Silly old me picking up this novella thinking it would be a cute piece of fluff about the boys when they were still high school students. WRONG. WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. This book, ORIGINS OF AN ACADEMY BULLY, is told in dual POV by Darius Acrux and Lance Orion. Darius is 14 and I think Lance is in his very early 20s. We see Darius learn his affinities and explore the school he'll be going to in four years as part of an orientation sort of thing, which is actually quite cute. But then the book gets dark, fast.
I love the Zodiac Academy series so much. I'm afraid that I've been pretty annoying in my love about it, spamming people with multiple status updates because people have been unfriending me for it. I'm SORRY, okay. I've had to watch people posting updates for ACOTAR for years, to the point where it's literally the only thing in my feed whenever a new book comes out, so I feel like it's my turn to stan something. I'm sorry I'm a thirty-something with trash taste in books. But also-- it's not like I hid it or anything LOL.
FWIW, this series is aggressively addictive. Like, here I am, scampering around for the bonus materials for just another hit. Like it's blood magic or something (WINK). But I just can't help it, you know? Even though the writing is soap opera-y and, yes, objectively trashy reading, the story-telling and world-building are so good that I just HAVE to know more. In this novella, we learn about what really happened to Clara Orion and how Darius and Lance became bonded in a guardian relationship. Both scenes are brutal and chilling and are honestly probably going to give me nightmares. Which makes me feel like maybe this almost should have been a full-length book. I feel like the progression from lalala privileged rich kid heir frolicking in his soon-to-be-new-school to complete and utter despair happened so quickly it gave me whiplash.
Also, poor Lance. All of his dreams-- crushed. My poor little vampire. And the pressure on Darius and Xavier is just truly heartbreaking. You can see why Darius hates Tory and Darcy so much, especially with his father wanting his son to be King Gary Stu. All that training and effort, only to see two totally inexperienced people who are completely more powerful than you without any effort? It went a long way towards explaining his resentment and hatred. I think it also really explained the bond that Darius and Lance have, which I actually really liked. It's rare to see such intense intimacy between male friends in a dark romance book, and I really liked that. It's clear they care a lot about each other, which makes what happens to them that much more devastating.
I think this adds a lot to the series and it packs a surprisingly emotional punch, but it doesn't really feel like a ~complete~ narrative arc either, so for that I'm giving it a three.
3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars