Vampire Academy (Whole Series)

I picked these up right after I finished Wicked Lovely, again on the recommendation of the illustrious Cyna from You're Killing Me.  Getting back into the vampy groove wasn't too hard, and I was ready for a change from the fairy tale.  The first positive:  in this novel, vampires don't live in a kingdom called Vampire.  (Still holding onto that pet peeve from WL.)

I'm once again gonna treat this series as one storyline, starting with a few notes on the individual novels.  Buckle up for a massive post.

Vampire Academy
I got into this story right away.  Who couldn't?  A little downplayed lesbo-erotica hooks me every time.  I liked Rose in all her slutty, smart-mouthed, crab-shell-protecto glory, and I felt at home in her world--because it's a real world, full of catty teen bitches, snobby cliques, sneaky nighttime escapades, sexual tension, and teen angst.  The secondary characters worked for me, too, especially Dreamboat Dimitri.

A great sequel, filled with character development, action, mischief, and suffering.  Mead takes her characters seriously, and this novel has them facing some serious strife in their best form (which is sometimes their worst form, if you know what I mean).  The introduction of Audacious Adrien is perfection.  He's a great foil for both Dreamboat Dimitri and Mundane Mason in the love hexagon Mead's setting up to unfold.  There's a delightful massacre the brutality of which is offset by the bonds of friendship.  (Why am I not employed to write this drivel for insets?)  Rose's mother adds a depth to Rose's character--whether either of them wants to admit it or not.

Shadow Kiss
The ugly politics begin.  Death continues.  Rose falls--but not as hard as Dimitri.  Adrian helps to put her back together.  Christian gets even radder, and Lissa...is Lissa.  Even though my mother didn't like this one for some valid reasons, I loved the plot twists.  I even had an "Oh, shit!" moment.  By this novel, I was fully invested in almost every character, and I was willing to accept new ones who spring up to add evil and comfort.  I'd consider this a bridge to the next novel, but it's got enough of its own unique intrigue to qualify as more than that.

Blood Promise
Rose gets on my nerves a little here, but I loved that she goes to Russia.  I also loved that she becomes a blood whore to devilish Dimitri, now a naughty, dirty immortal bastard.  The introduction of Sydney as Rose's balance is cool, and the sinister mafia-pirate-like Abe added even more suspense.  I'll comment below on the Rose-Lissa mind-meld, but suffice it to say it's a narrative trick that works--most of the time.  Avery and Lissa's adventures are fun, and Adrian's dreamwalking works okay.  The only problem is that there's not really any sexiness in this one.

Spirit Bound
Very cool opening--sinister letters are always a catapult to reading on.  Very lame Dimitri plot.  Very cliffhangy ending.  All the stuff in between is fluffy.  This one was definitely my least favorite because everything seems too easy, and Rose is a whiner.  What happened to the badass?  Adrian starts to get a little pathetic, too, like some wilting mint weed.  (Huh?)  The Rose-Dimitri tension is way too drawn out, putting this novel in the Lazy Editor category.

Last Sacrifice
By this novel, the plot's convoluted.  There's a lot of driving around, a lot of mind-melding, a lot of almosts, and too many easy solutions.  I still liked the characters--minus Rose and Dimitri--but I'd had enough of the running around.  I felt like some sort of swami as I read this one because everything's so predictable.  Bummer ending!

Onward with the nitpicking...

