The Ruby Circle

The Ruby CircleIt’s a sign you like a series when you’re willing to try to overlook—albeit to ultimately still be largely infuriated by and not be able to forget—an incredibly annoying error on page one of the latest release.

The series? Richelle Mead’s Bloodlines. The new book? The Ruby Circle. The error? Having Adrian (the male protagonist) wish Sydney (the female protagonist and his wife) a happy anniversary.

‘Anniversary’ is a commonly misused term. It comes from the Latin anniversārius. According to the Macquarie Dictionary, it means the:

  1. yearly recurrence of the date of a past event
  2. celebration of such a date.

So, a yearly celebration. Mead had Adrian wish Sydney a happy one-month anniversary.

I get that Mead might not have understood she was misusing the word. But I don’t get that her editor didn’t. Especially when there was an easy out if Mead was adamant she wanted to use the word even though it was wrong: Sydney—grammatically and punctuationally astute Sydney—could have explained the year-related Latin origins of the word.

Now, legions of tweens will continue to mince anniversary’s meaning. It might seem like a small nitpicky thing to pick up on and something to be relegated to the realm of pet hate, but the incorrect application of anniversary is an annoying, avoidable error nonetheless. Reading it on page one? I was incensed.

The Ruby Circle doesn’t exactly start happily either, which didn’t help my first page-induced harrumphs. ‘Married life wasn’t what I expected’ is the first line. Adrian and Sydney are holed up at Moroi HQ, avoiding the Alchemists, who are outraged about Sydney’s escape from their re-education camp clutches. Oh, and her marriage to a vampire. The couple’s relationship isn’t exactly accepted by the Moroi and Dhampirs either, so it’s a miserable existence all round.

But Mead did manage to make me smile on page 3, where she includes jokes about possible songs Adrian and Sydney could have: ‘She Blinded Me With Science’ is deemed a better option than ‘Tainted Love’.

The Ruby Circle admittedly felt a bit samey as the previous Bloodlines books, but that’s not always a terrible thing. It picks up one month from where the last book left off, so the sameness could arguably be considered consistency.

For those of us (read: me) who’d forgotten how the previous book ended, Jill has been kidnapped and Sydney and co. have no idea who has taken her or why. With no leads to follow combined with Adrian and Sydney being cooped up, the characters are desperate to break out, solve the mystery, vanquish the enemy, and rescue Jill. In the interim, they’re all doing battle with their inner demons and doubts.

So, in all, reasonably compelling storylines. And, despite some of the usual plot holes so large you could drive a metaphorical bus through them (The Olive storyline with its tenuous reasoning? Pah. The fact that Sydney, the character that analyses everything and formulates a plan for every iota of her life sticks her hand in a weird robot dinosaur box with nary a second thought? Please.), I did for the most part enjoy The Ruby Circle.

There are the usual (and appreciated) zingers: ‘Has everyone decided which brave roles they’ll be taking on?’ Ms Terwilliger asks as the group concocts an insane scheme to go find and rescue Jill. ‘I can’t wait to see his nunchucks,’ Eddie says, as he and Sydney go to collect some weapons amid a herd of attack Chihuahuas.

Also, Rose and Dimitri finally make an appearance, which is what we’ve been waiting for all along. Strangely, I’d finally given up hoping and had actually been enjoying the Sydney and Adrian storyline, so I wasn’t as beside myself with excitement as I’d have otherwise been. Still, I’m not complaining. Moar Rose and Dimitri is always welcome.

I’m unsure how many books Mead has planned for the Bloodlines series. The Vampire Academy series was six in total—a number Bloodlines has, with The Ruby Circle, now equalled. While the book’s ending was final-ish, there was plenty there that would facilitate Mead picking up and running with it.

Which is obviously what I’d like her to do. I’m not yet ready to say goodbye to Sydney and Adrian, or Rose and Dimitri, especially if they’re about to start going on adventures together. I’d just like Mead and her editor to check the meanings of the words they employ. Another ‘anniversary’ annoyance and, frankly, I’ll maybe, possibly be out.

