I read these books ten years ago when I was going through the same paranormal frenzy that everyone else was, characterized by those "girl in a Gothic dress" covers that were so popular in the early 2010s. Most of them were crushing disappointments, but the Vampire Academy series blew my expectations out of the water and basically ended up being the cracktastic fun-fest I expected.
The best way to describe it is to say that it's like you took Harry Potter and infused it with high school scandal and backstabbing, with all of the doomed romance and girl-on-girl Machiavellian plotting of a K-drama. It reminded me a lot of Peach Girl, too, in that the heroine is sexualized by her peers because of the way she looks and spends the whole book struggling to save her friends and prove her character, despite everyone constantly judging her.
Rose is a damphir, which means she's half-Moroi (good vampire) and half-damphir (hybrid). Moroi are vampires that can do elemental magic and they're very good looking, but they're physically frail. Damphir are faster and stronger, but they're also infertile, so in exchange for protection and sometimes providing blood, Moroi hire Damphir to be their bodyguards, and Damphir use Moroi to keep the bloodline alive. It's very symbiotic. The main thing that Damphir protect their charges against are Strigoi, which are bad vampires who like to kill.
Rose has a bond with Lissa, her Moroi friend, which allows her to sense when she's in danger, as well as read her thoughts. It was one of those moments that led Rose to spirit Lissa away from their academy, and neither of them are very happy when they're both brought back in disgrace. Rather than be expelled, Rose is given extra lessons to keep her in check with the man who brought her back in, a very hot guy named Dimitri, who is a Damphir just like her, and the acting guardian of her friend.
It seems like it should be a normal year, but someone is trying to chase Lissa away from the school, putting dead animals in her bed and making her life miserable. Through their connection, Rose sees her friend losing control, succumbing to depression and acting out in increasingly violent and irrational ways, including using her compulsion spells to use things against their will and hanging out with the resident bad boy, Christian, whose parents were both evil Strigoi. To make matters worse, her feelings for Dimitri are getting stronger and making it hard to focus a mind that is becoming increasingly not her own, as Lissa's thoughts begin to invade hers more and more.
And then the book reaches its climax, and everything explodes in fire and blood.
This is one of the few books I've reread that completely lived up to my memories of it, and the more I read, the more of it came back to me. I loved every moment of it, even the parts that normally would have made me turn up my nose in disgust if they had occurred in another book. Rose is such a strong character and I loved her bond with Lissa. Normally I only like the main love interest, but I liked Dimitri as much as I liked Christian. The boarding school element is done so well and provides an excellent element of isolation and danger, and the magic gave it a fun Harry Potter vibe, only less hocus pocus vibes and more Wicca.
The only taint about this book for me is the movie, which sucks. I don't know what the people who made that movie were thinking but it was a fail. I think the only bigger disappointment was the spectacular flop, Boys Over Friends, AKA what happens with Americans try to take a popular manga/K-Drama idea and localize it for an American audience but end up ruining everything. People seriously need to figure out how to adapt YA books to movies without being fails, and I think reading the books might help, because I'm pretty sure a lot of those people probably just Cliffnotes it.
If you're looking for something a little bit erotic, filled with adventure and magic and romance and all sorts of other good things, VAMPIRE ACADEMY is the perfect book to pick up. I blew through it in an afternoon, and can't wait to read the rest of the books. Especially since they're all on sale right now, so I could pick up all six for just under $12. I never actually finished the series and can't wait to see how it ends. Especially with the zinger that this one ended on. Shadow-kissed, indeed.
4.5 out of 5 stars