Vampires have a bit of a bizarre legacy in the entertainment industry. They started out as cautionary metaphor for STDs with the likes of Dracula, morphed into the receiving end of female empowerment stories like Buffy, then transitioned into a weird form of biracial relationships in Twilight. The Richelle Mead book Vampire Academy takes bits and pieces from each of those elements of the vampire throughout time, but miraculously manages to make a book with ‘vampire’ in the title not very vampiric at all.
There is a well-established mythology in the book that sets it apart from most vampire stories. There’s a distinction between alive and undead vampires, the latter of which become evil and undead by killing a human while feeding. The undead vampires hunt the live vampires, which is where the dhampir, half-human half-vampire guardians, come in. They protect the Moroi (live vampires) from the Strigoi (undead vampires).
Don’t dare ask me how they are pronounced.
But lest you be mislead, this is not a story about a violent civil war between different kinds of vampires. This is a story about, well, a vampire high school and the drama that goes on there. Sure, there are other things going on. Rose, the main character who tells the story, shares a close bond with the Moroi vampire Lissa, who is receiving dead animals on her doorstep with warnings, but it’s less of a mystery than a CW drama.
For a CW drama-type story, it’s not bad. But it’s noticeably lacking in the epic stage and character development that made urban fantasy book series like The Mortal Instruments and Harry Potter such enormous successes. The predictable cliches like a student falling in love with her older instructor, the social outcast becoming the popular girl’s love interest, and the snotty brat jealous of her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend all but ruin what story there is. That turns what could have been a great story into little more than a squandered opportunity. There are some cool story elements, including the mystery of Rose and Lissa’s bond, but they’re hardly worth wading through the mess of high school drama.
Along with the high school drama comes a concerning flippant attitude towards teens and sexuality. While it’s referred to several times that Rose hasn’t lost her virginity, she sees no problem making out with any guy she feels like, and has a wild reputation that couldn’t realistically have been gained except through sleeping around. While the majority of sexual references are not explicit, there are two scenes depicting sexual activities, with little to nothing to indicate moral judgment of sexual promiscuity.
So what was the book’s point? I’m not really sure. I don’t know that Mead herself is too sure, either. Most of the story surrounds the close relationship between Rose and Lissa while the backdrop explores the social ins and outs of the Moroi/dhampir dichotomy. Some aspects of that could make for interesting social commentary. For example, Moroi men often sleep around with human or dhampir women, but don’t consider them good enough to marry, resulting in a plethora of fatherless children. The Moroi rely on humans known as “feeders” to supply blood, but look down on the way that feeders are addicted to the sensation of being fed off of. But instead of focusing on these elements to critique classism, racism, the destruction of the family, or the double standard of sexual promiscuity, it’s dropped as soon as it’s mentioned in favor of going back to school gossip.
But with that said, I am hopeful that some of those latter elements could be used to make a more serious work in the same world in the future. But when it comes to this one, it has few redeeming qualities, and can hardly be said to be worth your time.