fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsRichelle Mead 1. BloodlinesBloodlines by Richelle Mead

When I first picked Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy off the shelf back in March, I kind of figured it wasn’t going to go well. I’m not exactly the biggest vampire fan in the world. Imagine my surprise when five months later I find myself reading the start of the spinoff series, Bloodlines. VAMPIRE ACADEMY was full of action and romance and was a blast to read, which meant Bloodlines had a lot to live up to.

In Bloodlines, we see the return of a number of VAMPIRE ACADEMY characters and the introduction of quite a few new characters as well. The setting is a human school, where Moroi royalty Jill is being sent to protect her from the machinations of the Moroi at court. A lot of things could go wrong with these circumstances; some things do, some don’t.

One of the return characters, and the main character of the book, is Sydney Sage, an Alchemist. Alchemists are a secret society of humans whose job it is to keep the rest of the human race ignorant of the existence of vampires, but they don’t much care for vampires. Sydney has been taught her entire life to think that all vampires are basically evil hellspawn, which makes her new job all the more uncomfortable. Posing as Jill’s sister, Sydney has to make sure the entire school of humans doesn’t find out who and what Jill really is.

I was concerned when I first found out that Sydney would be the narrator for Bloodlines. She makes several appearances in VAMPIRE ACADEMY, in which I found her dull and neurotic. But to my surprise, I really liked Sydney as a narrator. For one thing, she’s the polar opposite of Rose, the heroine of VAMPIRE ACADEMY. Mead could have simply written Rose 2.0 and likely gotten away with it, so I respect that she wrote a very different character.

Sydney is socially oblivious and very studious, with a great deal of internal conflicts over what she’s been taught to believe — that she needs to dedicate her life to being an Alchemist — and what she wants — to go to college and have her own life. She struggles between the desire to please her family and the hurt when she simply can’t satisfy her overly demanding and critical father. Rose is a real go-getter, and that made her a lot of fun, but as a person I relate a lot more to Sydney. I look forward to seeing how she develops during the series, and I hope she grows into a character who stops allowing her loved ones to walk all over her. Her character in general is a great piece of psychological work.

I’m less sure about returning characters like Jill. I’ve always found Jill’s exuberance a little hard to take, and her goody-two-shoes attitude really needs a shakeup. Also, less of every other guy in the series falling in love with her, please. That’s uncomfortable. Similarly, I don’t know how to feel about the route Mead is taking with returning character Eddie.

There’s also the return of Adrian Ivashkov, my least favorite character in the VAMPIRE ACADEMY series. Adrian has a case of Poor Little Rich Boy crossed with Pretty Fly For a White Guy Syndrome (read: he’s a spoiled poser) and much of his “screen time” in VAMPIRE ACADEMY was spent continually hitting on Rose despite her very firm “no”s. And being dead drunk. His behavior in Bloodlines hasn’t improved; in fact, it’s worse, right down to a situation that constitutes sexual abuse. It’s frustrating to try to enjoy the book, seeing clearly that Mead is setting Adrian up as the “bad boy” who gets redeemed by love. I could foresee that particular subplot making the series as a whole a less pleasant read for me.

The plot of the book combines a murder mystery with the investigation of magical tattoos that the students of the school are using to better themselves in sports, or just for the high. If it sounds a bit silly, that’s because it kind of is, although it takes a more serious turn later in the book. I don’t really read these books for serious literature, though; I read them because they’re fun and entertaining, and they have heroines that actually do something rather than waiting around for some guy to rescue them.

Strangely, the school plot was a lot less ridiculous, and certainly less so than I thought it would be. It worked better than I’d imagined. So at times, Bloodlines was a bit of a mixed bag, but mostly it was plenty enjoyable.

Would I say that it’s a good place for readers new to the world and characters? Well, I don’t think it’s impossible for a new reader to understand what’s going on, but Vampire Academy is still a much better place to start. I can’t even say whether diehard fans will love it, because as I mentioned, Sydney is such a different character from Rose. But it’s remarkably enjoyable for a spinoff and I hope the rest of the series continues to be this solid.

Bloodlines — (2011-2015) Young adult. Publisher: The first book in Richelle Mead’s brand-new teen fiction series — set in the same world as Vampire Academy. When alchemist Sydney is ordered into hiding to protect the life of Moroi princess Jill Dragomir, the last place she expects to be sent is a human private school in Palm Springs, California. But at their new school, the drama is only just beginning. Populated with new faces as well as familiar ones, Bloodlines explores all the friendship, romance, battles and betrayals that made the #1 New York Times bestselling Vampire Academy series so addictive — this time in a part-vampire, part-human setting where the stakes are even higher and everyone’s out for blood.

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  • Beth Johnson Sonderby (guest)

    BETH JOHNSON, one of our guest reviewers, discovered fantasy books at age nine, when a love of horses spurred her to pick up Bruce Coville’s Into the Land of the Unicorns. Beth lives in Sweden with her husband. She writes short stories and has been working on a novel.

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