Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Review: Vampire Academy (Mead #1)

Vampire Academy, by Richelle Mead, is the first novel in the series. It is the contemporary United States. After two years on the run, best friends Rose (Rosemarie) Hathaway, a Dhampir guardian-in-training, and Lissa (Vasilisa) Dragomir, a Moroi princess, have been caught and taken back to St. Vladimir's Academy, a school that educates dhampirs and Moroi students far isolated from humans. Once they return, they face new challenges in addition to catching up in their studies: widespread peer pressure, nasty gossip, cliques, and anonymous threats. Rose, the narrator of the story, endures criticism with a thick skin and vows to become Lissa's official guardian. After the death of her parents and older brother, Lissa must cope with emotional issues and depression as she is the last surviving member in her once-powerful family. Meanwhile she is blessed with special magical powers that she tries to use for good.

Unfortunately, someone wants to abuse it for their own agenda. Lissa finds dead animals around her, and rumors spread fast throughout the school. While she tries to maintain her legendary school reputation and balance a romantic crush with her handsome mentor, Rose must connect the pieces together with the assistance of her friends before someone wants Lissa dead. She also gradually comes to her own realization about what her future holds as a Dhampir guardian and the implications of her psychic bond to Lissa.

Initially, I was hesitant to start this series because I already had my list of favorite vampire-romance authors. In addition, it takes place in a high school setting (Okay, I am even done with college. Could I actually relate to these characters?) Alas, I gave it a try, and my doubts ceased. The first couple of chapters just blew me away!

I loved this book. I felt very drawn to the characters, especially Rose, Lissa, Christian and Dimitri. It is written as a first-person narrative from Rose's perspective. She is very witty and laidback with a sarcastic sense of humor. She cares more about Lissa than her own feelings and is willing to protect her at all costs from criticism and threats. You have to admire her personality because not only is she comedic, but she also takes her guardianship studies very seriously. She is a good and loyal friend. Lissa has the opposite personality (calm and sweet) and becomes depressed the more she uses her powers (healing and compulsion). Dimitri, Rose's mentor/trainer and Lissa's guardian, has molnija marks tattooed on the back of his neck, showing how many Strigoi he has killed. He has complex romantic feelings for Rose. Christian, who witnessed his parents turned Strigoi and murdered by guardians, is feared and ostracized by his peers in the school. Almost everyone ignores him except Lissa and Rose.

There are three groups in this novel: Moroi, Dhampirs and Strigoi. Moroi are mortal vampires who must feed on blood and have an unbreakable bond to earth's magic. The sun's rays weakens their skin, and magic should never be used as a weapon. Dhampirs are hybrids (human and vampire) with incredible strength and dedicate their lives as guardians (personal bodyguards). The Strigoi are the most dangerous -- they are immortal. They have no magic, must stay away from the sun, and feed off other Moroi, who are dwindling in numbers. The Dhampirs protect the Moroi families from the Strigoi. The vampires descend from Eastern Europe so most of them have Slavic/Russian heritage and practice Orthodox Christianity.

This is not just another typical teen novel. The level of violence in this book is PG-rated for more mature audiences due to the occasional sexual and vulgar language. As Mead's debut series novel, I highly recommend it.

Stay tuned for the next book in the Vampire Academy series, Frostbite.

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