjoyed meeting in the past. Rose is flawed, has a quick temper, but is pretty funny and does what she thinks is best, which means she is mostly likeable.

But lord, sometimes you want to just stake her in the heart. Sometimes she is so stupid, or brash, or insensitive, that you really wonder if it would be so bad if she got executed for treason after all. Rose is a pain in the ass, and if it wasn’t for the fact that she is tall, fit, gorgeous, and could beat up anyone who looked at you funny, would she ever get as many marriage proposals and men willing to do anything for her? Her decisions are frequently annoying, and her reasoning behind the eventual relationship choice she makes feels very pasted on and does not compute with how the gentleman in question has appeared in the past.

The book could have done with a good dose of editing and the removal of one chapter ending early in the book that put my teeth on edge far too soon. The bond between Lissa and Rose has been a large part of the whole series, so when chapter two ends with Rose waking up, panicked, and the last lines being:

“What I found was...nothing.
The bond was gone.”

it’s serious business, you know? So when chapter three starts like this:

“Well, not gone exactly.

you feel like you’ve been cheated out of your emotions. I actually ended up marking a lot of pages in the book with scraps of paper if I came across questionable writing or plotting, but half of them fell out when I was flicking through just now to get to chapter two, so you might have to take my word on that. (One seemingly petty marked page found that someone knocked on Rose’s door in a “discrete” manner.) While I’m sure author Richelle Mead has had the series planned out in her head for some time, the eventual unveiling of who really killed Tatiana is actually kind of mean and annoying rather than a lightbulb moment where you think “of course!”. Some characters seem like red herrings, or just introduced to fawn over Rose, and some questions are still left unanswered. While the series will be continuing on with another Vampire Academy series forthcoming, one that won’t follow Rose—but apparently she will be around, so it won’t quite be the last we see of her—perhaps some of the loose ends will be tied up, but I don’t think I can be bothered reading any further now that this story has essentially reached its end point. I’ll just harass some poor teenage girl into reading them and telling me what happens to Rose in the future. “Does she get married? Does she have cute babies? Does she ever get the cute but inappropriate clothes she often finds herself wearing caught in any machinery and killed? TELL ME!!”

In summary: Below Expectations. I had hyped myself up into thinking the series was much more well-written than it is. It was still enjoyable enough, and with so many surprise moments it’s a page-turner, but I won’t read anything else by Mead because I am sick of all these improbably attractive people and their fantastical castle-related lifestyles. I really just don’t care any more.

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