Silver Shadows

Silver ShadowsYou know you’re excited about a book’s impending release when you’ve literally instigated a countdown. And you’re emailing a friend and co-fan who happens to be in Europe for four months, telling her if she’s in doubt about returning to Australia, rest assured: the book will help smooth her potentially bumpy I’m-not-in-Europe-anymore arrival.

Silver Shadows, Book Five in Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy* spin-off Bloodlines, has just been released (Still with me? The series and spin-off and book titles can be confusing and I have to admit I still refer to everything as a Vampire Academy book).

It picks up where Book Four left off—if you haven’t read this yet, now’s the time to do the reading equivalent of lalalalala, AKA stop reading this blog post). That is, Alchemist extraordinaire Sydney Sage has been kidnapped and imprisoned by the Alchemists in an underground ‘re-education’ facility. Moroi lover Adrian Ivashkov is losing his mind with grief and frustration as he tries to use mental-health-destabilising spirit find out where she’s being kept.

With Sydney trapped in a seemingly-impossible-to-escape prison, I truly expected Rose and Dimitri to feature heavily in this tale (in truth, I expect that every book). But Mead surprised me and again kept them to cameos—she really does seem to mean what she said about being done with following their stories. That said, the way the book finishes has me convinced that the next one will surely see them come to the fore (in truth, I’ve thought that every book too).

The Silver Shadows contains less sassy repartee than previous books, but that’s both because people are trapped alone in various locations and in their heads, which makes the requirement of having someone to trade repartee with rather troublesome. Besides, the subject matter—torture, prejudice, and mental health and alcohol issues—makes for some reasonably bleak reading. In the most gripping, tale-inhaling manner, of course.

There are a few moments, though, such as when Sydney first encounters her uptight, Type A roommate, AKA ‘the Sydney Sage of re-education’. There’s also some banter about which car Adrian and Marcus should take on a roadtrip to find Sydney: a Mustang or a ‘lame yet highly fuel-efficient’ Prius that would require fewer stops and, therefore, hasten their mission.

The book touches on some more adult themes. And by adult, I mean challenging, life-changing stuff such as battling deteriorating mental health and grappling with feelings-suppressing alcohol addiction.

Vampire AcademyIt handles it in a way that’s respectful, demystifying, and de-stigmatising, which is all you could ask of a young-adult text. (Forgive me for getting my responsible adult hat on, but hopefully the young adults and not-so-young adults reading the series will feel a little less hesitant to ask for help sometime if they ever need it.)

Overall, though, not a lot happens in Silver Shadows. At least, not compared with other Vampire Academy slash Bloodlines books. But the tension around Sydney’s circumstances and whether Adrian, who’s self-destructing, will be able to hold it together, propel the story tensely forward. It’s also setting the scene for a bigger shebang, which Mead cruelly (and by cruelly I mean niftily) drops on us in final words on the final pages.

Which means that, having inhaled the book that answered the year-long what’s-going-to-happen-to-Sydney-in-re-education-camp suspense, that suspense has now been replaced with what’s-going-to-happen-with-[I’m not going to issue that spoiler so soon after its release—suffice to say, the plot twist and its ramifications are big] agony.

What I am going to say is that Mead had better been well on her way to writing Book Six. Let the countdown begin.

*As a side note, the covers continue to be terrible. I’m glad someone’s finally shifting the Vampire Academy titles to a more generic VA. They need to do similarly with the Bloodlines series. Pouting generic blondes and brunettes don’t cut it. For starters, Sydney Sage wouldn’t pout lustily at a camera…

The Fiery Heart

The Fiery HeartI should warn you before you starting reading it that Richelle Mead’s The Fiery Heart finishes on a cliffhanger. And that you’ll probably feel, as I do, that you’re not sure how you’re going to keep it together until the follow-up book, presumably named Fans Nearly Lost Their Minds Waiting For This, is released. Said release is likely to be some 18 months to two years away.

