Hey, it’s a Smugglivus MIRACLE! Umm…ok, not really. But it IS a fun double feature. Today we bring you a double shot of one of the finest Vampire Boarding School Series’ on the market (and there are, surprisingly, quite a few of them): Richelle Mead’s final two titles in the Vampire Academy series.
Title: Spirit Bound & Last Sacrifice
Author: Richelle Mead
Genre: Young Adult, Urban Fantasy
Stand alone or series: Books 5 & 6, respectively, of the Vampire Academy series
Publisher: Razorbill (Penguin)
Publication Date: May 2010 / December 2010
Hardcover: 496 pages / 594 pages
How did I get these books: Review Copy of Spirit Bound; ebook purchase of Last Sacrifice
**THESE REVIEWS CONTAIN UNAVOIDABLE SPOILERS FOR VAMPIRE ACADEMY BOOKS 1-4. If you have not read the Vampire Academy books and do not wish to be spoiled, you’d best look away.**
Dimitri gave Rose the ultimate choice. But she chose wrong…
After a long and heartbreaking journey to Dimitri’s birthplace in Siberia, Rose Hathaway has finally returned to St. Vladimir’s—and to her best friend, Lissa. It is nearly graduation, and the girls can’t wait for their real lives beyond the Academy’s iron gates to begin. But Rose’s heart still aches for Dimitri, and she knows he’s out there, somewhere.
She failed to kill him when she had the chance. And now her worst fears are about to come true— Dimitri has tasted her blood, and now he is hunting her. Only this time, he won’t rest until Rose joins him…forever.
Spirit Bound follows Rose as she returns to life at St. Vladimir’s after dropping out of school to track down and kill her former mentor and love of her life Dimitri. Rose’s search took her across Europe, and in her determination, she was able to find Dimitri – a changed, truly evil, undead Dimitri. But, even with his life in her hands, she could not bring herself to kill him. And Dimitri will never let Rose forget it – her refusal to become Strigoi makes the chase all the sweeter, as he promises he will find his darling Roza, and he will kill her. Embittered with her failure, Rose finds a glimmer of hope in one unexpected discovery. As we learned at the end of Blood Promise, someone has been brought back from the undead, their soul restored and whole once again. But in order to find out how to save Dimitri, Rose has to turn to a very old enemy – Victor Dashkov.
WELL, jeez. A whole lot happens in this book – Rose comes back to St. Vlad’s, becomes a full-fledged Guardian and orchestrates a jail-break of one of her sworn enemies. I purposely put off reading Spirit Bound all year until last week because Ms. Mead has a tendency (like Rachel Caine) to end her books on infuriating cliffhangers – so I made sure I had Last Sacrifice at my fingertips before diving into this title. And, I have to say, this strategy worked out pretty well (at least, for my sanity). As with each book before it, Spirit Bound is an emotional roller coaster with solid plotting, rife with twists and bone-crushing, stake-happy action. Spirit Bound takes Lissa and Rose back to Moroi court, which is an interesting dynamic, as Rose’s last experience with Moroi royals and Queen Tatiana was somewhat…shall we say, tense. Although the Moroi politics aren’t particularly interesting (perhaps this is because Rose is our narrator and politics bore her, too), the developments at court are pretty mind-boggling and will have dramatic repercussions in the final novel.
Of course, the draw of the Vampire Academy books rests with Rose, her character, her narration, and her growth. Rose is, as always, fierce, funny, but also infuriatingly dense and never thinks through the consequences of her actions (the jailbreak of Victor, is a glaring example). Of course, what’s awesome about this series is that Rose is forced to suffer the consequences of her actions and understands what she has done has real world repercussions; property destroyed, lives ruined or even ended. It makes Rose human, and is in keeping with her brash, stupid, but ultimately noble and bighearted character. My favorite thing about this penultimate novel, however, had to be with Rose’s best friend Lissa Dragomir – the last surviving heir of the Dragomir royal line. Here, Lissa has gradually learned to control and use her powers, and in Spirit Bound she steps up as someone that doesn’t just need to be protected, but someone that wants to protect and help her friend (even a crazy friend like Rose) in any way she can. In the past couple of books, I’ve missed this devotion and friendship angle, and I’m glad to see it back.
