We’re not supposed to judge books by their covers, but we do (or at least I do), especially when there are dozens of novels that all appear to be exactly the same. There have been A LOT of paranormal themed YA novels in the last ten years, and while I am admittedly a massive fan of the genre there are only so many brooding-vampire-teenage-girl love stories I can handle. So I left Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy on the shelf, until the upcoming film adaption caused me to force my hand and I discovered that this story was everything I didn’t know I was missing.
On the surface Vampire Academy is what you might expect. The protagonist is a feisty teenage girl, it’s set in high school, and there are vampires. But instead of an intense problematic heterosexual romance there is one of the most epic female friendships I have experienced in recent years. It’s the kind of female friendship that would inspire legions of slash fans if the characters were male. I’m talking Kirk/Spock levels of intensity. Beyond that, Mead employs fantastic world building and it’s actually pretty funny, which is something that is so often missing from paranormal YA.
Vampire Academy features two different kinds of vampires: one good, the Moroi; and one not so good, the Strigoi; and a vampire/human half-breed called dhampirs who act as bodyguards for the Moroi. The protagonist, Rose Hathaway, belongs to the latter and the story begins with her Moroi best friend Lissa on the run and the two living as ‘normal’ teenagers, or as normal as a vampire princess and her underage guardian can be. It’s not long before the pair are discovered and dragged back to St Vladimir’s Academy where a whole new world of trouble awaits them.
I fell for Rose Hathaway so hard and so fast that I can’t remember a time before I loved her. She’s brash but not masculinized, she’s interested in boys but not obsessed with romance, she’s kind of stubborn but also determined, and she loves her best friend Lissa unashamedly. She’s not perfect – she’s got a bad case of mommy issues – and she doesn’t always deal with things the best way but that’s what makes her so lovable. She’s dynamic but also relatable and a large part of what makes this story amazing.
Rose is not the only thing that makes Vampire Academy a great read. There’s also the fact that the paranormal aspects are so ingrained into the world that Rose doesn’t have to make a choice between the ‘normal world’ and the supernatural. She has to deal with evil plots and dangerous situations as well as every day teenage drama because both are part of who she is – the action adventure plot is deeply connected to the Mean Girls-esque high school drama. I’m not sure which is worse, murderous monsters or teenage girls (or maybe it’s both).
If that’s not enough to convince you to jump on the Vampire Academy train, how about the fact that it’s recently been adapted for the big screen by the director of Mean Girls and the writer of Heathers. That’s right, this fantastic story is being brought to life by two of the people that helped created some of my favorite female lead teen flicks. It’s set for release in less than two weeks (in cinemas February 7), which is plenty of time to grab a copy of Richelle Mead’s novel and devour it (it’s the kind of book that demands devouring). That way, even if the movie sucks, you will be completely hooked on this compelling series.
Luckily, if the trailers are anything to go by, it doesn’t seem as though they have downplayed the bond between Rose and Lissa to increase the romantic subplots. The romances are still there – and they are very intense don’t worry – but as io9 noted in response to the footage shown at NYCC, “It established the fact that this was a girlfriends kind of vampire movie, as opposed to the ‘he loves her she loves him but one of them is a monster’ trope this genre has been kicking around for ages.”
So if you’re looking for a dynamic heroine, a fascinating fantasy world, an epic female friendship, and vampires then look no further than Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy. Believe me when I say, it’s really not what you think.
Author: Undie Girl
Undie Girl (aka Von) has a BA (Hons) Major in Cultural Studies. The title of her honours thesis was “It’s just gay and porn”: Power, Identity and the Fangirl’s Gaze. She’s currently pursuing a Masters of Media Practice at University of Sydney. Von’s a former contributor The Backlot’s column The Shipping News and a current co-host of The Geekiary’s monthly webcast FEELINGS… with The Geekiary.
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