Hot damn.

Leafing through a book of baby names seems the antithesis of lead-ins to a climactic ending, but that’s where the book opens. ‘I won’t lie,’ Adrian Ivashkov says. ‘Walking into a room and seeing your girlfriend reading a back-name book can kind of make your heart stop.’

Sydney Sage is not pregnant, though. She’s looking for a name to be ordained with when she joins the local witch coven. It’s a leap from Sydney’s (I’m going to break with tradition and use first names from now on—for clarity) originally staunch alchemist ways, which view moroi, dhampirs, and strigoi as one and the same. That is, all blood-sucking bad guys.

The Fiery Heart follows on from The Indigo Spell, (I think—there are so many books these days I’m starting to lose track of them all) and the romance between Sydney and Adrian is new, joyous, and all-consuming. It’s also completely forbidden, with being found out likely leading to the very real danger of re-education.

Complicating the matter and putting a dampener on the love festivities is Sydney’s sister Zoe. She’s been sent to assist in the operation to keep Jill, half sister to moroi queen Lissa, alive. Moroi law dictates that a ruler can only hold their throne as long as they have a living relative. Hence the metaphorical target painted on Jill, who’s surrounded by fewer guardians and therefore a more accessible target than the queen herself.

As part of their lover’s agreement, Sydney has reduced her caffeine intake and Adrian his alcohol one. Oh, and Sydney and Zoe’s parents announce they’re getting a divorce.

The Indigo SpellSuffice to say, there’s plenty of material to keep The Fiery Heart ticking over (even if I still haven’t forgiven Mead for severing the Rose-and-Dimitri-led Vampire Academy books. I am consoling myself with the knowledge that the first film adaptation is due out on Valentine’s Day in 2014).

The Fiery Heart is fun, both because the subject matter is loved-up and because Mead has found form with the assembly of characters. Sydney and Adrian’s Escape Plan # [Insert number and far-fetched but amusing idea here] are quirky and I’ll-pay-that clever. The witty banter between them as lovers and as faux-enemies (for show, because they don’t want anyone to know about their relationship) is endlessly entertaining.

Even Angeline, the ‘feral’ dhampir and fierce scrapper who’s grown up in an alternative community, is less annoying. Mead has found a way to soften her and make her an endearing insertion for comedic effect.

‘Did you know,’ Angeline says at one stage, ‘that it’s a lot harder to put organs back in the body than it is to get them out?’ We discover she hasn’t gutted someone, but rather has knocked over the male and female biology models and spilt the organs far and wide. Another time there’s a reference to when Angeline forgot her locker combination and tried to get in with an axe.

That’s not to say all elements worked. Throughout the book Jill and Angeline both fixate on the new guardian in town, Neil, as a way to get over their real crushes. It never gels and I feel it either was part of another storyline that was never fulfilled or Mead needed to find a way to embed Neil in the group when he’s otherwise a tacked-on character. He still feels like a tacked-on character.

To give her the benefit of the doubt, he may come to the fore in future books. He just arrived and was accepted a little too easily when the group has already had trouble with insider–outsiders in previous books. The writing of him felt two-dimensional and as a character he was crowding out and essentially performing the same role already occupied by Eddie, whom I’ve come to quite love.

I’ll have to wait at least 18 months to determine Neil’s usefulness, though, so am hoping Mead is doing less book touring and touting of The Fiery Heart and more writing of the book that will likely include some reference to centres holding. Gah, bring on its release. And a Valentine’s Day film release in between.

The Indigo Spell

The Indigo SpellThe mature thing to do when you both have enormous, suffocatingly impending deadlines as well as knee surgery and an enforced lay-off coming up would be to save up a good book for the latterly mentioned respite.

I, of course, did nothing of the sort, head-in-the-sanding it ostrich style to pretend that I didn’t have deadlines and figuring that I’d find another book to read during my post-operative recovery.