Of course, I can’t talk about VA without mentioning the romance angle. There is a dreaded love triangle (ARGH! GAAH!) – but both guys are worthy. I’m personally an Adrian girl, so I loved this book (whereas I’m sure a Team Dimitri person might not be so impressed). Rose goes through a lot, emotionally, and has to come clean with herself, and with what she wants. There was one particular plot development that wasn’t unexpected (it had been hinted at in the prior book), but I really, really wish Richelle Mead hadn’t gone there – it feels like fan pandering, silly and melodramatic. But that’s just me.
Spirit Bound is a strong read and a solid entry in the series (although not quite as good as the two books prior). Of course, it ends on a sort-of cliffhanger – so it’s a good thing I had book 6 waiting.
Rating: 7 – Very Good
The astonishing final novel in Richelle Mead’s epic series!
Murder. Love. Jealousy. And the ultimate sacrifice. Now, with Rose on trial for her life and Lissa first in line for the Royal Throne, nothing will ever be the same between them.
Last Sacrifice begins exactly where Spirit Bound leaves off – with Rose in jail for murdering Queen Tatiana. Of course, Rose has done no such thing, and her friends are desperate to exonerate her – and with Dimitri’s soul restored and back as a Dhampir, things are immensely complicated for Rose’s physical and emotional state. Last Sacrifice sees Rose break out of jail, struggle to stay alive and clear her name, as well as protect Lissa’s position at court. Oh yeah, and there’s mucho emotional turmoil as she struggles with her love for Dimitri and loyalty to Adrian.
There was a lot of build-up to this ultimate book in the series (much of it of course centered around the love triangle and Rose’s inevitable choice). And I’m sad to say that I was sorely disappointed with Final Sacrifice. At a whopping 594 pages, put simply Last Sacrifice is, as many final novels can be, too long. In stark contrast to all of its predecessors, Final Sacrifice takes a very, very long time to get going, and despite having myriad side plots and action, the actual progression of the story drags at an infuriatingly slow rate, trading actual relevant points for loads of pages filled with the eye roll-inducing emotional angst and inner-monologuing. For a large portion of the novel, I found myself itching to skim. That’s not to say the story is bad – just unfocused, needlessly protracted, and rough. That’s never good. Again, this book is split between Rose’s narrative and through her Shadow Kissed bond, Lissa’s struggles back at court (seriously, why can’t these two be in the same location for more than a few chapters?! One of the best parts of the early books is the friendship between Rose and Lissa, and in these last books, the two have been ripped apart for kind of pointless reasons). Lissa’s story takes a much larger part of Final Sacrifice as she’s forced to endure royal trials as a candidate for the Moroi throne, and it was wonderful to see her mature and come into her own as a leader and strong woman in her own right. Unfortunately, the same can’t really be said for Rose – who seems to have reverted in this book. Though she’s been through hell over the course of this series, she’s still very much the same brash, headstrong, kinda-stupid heroine that doesn’t think before she acts. I have no issue with characters making mistakes, so long as they experience the consequences of their actions – and while this was the case in earlier books, in this ultimate novel, it unfortunately isn’t.
One of my biggest problems with the book is how unbalanced it all feels – in terms of characters and in terms of plot. For example, this installment gave a ton a face time to Sydney (the marginal Alchemist character from a few books back) and Sonya Karp (Rose’s former teacher, spirit user, and willfully-created Strigoi) – but virtually no time is given to Mia or Eddie or any of the older characters who seemed so important early in the series. Then, there’s a completely pointless trip to a Moroi-Dhampir-Human hillbilly commune in the West Virginia wilderness. Bizarre plot choices. And did I mention the disproportionate amount of inner monologuing and melodrama?
