Setting; 8/10Characters: 9/10
St. Vladimir's Academy isn't just any boarding school—it's a hidden place where vampires are educated in the ways of magic and half-human teens train to protect them. Rose Hathaway is a Dhampir, a bodyguard for her best friend Lissa, a Moroi Vampire Princess. They've been on the run, but now they're being dragged back to St. Vladimir's—the very place where they're most in danger...Rose and Lissa become enmeshed in forbidden romance, the Academy's ruthless social scene, and unspeakable nighttime rituals. But they must be careful lest the Strigoi—the world's fiercest and most dangerous vampires—make Lissa one of them forever.
Rose is a Dhampir, a vamp/human combo, in training to be a guardian of Lissa, a royal Moroi. Morois, who are endangered, are good vamps, with magical connections to the elements. When they go bad, they become Strigoi, evil, super strong, pasty bloodsuckers.
When the book opens, Rose and Lissa have been on the run from Vampire Academy for two years, for reasons that become clear later. They are caught by a group of guardians, one of whom, Dimitri, has a huge bullseye around his character as Rose’s future love interest, and brought back to Montana (!). The rest of the book takes place there. There’s a lot of high school stuff — classes, dances, cliques, rumors, burgeoning sexuality and “experimentation” — which seemed to me to be handled well.
What made the story interesting to me was Rose, who is not only a total badass, physically, but also a very complex character who is both loyal, good, empathetic, and strong, and mean, superficial, needy and impulsive. Somber, conscientious Dimitri, 7 years her senior, becomes her trainer, and since Rose is a sexy wild child, you can imagine the dynamic. He’s pretty 2 dimensional, but then most hunky duster-clad bad boys are.
The world building was also very interesting, although I confess I was at a loss to understand why Dhampirs would dedicate their lives to Moroi. (It’s funny, surf the web and you find some people saying Mead has done something very new, others say it is all old hat. I have no idea.) Rose’s bond with Lissa is extra strong even for their world since Rose has the ability to get inside Lissa’s head, and since Lissa drank Rose’s blood while they were on the run (the latter described using overt sexual imagery). I find this set up very intriguing — it’s clear that if Rose had to choose between Lissa and anyone else, even a lover, she would choose Lissa. Dhampirs are kind of like Jedi knights. The fact that there will be no marriage or children in Rose’s future (unless she wants to disgrace herself and get drummed out of the guardian corps) is a price she is willing to pay. So those readers looking for romance will be disappointed, at least in this first installment (there are five more).
The plot revolves around the increasingly dire threats to Lissa, and the development of Lissa’s own powers, some of which are quite dangerous and extraordinary even for Moroi. They draw the attention of some unsavory characters. On the quotidian level, Lissa herself has to struggle with a Breakfast Club scenario — choose to be popular or choose to be herself and lose social status.
I will say that I watched the movie Twilight just after I finished Vampire Academy, and maybe the comparison is unfair but it seems to me that Mead’s world is much more complex and interesting than Meyer’s. Is there aVampire Academy movie in the works? There should be.