Suffice to say, I raced through Richelle Mead’s latest Bloodlines installment, The Indigo Spell, faster than you can say, ‘Bring back everyone’s favourite dhampir lovers, Rose and Dimitri’.

With the exception of a two-or-so-sentences cameo, Rose and Dimitri didn’t feature in this book. Again. Although these days I’m better able to cope, both because I’m used to the disappointment and because Mead’s fleshing out the Bloodlines plots and characters a little better than before.

Case in point: Sydney the uptight alchemist, who in this book finally loosens up and allows herself to fall in love. Well, sort of, given that she spends the bulk of the book denying and quashing it, but semantics …

The book begins with Sydney being awoken in the middle of the night by her kooky, witchy teacher to cast a spell relating to a ‘life-or-death matter’. Props to Mead for an opening that both throws you in there and, er, garners your attention:

This wasn’t the first time I’d been pulled out of bed for a crucial mission. It was, however, the first time I’d been subjected to such a personal line of questioning.

‘Are you a virgin?’

‘Huh?’ I rubbed my sleepy eyes, just in case this was all some sort of bizarre dream that would disappear …

Mead gets straight into the snappy repartee, too (although out of context this is admittedly not as snappy as I first found it):

[Ms Terwilliger] stepped back and sighed with relief. ‘Yes, of course. Of course you’re a virgin.’

I narrowed my eyes, unsure if I should be offended or not. ‘Of course? What’s that supposed to mean?’

Soon after, Sydney narrates:

I was pretty sure I could hear some large animal scuffling out in the brush and added ‘coyotes’ to my mental list of dangers I faced out here, right below ‘magic use’ and ‘lack of coffee’.

Later, she has this encounter with love interest Adrian Ivashkov:

Nothing will get you anywhere with me,’ [Sydney] exclaimed.

‘I don’t know about that.’ He put on an introspective look that was both unexpected and intriguing. ‘You’re not as much of a lost cause as [Rose] was. I mean, with her, I had to overcome her deep, epic love with a Russian warlord. You and I just have to overcome hundreds of years’ worth of deeply ingrained prejudice and taboo between our two races.’

The Indigo Spell continues on chronologically from the previous Bloodlines books. Sydney is still tasked with protecting sister-to-the-queen Jill, whose knocking off could, due to archaic laws not yet changed, topple the entire and tenuously held throne. The two are holed up in the decidedly un-vampire-friendly Palm Springs along with guardian Eddie, wannabe guardian Angeline, and adorable, spirit user and arguable alcoholic Adrian.

The plot hole that so enraged me last book—the fact that, despite books and books worth of rules that a guardian never leaves their guardianee, Jill is left alone and unprotected for vast chunks of time—isn’t entirely plugged in this book, but it is addressed enough that it no longer explodes me.

My main gripe with The Indigo Spell, which I enjoyed more than its predecessors mostly because Sydney stopped being so Hermione and started having fun, was that the mysterious breakaway-alchemist storyline it featured didn’t exactly come to fruition. The promising plot, frankly, fell a little so-what flat. I could be proven wrong in future books, but for the moment I’m not convinced the storyline contributed to the plot, much less propelled it forward, and I have to wonder why it wasn’t excised in the edit.

Still, it wasn’t enough to make me put the book down (in reality, my deadline issues would have been better served if it had been), and reading The Indigo Spell left me with a feeling that was a cross between the one you get while consuming comfort food and being wrapped in a freshly laundered doona on an autumnal night.

The book was also packed with enough small-moment witticisms to keep me smiling to myself. Say, for example, when Sydney freaked out because her teacher was away sick and left only instructions to work on homework for the substitute teacher.

This seemed to amuse [her friend] immensely. ‘Melbourne, sometimes you’re the only reason I come to class. I saw her sub plan for your independent study, by the way. It said you didn’t even have to stick around. You’re free to run wild.’