  • Writing.  Again, here's a novelist who has a command of language.  Her writing voice is natural and consistent, and she knows how to round out a character.  
  • Tension.  Sexual tension's always delicious, but there's much more here.  It's not as determined as The Mortal Instruments in its social consciousness, but there's definitely tension between class and race.  Sometimes the tension feels forced, and sometimes there are questionable minor conflicts, but overall, it's a page-turning series.
  • Dimitri.  Super sexy, aloof, and romantic.  And then when he's evil, he's E.V.I.L.  He's balanced as a character, never too asshole-ish or gooey.  But then Mead misses her opportunity (see below) to make Dimitri legendary.  The only weird thing is his height. 6'7"--and I know that because Rose marvels at it a few times.  It's just awkward to imagine him hugging Rose.  It seems like some sort of acrobatic bendy spine would have to take place.
  • Family issues.  There's a great balance between the orphans-by-design and the upturned-chin royals.  Both have their conflicts and bonds.  Rose's mother is awesome, followed only in awesomeness by Abe, her long-lost dad.  (That's gold hoop-wearing, beard-sporting, snazzy pimp-ish Abe, who would have to be played by Isaac Hayes's great grandson--if he had one.)  After witnessing the dynamics between the three, it's obvious where Rose's character flaws and strengths come from.  Lissa's loneliness and alienation should've been played up more to capture the true sisterly love bond between Rose and her, but it's okay.  Dimitri's Russian family rules, and the backwoods squatter family is rad.  Too bad there's not more of them.
  • Sex.  Real sex.  
  • Adrian.  He's a great bad boy.  He exudes sexiness, smokes cloves, drinks constantly, purposefully messes his hair up, basks in his delightful egocentrism, and gets appropriately intense.  He rebels against his royal lineage, but plays them when he wants something.  He's like a John Hughes character gene-spliced with a toned down Russell Brand.  I love the dirty trust fund jerks, and Adrian's one of them--minus a little of the jerk.  Hot.
  • Ambitious plot.  This story moves all over the place.  We're in Russia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio; prep schools, college campuses, hillbilly vampire camps, seedy hotels, dank prisons, opulent churches, coffee shops.  Components from different genres--romance, mystery, crime fiction--work together (pretty well).  All the characters have roles that add to the movement of the plot--and sometimes movement away from the predictable.
  • Rose as a blood whore.  I love that she becomes the very thing that disgusts her. And I love that it's Dimitri who forces her to go there.  Too bad she didn't continue struggling with it throughout the rest of the series.  She gets a little nip here and there, but how rad would it've been if she'd been blood whore to the queen, or blood whore to Mia?  Hahaha!
  • Christian.  He's like half of my high school guy friends--outcast, mysterious, rebellious, yet sensitive.  He's curious and intellectual, yet he loves the coldest fish in the universe: Lissa. 
  • Title.  Vampire Academy?  Hyperlame.  The subsequent novels' titles are nice (though I don't always get their relevance), but under each is "A Vampire Academy Novel."  Also, as barely any of the story takes place at a vampire academy, it's kinda weird.
  • Rose's development.  She starts out so strong, and ends up so weak.  It's like one of those dates you go on with someone who initially makes your intestines flutter, but who ends up making you want to slap yourself across the face with a giant flyswatter.  She lets her obsession with Dimitri erode her initial awesomeness to the point that I'm not that fulfilled by her lucky happiness at the end of the series.  Her involvement with Adrian sucks.  She totally leads him on--sounds high school to put it that way, but it's true.  She strings him along while she tries to convince herself to settle for him.  What a bitch!  
  • Lissa.  She's totally flat, totally boring, and totally coddled.  In the latter half of the series, it feels like her main function is to let us know what's going on at home while Rose traipses around the globe looking for evil Dimitri or eluding the vampy cops.  She doesn't deserve her fate, and I can't imagine the VA universe with her at the helm.
  • Jill.  What's the point of this girl?  She's more a plot device than a character.  I don't get what significance she's supposed to add to Lissa's life at the end--and I don't think the rest of the characters do, either.
  • Rose's treatment of Adrian.  Again, what a bitch!  Adrian doesn't give her half the hell she deserves.  He should've thrown up a fire hydrant of blood right at her face, a la Lucy in Bram Stoker's Dracula (you know, the one where Keanu Reeves perfected the British accent).  I just hope we get to see more of him in the spin-off series that's coming out soon.
  • No resurgence of Dimitri's family or of the hillbillies.  They are so refreshing after a zillion pages of royal muck and prep school drabness.  Why aren't they at the big hullabaloo in the final novel?
  • Dimitri.  It would've been SO much better to have evil Dimitri romping through more than one novel.  That's one of the best parts of the whole thing.  Why remove that so quickly?  It's the ultimate conflict!  The "fix" is way too easy and way too quick.  He should've been allowed to develop completely as a baddy.  He could've eaten the queen in front of everyone and still been sexy as hell.  Mead could've made him the best sympathetic reluctant villain ever.  Oh, well.
  • Mind-melding.  Enough's enough.  I got tired of always slipping in and out of Lissa's mind.  It's like Mead regretted her decision to put it all in Rose's p.o.v. and needed a way to fill in the plot points of junk going on back at Vamp Central.  There are other fancy fiction tricks to accomplish the same stuff.  It's not really that big of a deal, but every time Rose has some down time, it's like "Wonder what that Lissa's up to?"  ZING!  "Oh, that!"
  • Hollywood ending.  Ugh.  I understand the intended readership's love of a neatly resolved, romantic ending, but...ugh.
I know it seems like a lot of complaining, but when a series is good, I get disappointed easily.  I like Mead's writing style enough that I'm reading her adult Succubus Blues series (which is awesome so far), but I just didn't like the way the series wound down.  I hope that the spin-offs--starring Sydney, I hear--are rejuvenating, but even if  not, I'm sure they'll be better than most of the shyte that's polluting the genre.

