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Friday, 21 February 2014

Review: Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead


Image from http://www.penguin.com.au
Title: Vampire Academy (film tie-in edition)
Author: Richelle Mead
Pages: 352
Published date: 20/12/2013 Penguin Books Australia
Source: Publisher (via Netgalley)

Synopsis (from Publisher):


ONLY A TRUE BEST FRIEND CAN PROTECT YOU FROM YOUR IMMORTAL ENEMIES . . .

Lissa Dragomir is a Moroi princes – a mortal vampire with a rare gift for harnessing the earth's magic. She must be protected at all times from Strigoi: the fiercest vampires – the ones who never die. The powerful blend of human and vampire blood that flows through Rose Hathaway, Lissa's best friend, makes her a Dhampir. Rose is dedicated to a dangerous life of protecting Lissa from the Strigoi, who are hell-bent on making Lissa one of them.

After two years of freedom, Rose and Lissa are caught and dragged back to St. Vladimir's Academy, a school for vampire royalty and their guardians-to-be, hidden deep in the forests of Montana. But inside the iron gates, life is even more fraught with danger . . . and the Strigoi are always close by.

Rose and Lissa must navigate their dangerous world, confront the temptations of forbidden love, and never once let their guard down, lest the evil undead make Lissa one of them forever . . .

Review:

Vampires are everywhere. Twilight. Bluebloods. The Mortal Instruments. The Morganville Vampires. The Vampire Diaries. House of Night. The list goes on and on. And that’s just a sample of Young Adult novels; many other categories feature vampires in some way. It’s difficult not to groan or feel fatigued by even the mention of the word vampire. Perhaps that’s why I didn't pick up Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead for such a long time. Or maybe the cover turned me off—there was little mystery. And vampires are all about mystery: the idea that these dangerous, mythical creatures can live right under our noses without our knowledge. This secretive and seductive mythology continues to lure young adult readers in by the thousands.

For years I’ve avoided books that mentioned the word vampire in the blurb. I’d read my fair share and I was over the trend. I felt there was nothing new to add to the myth. Then, last year, I attended Penguin Teen Australia’s Live event in Melbourne and there were two words I couldn’t avoid or ignore: Vampire Academy. Apparently, the correct response to these words, or to any of the characters’ names in the six-book series and spin off series Bloodlines, was to scream and squeal. I was intrigued. What was this series that had so many people in a frenzy? Then I heard they were making the first book into a movie and I always try to read the book before the movie comes out. But I was still sceptical. What made Vampire Academy different?

I am happy to admit I was pleasantly surprised. What Richelle Mead does with the vampire myth is clever, and different. She demystifies them. Mead doesn’t bring an outsider into the dark, broody and bloody world of vampires, but rather grounds the story world in normalcy. It's all about school, homework, boys and cliques. Whilst there’s a lot of talk about good vampires, bad vampires, the royal hierarchy and Mead's general vampire lore, this is not the true heart of the story. Rather, Vampire Academy is about friendship, responsibilities, growing up and surviving—the often hellish—days of high school. The fact that the characters feed on each other’s blood is more of a sub plot.

This is the point of difference from other vampire novels I’ve read. I loved that no characters made a big deal about drinking each other’s blood or having the ability to manipulate the four elements of earth, fire, water and air. Similar to Harry Potter, where we're introduced to what should be an unrealistic world of magic, it's the detail, likeable characters and worldbuilding that makes it believable. If the author makes the magic seem normal and common place, then the reader is forced to as well. We then focus on the characters, their relationships and development.

Whilst overall I enjoyed Vampire Academy, I would have appreciated more descriptions from Mead, to help further ground me in the story, as I was often lost in dialogue—unable to picture where the characters were. The only other issue I had was with pacing. Unfortunately, for most of the book, the drama and action was off-screen, often told in flashbacks, which diluted the dramatic impact. It wasn’t until the last 40 pages or so that the drama and action was front and centre, cranking up the tension.

