To be clear right up front, I really wanted to hate this book. The premise sounded awful, the genre seemed to be totally worn out and boring, and the whole thing seemed like a scripted attempt to fit neatly inside recent tropes. So, you can understand why I would want to hate it. I tried my very very best.
And I succeeded.
Vampire Academy tells the story of two friends, Lissa Dragomir and Rose Hathaway. Lissa is a Moroi (a good vampire) and Rose is her dhampir (a guardian whose job it is to protect the Moroi). They ran away from their school, St. Vladimir’s Academy, after a terrible accident, and the book begins with them making it on their own in Oregon. They are captured and brought back to school, and the narrative follows their attempts to fit back into their social circles, figure out Lissa’s blossoming vampire powers, and find out who keeps dropping dead animals in Lissa’s room and bag. Along the way, Rose falls for her sexy, older mentor and Lissa falls for the serious, flawed social outsider. Shocker.
My biggest challenge in writing this review has been to think about exactly why I disliked Vampire Academy. Like I said, the story is pretty cliché (Vampires that you can relate to!? Vampires with teen problems!? Weird sexual tension between vampires and the people they do/want to bite!?), but my biggest problem with Richelle Mead’s book has to do with how much of a missed opportunity Vampire Academy is. The paranormal teen romance genre that has popped out of the void recently has a huge readership, and I’m always really happy when people are reading. However, books like Twilight present such problematic gender dynamics, and this becomes a problem when millions of little boys and girls are reading them and thinking, “Hey, that’s what love is,” or “Hey, that’s how I should treat men/women.” And Vampire Academy, with its two main female characters and its focus on female desire, had the chance to be a bright spot of hope in the otherwise heteronormative, male-dominated landscape that Twilight has engendered. Unfortunately, Vampire Academy ends up reifying many of the gender problems it intrinsically brings up. While this might have been a book that knocked the Bechdel test out of the park, Mead’s text instead ends up falling into the same problems the test intends to point out. Rose and Lissa’s discussions and actions are almost always based on the men they are interested in or the men they are attempting to undermine. Sure, Rose and Lissa high schoolers, and high schoolers have their drama and relationship issues; I get that. But Rose is presented as a girl far more mature than her age indicates. The high school drama of the academy, the kind of drama that so often falls into heteronormative, patriarchal structures, should be something Rose is able to transcend based on her character (we gain an insight into just how mature she is near the end of the novel) instead of the narrative (she’s able to forget the drama only when the narrative tension pulls her attention away).
And if that wasn’t enough, Vampire Academy is really a pretty underwhelming book. I found myself not only not especially excited to get back to reading it (even in the midst of the climax), but also never really able to remember the things going on in the novel. It’s forgettable, which is sometimes even worse than being bad but memorable. Not much happens, and the stuff that does happen is pretty problematic. I give Vampire Academy one slice of month old lasagna, mildew and all.