This has been on my radar for a while but I've avoided reading it because I thought it was set in a high school (and I don't really like reading romances set in high school) and because the people who were shipping it generally shipped other fantasy authors whose works I didn't like, and contrary to some people's beliefs, I am not a hate-reader. When I pick up a book, it's because I genuinely want to like it. The one-star review is a reflection of my disappointment.
But I kept seeing people picking up this series and loving it and then I found out that it's set in university and not high school, so it felt like the literal stars were conspiring against me, taking away my reasons for not reading this book one by one, and I was like FINE UNIVERSE. I'LL READ YOUR STUPID SMUT GOD. And guess what... I. LOVED. IT. I really fucking loved it. I read book one in one day, in just a few hours. Even though it was almost 500 hundo pages. W H A T.
Here's the thing. When I was a teen-- YES I AM OLD-- there was this magical site called Quizilla. And one of my favorite things to read on that website were harem paranormals where the girl could end up with any one of an entire Pokemon booster pack of men with different supernatural powers. I would stay up until 5am reading those trashy stories and every once in a blue moon, I'll come across something self-published that has that same addictive, cracky qualia of just being impossible to put down, gratuitously self-indulgent, and resplendently fun to read. And for me, THE AWAKENING, was that book.
I almost didn't make it through the beginning because the desperate edginess of their normie setting almost put me off. TWO police chases before the 10% mark??? That seems excessive, MA'AMS. But then Professor Orion barged into the scene and things got really good. I loved the descriptions of Zodiac Academy and the world-building was genuinely amazing. The opulent dorms and dining hall, the enchanted "pegasus" meadow, the classrooms named after planets-- IT WAS SO MUCH FUN. But even though it looks and quacks like a fairytale... it's not. Darcy and Tory Vega find out that they're the heirs to the fae kingdom and even though they have ALL THE POWERS, they don't know how to use them. And people resent them for having the power and for upsetting the status quo, and so basically everyone bullies and fucks with them (except for a small contingent of royalists who stan their family the way people used to stan the Queen of England). Which actually made a lot of sense.
Fuck those interlopers.
The new rulers who have stepped into the void of their fae parents' deaths are called the heirs. There's Darius, the dragon. Seth, the werewolf. Caleb, the vampire. And Max, the siren. Like everyone else in the school, they've each specialized in a single element-- fire, air, earth, and water-- and like everyone else in the school, they have a bone to pick with the interlopers. A lot of the bullying takes the form of sexual harassment, which is typical in bullymances. I personally am not bothered by this-- honestly, if you've read Hana Yori Dango, some of the stuff that happens in that book is way worse-- but it's something to think about if you have triggers. Personally, I liked the distinction about it being all about power; it made sense that the fae would brutalize each other like that to show animal dominance.
As big a part as the romance is when it comes to setting the stage, a lot of the book is also about the sisters struggling to develop and control their powers, while also trying to take in this whole other world they didn't even know about. At first it's disorienting trying to take in all of these names and descriptions, but that translates to the characters' bewilderment as well, and it's really well done. We learn about the world as the characters do and whether that's brilliant writing or a happy accident, I don't even care because I loved it and didn't want it to be over. These classrooms are way more dangerous than the ones in Harry Potter and the teachers are just as cruel as the students. There's also a sort of romance with one of the sisters and their hot vampire professor, Lance Orion. He's actually the love interest I liked the most, because even though he was an asshole, he was an asshole to everyone. This is a man who will crack someone's head against a desk for backtalking him. Although if I'm pressed, I'd say that my favorite of the boys was probably Caleb just because I'm a sucker for vamps.
I ended up really liking Darcy and Tory. I do agree with the criticisms that their POVs are pretty similar and it was easy to confuse them but they ARE twins so I guess it makes sense that they'd be alike?? I also liked how they simped for each other and always had each other's backs. The girl on girl hate was also pretty minimal for a bullymance. I liked how the girls were kind of disgusted when the guys slut-shamed other women and how some of the girls weren't treated as rivals but as friends. Nothing was perfect, but it felt more realistic and less a reliance on gross gender stereotypes, even though the word "alpha" was used in here about twenty times too many, and I began eye-rolling at the mention of a muscled chest (because of course, it happened every time something with a dick walked on stage).
I've developed a bit of a reputation on this site for being a picky snob and that's probably true, but my standards are actually pretty low. All I ask is to be entertained. This book more than served me up in that regard and I've already got book two on standby. I'm wildly jealous of the authors for thinking up this delicious, slutty hodgepodge of Vampire Academy, Harry Potter, and Cruel Prince, and now I guess I have to read thousands and thousands of pages of this self-indulgent fanfiction to find out how it ends.
4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars