Warning: The following contains slight spoilers as I am reviewing and summarizing all current books in the series. You were warned!
I don't understand the recent vampire wave that has crashed all over teenagedom (and even over some adults...yeesh). Sure, vampires have been a source of good fun ever since dear old Vlad decided, "Hey, let's prop some Turks up on stakes, see how that blends in with my castle." But have any of you actually found a vampire novel that borrows from the initial legends and not diamonds and supermodels? Those rabid Twihards I know will be up in arms against me, seeing as how I own all of Ms Meyer's literary works and was, for a while, dedicated to defending the criticism lashed out by Twi-haters. However, the fact of the matter remains that while Twilight has a fairly decent plot. it also entertains the following defects: poor characters, overly cliched descriptions, protagonists who are forever depressed without each other, ofter becoming suicidal, and absolutely no time dedicated to the lifesavers of the 'saga' - the Quileutes. So might I suggest some more entertaining fare for those of us who are disappointed with the lack of YA fantasy novels on the market? Aw, who gives a damn, I will. Girls - feast your eyes and minds on Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy series - neither a saga nor a tale of two self-centered lovers, but a story that rocks martial arts, silver stakes, high school drama and a REAL forbidden romance along with well-researched legends and totally original characters that fill every page with laughs, action and drama that transcends teenage-oriented bullshit like 90210 and Gossip Girl.
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Book One: Vampire Academy
Meet Rosemarie Hathaway. Having escaped an almost fatal car accident years earlier, Rose has been on the lam with best friend Princess Vasilisa Dragomir for two years, having escaped from St. Vladimir's Academy in Montana. Neither of them has any idea why Lissa is frequently depressed, or why Rose can see into Lissa's mind and cannot wander too far away from her.
One night, the Academy guardians seek out the two delinquents and ship them back to school. Why? Because Rose is a dhampir - a half human, half vampire whose future will be to serve as a guardian to endangered vampires called Moroi: vampires like Lissa, whose royalty and close relation to Rose makes it likely that the two will be paired up in the future.
Rose is put under special fast-track training. However, there is a problem - Rose, the wild child, has fallen hard for her mentor, stoic, silent Russian Dimitri Belikov. And he is not the sort who tolerates teenage bullshit. So Rose suffers silently under him, and tries to find ways to quit her partying ways as Lissa relegates herself to the duty of becoming the rising star on the the school's elitist scene in the footsteps of her late brother. However, sweet and innocent Lissa doesn't expect bad boy and disgraced royal Christian Ozera to quickly become the center of her world, something Rose tries her best to prevent. As a guardian, Rose's job will be to kill Strigoi - evil, emotionless vampires that kill humans, Moroi and even dhampirs for their blood - something Christian's parents became by choice.
Lissa's uncle, Victor Dashkov, decides to kidnap her for an ability she never knew she wielded - an element called spirit - which Daskov wants to heal himself. Suddenly the pieces of Rose and Lissa's relationship fall into place, and Rose has to free Lissa from her uncle and prove to her peers and mentor that she can be a capable guardian.
Vampire Academy makes for an intriguing beginning to the series, with well-plotted arcs, even character time, and a climax that compels you to buy the second book. Readers will grow incredibly fond of Rose, a heroine who is the complete opposite of Bella Swan - vivacious, wild, proud, and headstrong. This is a book which can be read multiple times without an ounce of boredom.
Now that Lissa's frequent manic spells can be explained, things are getting quiet at St. Vladimir's. But a vicious Strigoi attack at a royal family's home sets off multiple waves of panic across the vampire world, and all students are shipped off to a safe ski resort for the rest of their Christmas break. Here, Rose meets the infamous Adrian Ivashkov, favourite nephew to the Moroi queen Tatiana, who is also a spirit user with the ability to walk into other people's dreams, unlike Lissa, who can heal others.
