When I first started the Vampire Academy series a few years ago, it was an early foray back into the world of young adult paranormal romance after a very lengthy absence and I was instantly struck by how well Richelle Mead captures the teenage experience without patronising her audience the way I felt most YA had been handled when I was a teenager.
Rose Hathaway is Buffy-like character who, as a dhampir (half-vampire), must spend her life protecting royal full-blooded Moroi vampires from the undead Strigoi. She expects to be assigned to her best friend Lissa Dragomir, to whom she is psychically bonded after Lissa raised her from the dead in the car accident that killed Lissa's family.
Rose is very protective and sometimes possessive of Lissa, having already removed Lissa from the school to protect her in the outside world. Lissa is a more delicate and passive character, but is slowly coming into her own as she learns more about her magic and benefits from Rose's influence.
The story is written in the first person from Rose's perspective and thankfully she tends to be in the middle of the action, so the story is unhindered by the usual limitations of a first person narrative. Her bond with Lissa allows her to see and feel what Lissa experiences and, as a royal, Lissa is allowed places Rose cannot go. Mead ramps up the tension when she uses Rose's bond with Lissa to show the reader events unfolding that Rose cannot influence. It is hard for Lissa to keep secrets from Rose but Rose feels she cannot burden Lissa with hers, which makes their friendship more uneven.
I love Rose as a heroine because she is no Bella Swan, no weak and transparent protagonist acting as a placeholder for the reader. She reacts strongly and instigates action. I found myself drawn to her because she struggles to maintain her own very definite identity even if it clashes with the expectations placed on her.
Rose can't do anything the easy way, which creates conflict with her instructors. After making a scene over being assigned to protect Lissa's boyfriend instead of Lissa, Rose is falsely accused of deliberately shirking her duties when she sees the ghost of a former classmate during a practice fight, causing her to freeze. The reader knows there's more to the story, but the instructors' belief that she is petulantly protesting an unwanted assignment is feasible. She is seen as a troublemaker and even if she is one of the most promising Guardians, they have an entire class to train.
Rose is well-matched in her mentor, Dimitri Belikov. He is strong enough to let her be herself and always has her back. Where he is highly respected but somewhat isolated, Rose is more closely connected to those around her. His calm balances her wildness. He sees someone who has grown beyond her years in many ways, but still needs the guidance that comes from experience. Her wild passion, unfailing dedication and unrealised potential pull him out of himself. Their love is forbidden and not just because she is his student. As dhampir Guardians, they must focus on the Moroi they protect and not each other.
As Rose matures and learns to see the grey areas in life, Mead reveals hidden layers in her secondary characters whom Rose either underestimates or misjudges. As Rose handles her protection assignment, testifies against a Moroi criminal, supports Lissa's attempts to control her magic and investigates mysterious beatings, Mead subtly weaves in hints of what is really happening, but implies alternative explanations that can keep you from putting all the pieces together.
Third in the completed Vampire Academy 6-book series, Shadow Kiss marks the point at which the series really gets its claws into you and it's a rollercoaster ride that just keeps getting more addictive with every book. I envy anyone who gets to follow Rose's journey for the first time. ~ Allison