Book Review: Bloodlines, by Richelle Mead

August 24, 2011 at 6:35 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , , )

Sydney Sage has spent her entire life in training to the Alchemists, a sect of humans dedicated to the task of keeping the vampire and human worlds separate. What she’d never considered was the cost, and she isn’t out of hot water for the assistance she rendered then-renegade-murder-suspect Rose Hathaway. When she’s roused from bed in the dead of night for a meeting, she’s certain it can’t be anything good.
And she’s right. To protect her younger sister, who hasn’t yet been inked with the Alchemist’s golden lily, Sydney forces her way into an assignment that involves, among other things, Palm Springs, a moroi roommate, a duplicitous asshole of a supervisor, and the staggering realization that a lot of what she’s been raised to believe may not be true.

Bloodlines is the first book of a series that stands as sequel to the six books of the Vampire Academy series; I suppose you don’t have to have read the first series, but really, you want to read the first series before you start this one. There’s a decent amoung of given backstory but the characters and all of the events that serve as a foundation for this are there. Besides, the first series is amazing! Why on earth why would you want to miss out? (But seriously, if you haven’t read the series, you may or may not want to keep reading below, as there will be spoilers for VA)

Our narrator for this tour is Sydney, nineteen years old with an uncertain future given the assistance she gave Rose. Her time in Russia, even before meeting Hurricane Rose, gave her more direct involvement with vampires of any sort than most of her colleagues; after Rose, she has enough experience with strigoi, moroi, and dhampirs to last a lifetime. Helping the dhampir accused of killing the previous moroi queen makes a lot of her own people distrust her. The moroi are to be tolerated because at least they’re not as bad as the strigoi, but they’re certainly not acceptable friends, even if friend isn’t quite the word Sydney choose.

It’s that same distrust that makes her superiors- and her father- wonder if she wouldn’t be best off in a re-education center where she can learn proper duty and distance- and most likely come out brainwashed and half-lobotomized as a shell of her former self. Still, that same familiarity that’s gotten her in trouble is also the reason she’s the best one for the assignment: Jill, the recently discovered half-sister of Queen Vasilisa Dragomir and new princess of the Dragomirs, has been attacked at the Court in an effort to remove Vasilisa from power. If Jill dies, the Dragomirs no longer have the necessary number of family members to sustain the throne. To that end, Jill is being hidden in a Palm Springs boarding school with a single Guardian, and an Alchemist is needed to help with the protection effort and make sure everything stays off the humans’ radar. Sydney’s younger sister Zoe is also being considered for the assignment- has been specifically requested- but Sydney’s come to realize that the life of an Alchemist has a higher cost than she was ever told, and she desperately needs to protect her sister from that life. Despite her own misgivings about the assignment- roommates with a moroi?!- she takes the assignment.

Even though it means reporting to mega-douche Keith Darnell, an Alchemist golden boy with a dark secret and far too many faces. She gets all the responsibility, he gets all the glory and the power to send her straight to one of the re-education centers.

Along with Jill there’s not-entirely-official Guardian Eddie and thoroughly-drunk spirit-user Adrian Ivashkov, and their moroi hosts (in charge of the feeding situation) Clarence and Lee. Clarence is a little off his rocker, absorbed by the murder five years before of his beloved niece, while his son Lee is spending more time with his father around classes in LA to help ease his grief.

Between trying to navigate the bewildering world of high school (Sydney was homeschooled the first time round); serving as research aide and all-around go-fer for a scatterbrained teacher; dealing with a stressed and secret-keeping Moroi princess, a persistently drunk and complaining Aidan, a Guardian with a painful past, Clarence’s ravings, and Keith; a strange spate of murders; and the unsettling appearance of pricey tattoos that bear a striking resemblance to secret Alchemist methods, Sydney’s got more than enough to be dealing with.

It’s a good story, and Sydney as a narrator is an intriguing switch from ultra-confident, ready to take on the world with a clenched fist Rose. Sydney is cautious. She analyzes everything, thinks before she acts, and doesn’t get close to people. She notices things in a different way and along the way she learns a lot. She realizes that she doesn’t really understand people. Like at all. Having to deal with non-Alchemists is baffling to her, a full society that seems even more alien that the Court of the moroi. The basic structures of school- as in having classes and homework- make sense, reassure her in some ways with her endless pursuit of knowledge, but the people? No clue.

I wish the other characters had been as well drawn as Sydney. It’s symptomatic of first-person narrations that we get to know the narrator very well, but with the possible exception of Adrian, the other characters don’t really come alive the way they did in the first series. Part of that comes from switching narrators, I think; it takes time to settle into a new voice, a new mindset. And, for all her vaunted skills of observation, readers will put things together long before Syndey does. Given how incredibly well the mysteries were laid out through the previous books, the progression here hints of heavy handedness and a lack of subtlety. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the book, but I was rather frustrated to be waiting for Sydney to catch up to clues and connected that seemed not only obvious, but logical- which should have put it squarely within her left-brained capabilities.

While some of the puzzles and obstacles are solved by the end, others are left to carry us into the next book, The Golden Lily. I’m hoping that the handful of things that irked me through this book will get smoothed out with the next; transitioning to the same world, and many of the same characters, through an incredibly different voice, can be difficult, and is bound to cause some bumps in the road.

Bloodlines, by Richelle Mead, out in stores now!

Until next time~

(and don’t forget, the giveaway for Lauren Oliver’s upcoming Middle Grade Liesl & Po goes through Saturday, August 27th! Only a few days left, so check here for details!)

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