And, btw, what exactly IS the last sacrifice?

Thank you, and good night.

Ink Exchange/Fragile Eternity/Radiant Shadows/Darkest Mercy

I decided to slam the other four Wicked Lovely novels together and treat them as one continuous story--which they are, of course--because it's been too long to discern which faery antics belong to which.  I'll make a quick comment on each before I launch into my bullets, but I may get some details mixed up along the way.  Blame my laziness and the giant coffee sitting next to me.

Ink Exchange
Taking a break from the regulars worked well for me.  By the end of WL, I'd had enough of the love triangle of Keenan-Aislynn-Seth, and since Niall was (at the time) my favorite character, I delighted in the new subplot.  Also, I like tattoos.  The Niall-Leslie-Irial triangle in IE develops darkly.  By the end of the story, we learn why Niall rules so much, and it's not because he's some sort of angelic hero.  Irial is deliciously manipulative, and the subplot wraps up neatly, but not Hollywood neatly.

Fragile Eternity
Apparently, the war is coming.  (Remember, there's a difference between "war" and "War.")  At first, I was looking forward to returning to the Keenen-Aislynn-Seth triangle, but suddenly in this novel, it's some sort of love trapezoid.  Maybe even love amoeba.  I was invested in the characters and engrossed in the Marr world, but I got bored with the drawn-out tension.  I get it:  there's a war coming, there's massive heartache on the horizon, war is coming, everyone has to make difficult decisions, and war is coming. Also, War (a.k.a. Banana) is coming, and she's gonna bring some war with her.  By the end (which isn't really an end), I felt like FE is a placeholder novel.  I liked the evil side of Niall, but Donia started to annoy me--although it's cool when she stabs Aislynn.  Half the time, I wanted to stab her, too.

Radiant Shadows
Devlin.  Ani.  LOVE THEM.  This is my favorite of the series.  Devlin's the most interesting character of all, and I love what Marr did with him.  Ani's his perfect mate.  It's Happily Ever After stuff.  This novel also had the most extreme plot points of all.  New and shattered courts.  Evil Banana plotting to destroy the universe.  Sorcha's stupidity threatening everything.  Love lost, love percolating, love destroying souls.  It renewed my excitement for the series, and it threw me.  It's a perfect ramp up to the final novel.  Bravo!

Darkest Mercy
The breath that I'd held so sweetly after RS came out as a Ppppfffftttttpppplll, not a fulfilled sigh.  Lame!  Not that I hated this novel or anything, but it sure wasn't satisfying as a conclusion to such a rich series.  I hate to say it, but it feels like a rush job, like Marr was done and wanted to move on.

Speaking of moving on...

The bullets here are comments on all four novels, and in some cases, the entire WL story.  Most of my comments from the first novel review still work, but some have changed. 

