The Vampire Academy series features several different subtypes of vampires. Vampirism is passed on genetically. Moroi tend to be slender and somewhat fragile. They can survive in sunlight, although it does make them very weak. They have to drink human blood every couple of days in order to keep up their strength, but they don't kill in order to do so. Each Moroi has an elemental affinity and is able to wield magic. Dhampirs, on the other hand, are half-human, half-vampire. They are possessed of unusual strength. They can only bear children by Moroi, and their offspring will always be dhampir. Most male dhampirs swear fealty to a particular Morai and protect them as bodyguards. Many female dhampirs take on work as "blood whores" trading sexual services, and donating blood to Moroi for the high that it gives them. Dhampirs are treated by their Moroi counterparts as trusted servants as best, and second class citizens at worst. Finally, the Strigoi are former Moroi who have gone to the dark side. They are immortal, they enjoy killing humans, harassing Moroi, and are recognizable by their pale skin and red-rimmed eyes.
In the first book of the series, Lissa Dragomir and Rose Hathaway return to St. Vladimir's after a two-year absence. Unbeknownst to anyone else, Lissa actually has the very rare elemental ability of "Spirit" allowing her to share a one-way psychic link with her best friend Rose, the dhampir that Lissa hopes will be assigned as her bodyguard when she graduates. Lissa's affinity for Spirit gives her the power to heal and use compulsion, but also subjects her to deep depressions. Sarcastic, funny, dhampir Rose's loyalties are torn between her needy friend Lissa and hunky Dimitri, her fight instructor.
Mead's trinity of vampire races, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and her inventive return to the Romanian and Russian roots of vampire lore gives us a fresh take on the genre. Rose is a strong character who is struggling to balance duty and friendship.
I enjoyed this follow up in the Vampire Academy series. Dangerous attacks by an unusually well-organized group of Strigoi have the Moroi in a panic. The students decide to hole up in a glamorous ski resort over winter break. Rose must sort through her feelings for her mentor Dimitri, and safe good-boy Mason. Not to mention her unresolved feelings towards her mother, a ruthlessly efficient bodyguard who abandoned Rose to further her own career. Lissa and her boyfriend Christian are getting more serious, much to Rose's dismay. Rose's one-way psychic link leads to some awkward moments when she can see into her friend's thoughts.
The first chapter is exposition-city, designed to help readers who've skipped the first in the series. The theme of female-dhampir-as-sluts is again briefly touched upon, but not fully explored. Some Moroi start deciding that they'd like to learn how to use their elemental magicks offensively ('bout damn time!) What I find hugely curious is the Uncle-Tomishness of most of the dhampir. I'd love to see a full-out dhampir rebellion. Just because they're the genetic equivalent of mules is no reason why they have to settle for second best at every turn! Those Moroi deserve to be knocked off their high horses.
Mason dies, believing to the last that Rose loves him. Dimitri turns down an intriguing offer of guardianship with an unconventional Moroi woman (Christian's aunt Tasha) I think it would have been so interesting if he had taken the offer. But then again, I'm a sucker for hard choices and unrequited love stories.
Ordinarily, I wouldn't recommend skipping books in a series. Especially by the third book, there may be too much background info to catch up on. However, this book has enough exposition in it, the author seems determined to bring everyone up to speed and rope in new readers with this later addition if necessary. I think readers will enjoy the first two books of Vampire Academy, but if you are looking for some resolution to the romantic conflict and a dramatic cliffhanger ending, you'd do fine to go directly to this book without reading the others first.
The class tensions inherent in vampire society are finally beginning to bust apart at the seams. Once again, dhampir Rose is torn between love and duty as she struggles to keep her growing feelings for her tutor Dimitri under wraps as she protects her Moroi friend Lissa from Moroi attacks. Rose has already earned two molnija marks (the Russian word for lightning) on the back of her neck for killing Strigoi. This book includes a huge battle scene, which earns her a molnija star tattoo meaning she's killed too many Strigoi to count.
The end of the book brings plenty of tension and excitement. As graduation nears, Rose has begun seeing ghosts. She also finally ends up making love with Dimitri but almost immediately loses him to a Strigoi attack brought on by some foolish underclassmen, intent on hazing new members of their secret club. Christian, Lissa's boyfriend, uses his fire magic so successfully in the attack, that many are forced to re-evaluate the Moroi's 'helplessness' and the necessity of such harsh lives for the dhampir. Rose's friend Lissa who's been cavorting about, oblivious to the near-slavery that Rose has been facing as her protector, finally gets a long-overdue wake-up call about how selfish she's been when Rose ultimately abandons Lissa to drop out of school, mere days before graduation, to hunt down and confront the now-Strigoi Dimitri.
We're finally at a point in this series where the author doesn't feel the need to fill us in on everything that has happened before. Readers, if you haven't read Vampire Academy, Frostbite and Shadow Kiss, go back and take a look at those first.
The action in this book moves away from the school setting, when Rose abandons her best friend Lissa in order to track down her former lover Dimitri, who has been turned into a Strigoi. Rose and Dimitri promised each other that if they ever were to fall in battle, and turned into evil Strigoi, that they wouldn't stop until they'd put the other to rest, and Rose intends to make good on her promise. Having no idea where to begin her search, she decides to track down his family in Russia, hoping that maybe he would have returned there. Sure enough, she does find them, a strong family of women who eagerly accept her into their ranks. Spending time with Dimitri's sisters forces her to re-evaluate her harsh opinion of life outside of her professional duties. In them, she is able to witness warm family relationships for the first time. She also finds that Lissa's spirit ability isn't as rare as she thought, and meets a few more spirit users, including another bonded pair, who have discovered a completely different range of abilities.
Rose also runs into Sydney, a human "Alchemist" part of a secret order who helps hide vampires from the rest of human society by destroying Strigoi bodies. The sudden inclusion of a whole new class of slayers stretched my suspension of disbelief. Rose is told that Alchemists are something that all dhampirs are told about once they graduate school and since she's a drop-out, that's why she hadn't heard of them. I thought it would have been a lot more believable if Alchemists were incredibly rare, or perhaps limited only to certain parts of Russia.
After Rose joins forces with a group of dhampir vigilantes, she finally does track down Dimitri and is disturbed by how much like his old self he still seems. She hesitates a fraction too long, and ends up susceptible to his bite which leaves her completely addled. She then spends several weeks as his prisoner, as he tries to convince her to join by his side as a fully "awakened" Strigoi. For Rose, this is a real look at what life as a blood whore might look like. Seductive, enjoyable... but ultimately, quite empty. Luckily, she is able to come to her senses in time, and aided by some of the ghosts that she is occasionally able to call upon she finds the strength to try and stake Dimitri. Shortly after, she discovers that there may be a way to use Lissa's spirit ability to reverse the change to Strigoi, but unfortunately it will be too late for Dimitri... or is it?
I will be interested to see how Rose will use her new hard-won knowledge of Strigoi physiology in the upcoming books of the series. I'm also hopeful (though, I wouldn't hold my breath) that Lissa will finally start to show some battle prowess herself, wielding magic to destroy her enemies in future installments of this series.
I borrowed all of these books from the public library.