*This review will contain spoilers!*
With the release of the last book in Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy spin-off series, Bloodlines, released earlier this month, I thought it was about time I jumped on the band wagon. When I saw a read-along on Goodreads for 'Vampire Academy' I just couldn't resist.
I went into this book not knowing much about it, apart from the fact that it was set at an academy for vampires. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that our protagonist, Rose, isn't actually a vampire, she's a dhampir - a vampire guardian, half-human and half-Moroi. The Moroi are a type of vampire: mortal vampires, who can withstand certain amounts of sunlight and an use magic related to elements (air, water, earth or fire, depending on which one they specialise in). However, in this universe, there are two types of vampires, the other being the Strigoi. The Strigoi are vampires who have given up their ability to withstand sunlight and their ability to use magic, to become immortal. The way they become immortal is by killing Moroi, which is why the Moroi need their guardians around them at all times.
When we join Rose, she's on the run with a member of the Moroi royalty, and her best friend, Lissa. As you can imagine by the title, them being on the run doesn't last too long and they get brought back to St. Vladimir's, the school that they escaped from just over two years ago.
After the recapturing of Rose and Lissa the plot does slow down quite remarkably, throwing more of the focus onto Rose resuming her guardian training, and Lissa learning to deal with the fact that she has different, and stronger, powers than anyone else that they've ever known. Rose and Lissa also have a bond between them that causes a lot of intrigue from their teachers, as a bond like the one that they have - in which Rose can sense Lissa's emotions, and sometimes view things through her eyes - has only ever been heard of in stories from the distant past. Combined with this Lissa has a strong ability to perform compulsion, even on Moroi and dhampirs, and can heal and resurrect. All of these skills are ones that the girls have only seen for real in their crazy ex-teacher, Ms Karp, who was taken away by guardians due to her developing insanity.
Because this is a young adult novel there is quite a bit of romance in it, but I was pleasantly surprised that none of it was insta-love, which is something I really hate. Lissa bonds with fellow outcast Christian, a student at the school whose parents both turned to the side of the Strigoi, and while their relationship doesn't develop smoothly it's written in a very believable way. Meanwhile, Rose develops a massive crush on her guardian training instructor, Dimitri; an older man, and a skilled guardian with six Strigoi kills under his belt already, he is going to be one of Lissa's guardians when she graduates from the academy, so while their romance seems doomed before it even begins, every fibre of my being hopes that they'll be able to work something out.
As you can imagine, it does take a little while for the different dynamics of the world to establish. The difference between dhampirs, Moroi and Strigoi all seem quite ambiguous at the beginning, but quickly settle down into their rightful places throughout the book. There is also the establishment of different dynamics between the students, because since Lissa and Rose have been on the run there's been quite a shift around in the school hierarchy, and Lissa's place is no longer as set in stone as it had been. This means that at times throughout the book it does get a bit teen high school drama, but mixed in with all of the supernatural goings on it's not too overpowering. The middle section is rather slow, but the ending more than makes up for it - the last fifty pages are an absolute rollercoaster ride and it all gets very exciting very quickly.
I can imagine that this series is just going to get better with time, because this was a very promising start but all of the development and settling down hindered it quite a bit. I'm definitely going to carry on with it when I have a spare few weeks, because I do think that once I start it I'm not going to be able to stop. If you're looking for a vampire book that's a bit more mature than the average, I'd definitely recommend this one. There's a bit of swearing in it, and the multiple savaged animals make for some disgusting imagery, so it is a bit more mature than the ordinary teen vampire books, but I very much enjoyed it.