Which brings me to my biggest issue with Last Sacrifice. I *HATED* the way the romance was addressed and concluded in this book. It was incredibly cheesy on one hand, and on the other it was needlessly cruel and unfair to the characters involved (this is part of the reason why I stopped reading Richelle Mead’s adult novels – heroines keep making the same idiot mistakes over and over again, there’s this same sadistic cruelty towards certain romantic characters, too). The romantic wrap-up was disappointing, not so much because of Rose’s choice, but because of the way it was handled (for example, Rose needs someone to tell her about her aura to figure out who she loves, which isn’t exactly inspiring character development). The overall ending, the mystery of Tatiana’s murder, Lissa’s future, all of it…I didn’t like it one bit. It’s a little too happy ever after for Rose and her friends, but so bitterly unfair to a number of major characters whom we have grown to love over the series. Even the half-hearted political angle/murder mystery is reduced to melodrama and romantic silliness, which feels…well…silly. I felt like Ms. Mead did a disservice to a number of characters in this book, needlessly, and that’s not a good way to feel after 6 books and nearly 3000 pages of emotional investment.
That said, I am probably in the minority. And certainly there’s more Vampire Academy in the future, with the upcoming spinoff series. I’ll be interested to see how that story turns out – hopefully a little better than this dissatisfying conclusion.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From chapter 1:
I don’t like cages.
I don’t even like going to zoos. The first time I went to one, I almost had claustrophobic attacks looking at those poor animals. I couldn’t imagine any creature living that way. Sometimes I even felt a little bad for criminals, condemned to life in a cell. I’d certainly never expected to spend my life in one.
But lately, life seemed to be throwing me a lot of things I’d never expected, because here I was, locked away.
“Hey!” I yelled, gripping the steel bars that isolated me from the world. “How long am I going to be here? When’s my trial? You can’t keep me in this dungeon forever!”
Okay, it wasn’t exactly a dungeon, not in the dark, rusty-chain sense. I was inside a small cell with plain walls, a plain floor, and well. .. plain everything. Spotless. Sterile. Cold. It was actually more depressing than any musty dungeon could have managed. The bars in the doorway felt cool against my skin, hard and unyielding. Fluorescent lighting made the metal gleam in a way that seemed almost too cheerful for the setting. I could see the shoulder of a man standing rigidly to the side of the cell’s entrance and knew there were probably four more guardians in the hallway out of my sight. I also knew none of them were going to answer me back, but that hadn’t stopped me from constantly demanding answers from them for the last two days.
When the usual silence came, I sighed and slumped back on the cot in the cell’s corner. Like everything else in my new home, the cot was colorless and stark. Yeah. I really was starting to wish I had a real dungeon. Rats and cobwebs would have at least given me something to watch. I stared upward and immediately had the disorienting feeling I always did in here: that the ceiling and walls were closing in around me. Like I couldn’t breathe. Like the sides of the cell would keep coming toward me until no space remained, pushing out all the air. ..
I sat up abruptly, gasping. Don’t stare at the walls and ceiling, Rose, I chastised myself. Instead, I looked down at my clasped hands and tried to figure out how I’d gotten into this mess.
The initial answer was obvious: someone had framed me for a crime I didn’t commit. And it wasn’t petty crime either. It was murder. They’d had the audacity to accuse me of the highest crime a Moroi or dhampir could commit. Now, that isn’t to say I haven’t killed before. I have. I’ve also done my fair share of rule (and even law) breaking. Cold-blooded murder, however, was not in my repertoire. Especially not the murder of a queen.
You can read the full excerpt online HERE.
Additional Thoughts: As mentioned above, Richelle Mead is writing a spinoff series – which up until a few days ago was pretty hush-hush. Now we know that the new book will be called Bloodlines and the series will star alchemist side character Sydney. Interesting.
Rating: 6 – Good, but disappointing as a final book in what was otherwise a strong series
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