Vampire Academy – Richelle Mead
Vampire boarding school? Yes, please. Starting off by breaking down the world of the book, there are the Moroi, full-blooded vampires, who study magic at the Montana school, though they (boringly) only use it for the good of humanity. There are the half-vampire Dhampir, who train to be Guardians, the protectors (and consorts) of the Moroi. The Moroi are so busy being good, they don’t bother to protect themselves from the Strigoi, immortal and cannibalistic vampires (which seems as if it will be a theme of the series, not fighting back despite the ability to do so).
Rose, pictured, is a Dhampir who starts out the book in hiding with her best friend and Moroi Princess, Lissa. Their reasons for running away from the Academy are slowly revealed throughout the course of the book, all we know is that when they’re captured and sent back, both girls are terrified, even if just because the machinations of Moroi society rival those of any Court. Rose and Lissa share a psychic bond, one that allows Rose to sense Lissa’s emotions at all times, and to fully enter her consciousness with effort. Lissa’s magical abilities aren’t manifesting in any of the normal ways, but are instead more dangerous and powerful than those of other Moroi. This leads to rivalries, plotting, and romance.
For me, the most notable aspect of the book is Rose’s expansive and bawdy sexuality. She is curvy and sexy and strong with a large appetite for danger and adventure (she’s also witty, and really good at flirting). Though most of all she wants to serve and protect Lissa, she isn’t beyond having some fun in the process. But the politics of Dhampir sexuality are complicated. Dhampir women can only mate with Moroi men. Dhampir men cannot mate at all (though the most sexual and attractive character in the book is an adult Dhampir Guardian). Moroi men only marry Moroi women, but often impregnate Dhampir women in their youth or on their visits to “blood whores,” single Dhampir mothers who live in communes and prostitute themselves, allowing the men to feed on them during sex. Rose is sexual more than she is slutty, though she struggles with her desires and her internalized fear of doing anything “dirty.” In this aspect, it can be hard to separate Rose’s thoughts from those of the authorial voice, but other characters call Rose out on certain things enough that the implied author seems to be a trustworthy one. But trusting in the author means sometimes harshly judging an otherwise sympathetic character. And I don’t know if younger teens will catch those layers. Because of the language and how much about sex and sexuality this book is, I think it’s probably a better fit for high school students.