As the Strigoi attacks spread like wildfire, guardians from all over the world are brought in to protect the students - including the famous Janine Hathaway, Rose's estranged mother, who she has not seen or heard of in five years. When Tasha Ozera, Christan's aunt, suggests rather scandalously that the Moroi use their elemental abilities to defend themselves instead of relying on their guardians, she inspires a group of students to take on Strigoi by themselves.
To add insult to injury, Tasha has a proposition for Guardian Belikov - in return for guarding her, she will marry him. 'Dimka' now has to make a choice - stay with Rose, whom he secretly loves, at the Academy - or live a life with one of the fiercest, bravest and most radical royals. Meanwhile, Rose sets out to rescue a group of her friends, who have foolishly set out to track down rogue Strigoi, with Christian's help.
Frostbite is quick to begin, with the Moroi massacre in the first chapter itself. While the plot begins to drag in between, the introduction of Adrian Ivashkov, a charismatic yet alcoholic royal who is obsessed with Rose, makes up for the slow pace. As with the previous book, the climax is explosive, resulting in a minor character death, and scars that Rose will carry into her life as she grows up.
Rose Hathaway thinks she's going crazy. Ever since her best friend died during the Strigoi siege he foolishly initiated, she has been seeing his spectral form all around campus. She's also got bigger problems to deal with - womanizing Adrian Ivashkov has followed her to St. Vladimir's to learn about the effects of Spirit with Lissa Dragomir. While Rose battles her feelings for Dimitri, she learns that Victor Dashkov is finally going to be on trial - and that she and Lissa are not going to be called as witnesses.
As Adrian arranges for the four of them to be flown to his aunt's palace, Rose discovers that Lissa is being viewed by the queen as a potential heir - and that she plans for Adrian to get together with Lissa. The pressure of being at Court is hard for the two friends to handle, but when a meddling queen and a stubborn guardian keep interfering, things are bound to happen.
Just when Rose thought things were bad, Dimitri acknowledges his love for her. Unfortunately for her, that is exactly when a large group of Strigoi attack the school, and take away the lives of many of its guardians and students. Knowing that Dimitri now walks this world as a Strigoi, Rose must choose between staying with the friend who once saved her life, or killing the man she once wanted to spend her life with.
As far as action goes, Shadow Kiss is the BOMB. There is high drama, lots of humor, and shady business going on. Adrian's interactions with Rose are a major source of fun, and Rose's viewpoint makes for good sarcasm and insight into life in a world with three kinds of vampires and a lot of protocol.
Rose has made her decision, and sets off to Siberia to hunt for Dimitri. Along the way, she meets the strict Catholic Alchemist Sydney, who is intent on hiding and ridding the world of vampires - good and bad - for the humans, and underworld Moroi don Abe Mazur, who has taken a strange, unexplained interest in Rose. Unfortunately for Rose, Dimitri's gypsy grandmother has seen a vision of Rose on a quest, and insists that she sticks to her original plan, rather than staying with the Belikovs in their town, where she has met a bonded couple just like her and Lissa.
When Rose does find Dimitri, he holds her prisoner on a plush estate with the intention of forcefully turning her into a Strigoi. This a Dimitri far from the wise, patient and caring mentor that Rose knew - he is now bloodthirsty, impatient, cunning and forceful. As Rose succumbs to his supposed charm, she unintentionally becomes his feeder and is rendered helpless by the drugs in his venom. When she does decide to escape, there is a heated fight, and she stakes him. Or so she thinks.
Upon returning to St. Vladimir's, Janine Hathaway reveals her biggest secret, and Rose gets a note from Dimitri, warning her that he will be tracking her down to turn her. Big ending! Not.
This book was a tad bit disappointing in terms of plot. There are hints in the book that in the sequel Dimitri will become a dhampir once more, and to me, that is way too weak an ending, though it is the happy one. There is plenty of sarcasm and action in this one, with the more humane and mature side of Rose shining through most of the time. However, it is still intriguing enough to get the next (and last) book in the series. My tip? Read this one while listening to P.O.D.'s 'Goodbye For Now' on repeat, and you will enjoy the seamless writing more.