Mead’s Vampire Academy series is my favorite YA vampire series. And I love reading about vampires, so that is saying something. Her books are the first ones I check my library for when someone wants a Twilight Read Alike or Bettherthan. So, needless to say, I have been waiting impatiently for this book (the start of a new spinoff series) to come out. In New Orleans, I was two steps away from just standing at the Penguin booth and reading their whole display copy.
I may have even started a brief argument with an employee at Barnes and Noble the day it came out. I went into the store, and searched all the new book displays, and didn’t find it. So, I went up stairs to the YA displays and didn’t find it. And then I looked on the YA shelves, and didn’t find it…I went downstairs again to ask the information desk to find me a copy, but at the last minute found a small table in the back corner that had four copies on it. The books were facing the back corner, toward where some games were…And the books facing outward were some collections of Douglas Adams books (which I also love), but still.
Information desk guy saw me moving the books around, and was all “Can I help you?” I then proceeded to tell him that these were the only four copies (soon to be three) the store had of a bestselling author’s new vampire book, and no one would be able to find it. The guy did not seem too pleased with me for moving anything around. Maybe he made the display? But really, this was almost as bad as the girl at Borders telling me she only needed 3 copies out of Catching Fire the day that came out. This is one of the bad things that comes from giant bookstores taking over the world of smaller ones; the employees don’t always know books, and certainly don’t always know YA. (No offense to all the YA lovers who work in those stores. I just wish there were more of you). But seriously, does Barnes and Noble know how much money they lost that day?
Any way, now that you think I’m crazy, I will get to the story. It actually was not as good as I wanted it to be. It was very different from her other books, mostly because Sydney is no Rose. In fact no one in the world can be as awesome as Rose. But, before I get to a summary, one thing that was really awesome was the brief (or long-lasting, depending on the character) appearances of friends from the other series. And yes, Rose has a brief appearance.
This book is about Sydney, the alchemist who helped out Rose in The Vampire Academy books, and had some kind of deal going on with Rose’s father: Abe Mazur. And while Sydney is nowhere near as cool or rebellious as Rose, she most definitely is smarter. The book starts with her being torn from her bed at home to either be punished for her past “mistakes” (by being sent to a brainwashing Re-education center) or to be sent to a new mission. She intelligently argues her way out of punishment and into a new case. And we get to read about her terrible father, who loves a boy named Keith, over all his daughters. And we soon learn that Keith is a first class jerk. Seeing the family life of Sydney and her sister is fascinating, and while again, she’s not as fun as Rose, I clearly developed s quick sense of empathy for her early on because of her bad family/work/life situations.
Her new job is to watch over Jill, Queen Lissa’s recently discovered sister. Apparently, Jill survived a brutal attack. Certain vampires are after her because they know that Lissa needs at least one family member alive to remain queen. The alchemists arrange for Keith and Sydney to watch over Jill at a boarding school in Palm Springs, a place they come to believe will have very few vampires because the sun there makes vampires weak.
And while a wealthy Palm Springs boarding school is nowhere near as awesome as St. Vladimir’s, it is still really interesting. Sydney has never been to school, and learns that she is missing some key social abilities that weren’t needed in being home schooled to be an alchemist her whole life. Though, she does realize she is smarter than everyone there. And the humans are interesting too. There’s this great storyline about special metallic tattoos that are giving kids specific abilities, like making them more athletic, or even giving them long-lasting highs.
Sydney has to do a lot of things: she needs to be subordinate to Keith, a guy who did something terrible to her sister, she has to watch over Jill and pretend to be her sister while rooming with her, she has to make sure Jill gets to all her feedings, she has to maintain a high grade point average, she has to find out what is going on with these tattoos and whether or not they are connected to the tattoos that all alchemists have that are created from gold, she has to worry about Sydney’s romantic life, keep all the vampires involved form being too loud and drawing too much attention to themselves, beware of Strigoi (evil vampire) attacks, and she has to babysit Adrian (who she soon learns has a new spirit bond with Sydney).
This book got a lot of things started. It was layered in various plotlines. And I’m dying to find out where all this stuff leads. And it was fascinating to learn more about the alchemists and how things worked for them. The next book will involve a lot of Strigoi/vampire research and explanations for things that were never answered in the earlier series, and I’m really excited to learn more about it. The one thing I kept wanting more of, in this book, was romance. It was rather lacking in that department, which is sad because I know how Mead writes romance, and it was one of the things I was most looking forward to. Though, based off of how the story ends, and the review I read for book two, which comes out in May of 2012, I know book two will be a lot more steamy…
It also took me a little longer to get into the story, despite the immediacy of Sydney’s assignment. It was difficult to read about a character who was raised her whole life to hate vampires. And it was difficult to read about her lack of ability to stand up for herself; it just clashed so much with Rose’s personality that it was almost painful. But, as the story goes along, the pace picks up and Sydney grows stronger. By the end of it, she even stands up to Abe, and has some witty comments for Adrian. And actually, I’m really excited to see how strong Sydney will definitely grow through the rest of this spinoff series. I can’t wait for it. And I can’t wait for Adrian to some day get over Rose. And I can’t wait to see where Jill’s future romantic paths take her. I give this a 9/10. It would have gotten a 10, if not for the overwhelming setup feel; this book really felt like it was a giant setup for the series to come. And I’m looking forward to the whole thing!