Eddie, sitting nearby, overheard and scoffed. ‘To the library?’

Late in the book she calls Adrian with a request that’s rather unusual for her:

‘Can you come over to Amberwood? I need you to help me break curfew and escape my dorm.’

There were a few moments of silence. ‘Sage, I’ve been waiting two months to hear you say those words. You want me to bring a ladder?’

Now, if I can just find another book to read while I’m hopped up on painkillers and propped up on pillows, I’ll be sorted book-wise for at least another few days …

The Golden Lily

The Golden LilyThere are few better things to come home to on a Friday night than a just-released book whose arrival you’ve been highly anticipating. Especially when what stretches before you is a rare weekend relatively free of work or social commitments. Suffice to say I did a H&R Block-style celebratory fist pump when I found Richelle Mead’s The Golden Lily, the next instalment of the Bloodlines breakout series, in my neighbours’ postbox.

I don’t make a habit of rustling through my neighbours’ mail, but I had already pestered Boomerang Books to find out when the book had been shipped and precisely how far away it was from me. When my postbox was empty by my neighbours’ was suspiciously full with a package identical to Boomerang Books’ usual ones, well, I had to check the name (the lid was raised, I promise). And just as well I did: clearly my postie can’t decipher the difference between apartments ‘2’ and ‘3’.

Being a new release, it was at the time I pre-ordered it, much to my chagrin only available as a hardcover, but I swiftly removed the dust cover and settled in to read. It took me fewer than 24 hours to read The Golden Lily, and that includes me sleeping for a solid eight—Mead writes the kind of books that see you read at a greedy sprint.

Now, a few days on and sad that I’m yet again Vampire Academy book-less, I’ve mixed emotions about The Golden Lily. I loved it because it was a continuation of the series and I’d have given (and would continue to give) anything to meet any of the characters again. But I hated it in that I think it fell short of what it could and should have been.

Mead dedicates The Golden Lily to ‘her beautiful son, who was born the day I finished this’. On one level that’s sweet. On another—and hold the hate mail—methinks she rushed the book in order to beat the nine-month deadline and skipped the rewrites. That or she’s so mega successful and famous she, like JK Rowling and Stephenie Meyer before her, got to avoid or override the editing process.

Don’t get me wrong: The Golden Lily is good. Sydney’s a fabulous character and I’m pleased we get to tangentially find out my about her. Adrian too is a fantastically complex vampire initially cast as the drunken bad boy but who is, as time and storylines allow him to grow, actually smarter, more sensitive, and much more lovable than his early Vampire Academy encounters suggest.

But it’s good in the way that’s familiar and in no way surprising and challenging—as in none of the things we’ve come to expect. Worse, it’s predictable, formulaic, and pretty much a carbon copy of the first book. No really, without ruining it for you, I swear it’s pretty much the same story with a couple of names changed—I saw the plot twist that’s so blindingly obvious that it can’t be counted as a plot twist coming before possibly even Mead did.

The book follows on chronologically from the first book, i.e. Sydney, Jill, Adrian, and Eddie are still undercover at boarding school in Palm Springs as they aim to keep Jill safe from the Moroi who’d have her killed in order to oust Lissa as queen. To recap: there’s a quirk in the law that says a royal has to have a living relative in order to hold the throne—Lissa’s too well guarded to knock off, so Jill’s become the target. You know, the fate of the vampire universe depends on her staying alive and safe and all that.

BloodlinesWhich is why I was doubly annoyed that the most gaping plot hole of the first book still hadn’t been fixed. Shame on you, Richelle Mead, and shame on your editor too for continuing to have the character wander about unguarded for vast swathes of time in the book—it undermines the enormity of the issue of why she’s been squirreled away there in the first place.

It also undermines the always-alert, life-on-the-line premise on which Mead has developed the guardians. The entire reason why Rose and Dimitri could purportedly never 100% be together is because their lives were not their own and they ate, breathed, and rarely slept in their guardian roles.