  • Writing.  Can anyone else in the genre write like this woman?  Not that I've experienced so far.  She is, as I mentioned before, a true writer, an artist, wordsmith, whatever you wanna call it.  Moody, descriptive, clear, engaging, beautifully dark.  I imagine that's what the gothicals feel every time they're doing the Heavy Bowling Ball dance to some Peter Murphy-inspired music.  
  • Balance.  Each character has his or her own importance to the story.  Even many of the secondary characters are developed and mean something to the momentum of the plot. 
  • Loss.  Too many of these parapseudos don't have enough loss.  In Twilight, Bella says something about having experienced so much loss--huh?  Besides her self-worth, I don't know what she's talking about.  Here, though, we have loss of identity, loss of love, loss of life, loss of hope, loss of virginity (woo!), loss of control.  All Southern California readers will identify with all of these losses, as we experience them daily.
  • Mythos.  Marr gets it, and she delivers.  Her courts, her creatures, her social strata, her sense of fairy tale convention--all of it works to create a complete mythos, independent of all other wannabes in the genre.
  • Aislynn burning Seth's sides because she flamed him while riding him.  Hahahahaha!
  • Keenan's sacrifice.  
Disclaimer:  I say "disappointments" because I'd feel weird calling this section something snarky.  This series deserves better than that!  Mostly. 
  • Aislynn.  By FE, Aislynn's waffling starts to get annoying.  DM doesn't do much to assuage it.  She has a sudden burst of all-powerfullness at the end, but by that time, other characters are outshining her, which is lame--she is, after all, supposed to be the center of the plot...right? 
  • Notable absences from the final showdown.  Where the hell's Devlin?  Sorcha?  Why aren't they there to defend their new courts?  Why isn't Sorcha there to battle her freak sister?
  • Sorcha/Seth.  This is just weird.  I don't like to spoil stuff, but how Seth's calling Sorcha "Mother" is a twist I couldn't get into.  
  • Dissipation of feminist themes.  By the end, they're stilted and fit into the humdrum of the rest of the blahblah of the genre I've read so far.  I suppose you could make an argument for the female characters' equality among the courts' leaderships, but they all ache for men and let those aches get in the way of better judgment.  (All except Banana, that is.)
  • Not enough teen sex.  I'm sorry, but I want some loin-twitches when I read these things.  The swelling heart doesn't do it for me...especially since cunnilingus rocked it in WL
  • Talking car/steed.  What's the point of Ani's steed?  Seriously.  Is it some sort of big bro who watches out for her?  What a weird addition to the cast--and maybe even a missed opportunity for evil-doing.
  • Non-contracted faery-talk.  At what point did Aislynn and Seth take speech lessons from a Victorian robot?  I have a hard time imagining a pierced freaky boy saying, "Mother, I do not wish to disappoint you, but I must return."  Is this the same person who went all oral on Aislynn and lived in an abandoned train?  And why does Aislynn have to get all formal when she gains confidence?  These are still teenagers--immortal teenagers, yes, but still.  
  • Niall + Irial = Nairial.  Not into it.  It's a cop out.  By "it," I mean the Body Snatcher bullshit that conveniently transpires when lovely Irial "dies."  I'd rather lose one of my favorite characters than have some sort of bizarro Lazarus thing.
  • Banana's defeat.  Even though the balances shift with the new courts, I still think it's lame that Sorcha didn't battle Banana.  Why the build up then?  Does Devlin really balance Sorcha that well?  Who exactly is Banana's balance?  Aislynn?  Also, it was too easy to beat Banana.  I wanted something much more sinister.  In fact, I would've liked it if Banana were impossible to destroy.
  • Hollywood ending.  Nothing else to say about that.
I reserve the right to add more to this later.  I'm still thinking about WL as I read other series, so it's definitely worth a lot of talk.  Though I was disappointed with the ending of the series, I think it's one that I'll revisit someday.  I'd like to experience the characters again, especially since I know their destinations.

Side note:  I also read Marr's new adult novel, Graveminder.  It gave me a renewed appreciation for WL and its depth.  I hope Marr's not the kind of novelist who hits it with the first few and then belts out a bunch of crapola for the rest of her career.  She's freaky as a person, and I'd like more of that to come through in her future work.

I'm Team Shadow Court, by the way.  Step off.