I can now understand the appeal Vampire Academy. Reading it is like hearing a good bit of juicy gossip—it's a real guilty pleasure. Now onto the sequel, Frostbite!

I give Vampire Academy 3.5 out of 5 stars.


Monday, 3 February 2014

Review: Prince of Shadows by Rachel Caine


Image from http://www.penguin.com.au

Title: Prince of Shadows
Author: Rachel Caine
Pages: 368
Published date: 29th of Jan by Penguin Books Australia
Source: Publisher (via Netgalley)

Synopsis (from publisher): 
In the Houses of Montague and Capulet, there is only one goal: power. The boys are born to fight and die for honor and – if they survive – marry for influence and money, not love. The girls are assets, to be spent wisely. 



Their wishes are of no import. Their fates are written on the day they are born.



Benvolio Montague, cousin to Romeo, knows all this. He expects to die for his cousin, for his house, but a spark of rebellion still lives inside him. At night, he is the Prince of Shadows, the greatest thief in Verona – and he risks all as he steals from House Capulet. In doing so, he sets eyes on convent-bound Rosaline, and a terrible curse begins that will claim the lives of many in Verona . . . 



And will rewrite all their fates, forever..


Review:


Prince of Shadows begins with Benvolio Montague in the midst of a theft, which quickly turns into a meet-cute with Rosaline Capulet, sister of Tybalt and cousin to the ill-fated Juliet. Benvolio is known as the Prince of Shadows, to his close friends and family, and has a penchant for scurrying across the rooftops of Verona to steal jewels from morally murkier characters than he and give to friends, family and the church. He’s the Robin Hood of Verona! We follow Benvolio on his (mis)adventures which turn increasingly dark and dangerous as a curse takes hold of Capulets and Montagues alike.

Whilst Benvolio is setup by Caine to be a likable rogue, I initially found him difficult to fully-embrace with his somewhat muddy moral conscience. He steals at night, kills Capulets and their supporters by day and yet he is also a kind-hearted character who falls easily in love with a girl from a feuding family. I found Bevolio’s indifference to killing and being surrounded by death a bit unpalatable, but perhaps this is more a reflection on the era in which the book it set. It isn’t until later, through Benvolio's kind-hearted treatment and support of his doomed best friend Mercutio, that he won me over.

I’ll admit I found Prince of Shadows difficult to get into in the beginning. Whilst the language is lush, I wondered how a novel could sustain sufficient intrigue following minor Romeo and Juliet characters, when we know the details of the tragic tale so well. Yet it is this knowledge that drives the suspense in Prince of Shadows; whilst we know how Romeo and Juliet’s story ends, we are left to wonder what lies ahead for Benvolio and his forbidden love, Rosaline. And of course, I couldn’t help but hope events would turn out differently for the star-crossed lovers.

The characters of Romeo and Juliet are loosely drawn in Prince of Shadows, however this works well as we already have a detailed impression of them in our minds, either from reading Shakespeare’s play or from watching the numerous adaptations. It is the periphery characters from the famous tale that get the “screen time” in Prince of Shadows, and these characters are well written with dimension and flaws. Prince of Shadows is very clearly Benvolio’s story, not Romeo and Juliet’s, and this gives the tale a feeling of originality. 

The novel’s suggestion that a curse is at work, driving Romeo and Juliet’s desires and actions, might displease some Romeo and Juliet purists. Although, I enjoyed this magical realism take on the well-known story. In fact, I felt Caine could have gone further with this. There are a few moments towards the end of the novel that are more based in the realm of fantasy and I found these scenes most affecting. I wanted more magic woven into this tale, although that’s probably due to my preference for fantasy novels over magical realism.

That said, I thoroughly recommend Prince of Shadows, it’s a fabulously delicious and decadent read. The prose overflows with detail, wit, vim and vigour. Whilst the story takes some time to get into, the suspense really kicks into high gear about halfway through the book and doesn’t let up until the last word. Many thanks to Penguin Books Australia for the early digital access, I look forward to buying a physical copy now that it has been released.

I give Prince of Shadows 4 out of 5 stars.