Yet the ever-dedicated Eddie, who’s already endured his best mate dying and various other awfulities at the hands of the Strigoi, and the OCD Sydney, whose future as an Alchemist is on the line, are ok with her getting about unchaperoned?

Especially after (you may not want to read this next bit of the sentence if you haven’t read Book 1) she’s already had an evil former Strigoi date her under false pretences and an Alchemist prove he’s up to no good. If that isn’t enough to make them tighten up their security—and give Mead a face-saving way to patch up this gaping, easily fixed plot error, no less—I don’t know what is.

I guess my main gripe is that smart characters are suddenly not smart. Mead is breaking the rules she’s set up and undermining what’s integral to her characters. The things that slip past them are things that would never ever have previously slipped past in the past—Sydney, Adrian, Eddie, and Dimitri are super intelligent and would be aware of issues before they were even ones.

It’s unbelievable (and arguably lazy plotting and writing) that they’d be missing key signs or that they’d leave Jill in the hands of an entirely un-trained Dhamphir of questionable background. Dimitri alone would never allow for such lax and amateur security. Jill should have the best of the best 24/7.

Which brings me to the other issue: the continued absence of Rose and Dimitri. I know Mead said she was done with those much-loved characters, but the books are lacking without them. It’s like having Twilight without Edward and Bella—although I know there are some of you out there who’d argue that’s precisely what would improve it. Seriously, though, readers have fallen in love with the complex and compelling Rose and Dimitri and starving them of them weakens the tale.

Giving us glimpses of them is even worse. Dimitri comes to town—in fact, Mead foreshadowed that at the end of the last book so I’ve been salivating over the fact that Dimitri would reappear for close to 12 months now. Sadly, though, he might as well have not been there.

His mission is to research what prevents and un-strigoi-ed vampire from becoming re-strigoi-ed. That is, something that’s pretty important and that should see him appear more in the story. But the research goes largely nowhere and Dimitri’s contributions to the plot are cursory. Worse, the only time Rose appears is when she apparently phones Dimitri and we hear Dimitri tell her that of course it’s not a bad time to call.

But I’m being harsh. Mostly because I so love Mead’s series and characters and know she’s capable of better. And for all my grumping, I did enjoy the book and its return to wry humour. These include:

[Julia] shook her head. ‘This is the kind of shirt that says, ‘You’re never getting in here.’ Kristen then offered that ‘I think it’s more like a shirt that says, ‘I’m going to have to end this date early so I can go prepare my PowerPoint presentation.’

and

They all traipsed down the stairs with me when the time came for Brayden to pick me up. (Actually, it was a little earlier than the appointed time, but I hated being late.) The girls had all come up with reasons for needing to meet him, from Jill’s ‘It’s a family thing’ to Kristin’s ‘I can spot and asshole in five seconds.’ I wasn’t confident in that last one, seeing as she’d once speculated that Keith [AKA the arch nemeses of the previous Bloodlines book] might be a good catch.

and

Sydney comments on Dimitri wearing his ‘duster’ [AKA a trench coat] in the Palm Springs heat. ‘Isn’t Dimitri hot?’ she asks. ‘Adrian’s response hadn’t been entirely expected: “Well, yell, according to most women, at least.”’

and

‘No offence,’ Adrian tells her, ‘but this lily is kind of more badass than yours. If the Alchemists want to buy the rights to this and start using it, I’m willing to negotiate.’ ‘Noted,’ Sydney tells him.

Soon after he says:

‘You’re in an awfully good mood. Was there a sale at Khakis-R-Us?’

For all my harrumphing we all know I’m in for the Vampire Academy/Bloodlines long haul—the books are too good and the characters and plots too addictive for me to give up. But I will say that I hope Mead has her Google Alerts set up and that she takes note and returns (in at least some capacity) Rose and Dimitri. That and that she fixes the drive-a-truck-through-it security plot hole before Book 3.