BloodlinesFew people look forward to returning from overseas trips and I’m no exception. For once, though, I was prepared to tackle the back-to-reality jetlag head on: Richelle Mead’s latest Vampire Academy installation had been released while I’d been gone.

I’m starting to wonder just how many entries of this here blog I’ve dedicated to Vampire Academy and I readily admit it’s reasonably extreme to be emailing home ahead to confirm that said book, Bloodlines, had indeed arrived and was awaiting my arrival back in Oz.

I’ll also say that there are few better books to have handy when you are so unspeakably tired you wish you could slip into a coma but are instead awake and cursing your body, your body clock, and your insensitive, noisy neighbours with a rage so fierce you are in danger of spontaneously combusting.

I would have been in a sleeping tablet coma had I been able to find a 24-hour medical centre (although it’s debatable whether I in my crazy-eyed, crazy-haired state of distress could have convinced any doctor that I wasn’t out of my mind; that I was just seriously, I’ve-been-awake-for-36-hours-straight-and-there-might-be-a-homicide-if-my-shrieking-neighbours-don’t-be-quiet sleep deprived). Fortunately for my rude neighbours’ health, I found other ways to fill my waking hours.

VAI had mixed emotions about cracking Bloodlines’ spine—I knew it was a spin off from the original six-book series and that its two main, kick-ass characters and love interests, Rose and Dimitri, weren’t going to feature. You’ve heard of second-book syndrome; I was wondering if there was such a thing as second-series syndrome.

I was dubious that Mead could produce a book as strong in story and (frankly) lust-worthiness with them out of the picture. Seriously. Dimitri makes Twilight’s Edward look like a complete ponce (Twilight critics, bite your tongues—that’s not an opening for you to pan Twilight :). And really, why can’t she just continue Rose and Dimitri’s journey?

But as one Book Burglar Blog reader and fellow Vampire Academy fan commented on a previous post, she figured that once she was a few pages in she’d be rapt in the new characters and plot and her concerns would melt away. That’s precisely what happened to me.

Sydney the alchemist, a Hermione-like character who featured late in the original series and who I really dug, replaces Rose as the strong female lead. The book opens with Sydney being woken in the middle of the night to be sent on a secret mission: to guard now-Queen Lissa’s half sister, Jill, whose life is in danger.

It’s vital that Jill doesn’t get topped, because vampire law decrees that in order to rule, the queen has to have another living relative. Jill, the recently discovered illegitimate half sister is, conveniently for the storyline, the only one.

Bit-part players in the previous books, Sydney and Jill are rotated to the fore of the storyline, along with other secondary but charming characters, such as spirit user, party boy, and lovable rogue Adrian. Mead sends them to warm, sunny, dry, and apparently vampire-less Palm Springs, because it’s entirely opposite from the previous books’ settings. Sydney has to pose as Jill’s sister and heads back to high school in order to protect her.

It feels, I must say, a bit irksome and too close to bad Hollywood films—returning to school has been done to death, no vampire pun intended. But it for the most part works and I read the book in two sittings (or lyings, if we’re getting into technicalities) so the book definitely gets the thumbs up.

Sydney and Adrian, in particular, transition easily into being lead characters—there’s enough substance and spunk to them, and you are glad you get to better know them. And Mead is a good writer, whose creativity and sass never fail to impress me.

There are a few things that bugged me, though, including that Mead alludes to Jill’s attempted murder, but doesn’t do a whole lot with it. The other alchemist character, whom Sydney hates, is a bit too two-dimensional and her reason for hating him to convenient and trite. He starts the book as a baddie and leaves it as one, without any real character development or he’s-not-the-bad-guy-we-thought-he-was surprises.

There’s also a massive, glaring, and arguably inexcusable plot hole: despite being charged with guarding her 24/7 Sydney and the guardian leave Jill unattended at school for the bulk of the book. They’re in a traditional, non-vampire, and completely unprotected school and this just doesn’t make sense, especially as Mead doesn’t really use this absence to further the plot (I’m not going to give the story away, but suffice to say, Jill being on her own at school doesn’t really result in anything climactic or juicy happening, as it should). I also have to say that although Sydney and Adrian carry the book well, they’re still not Rose and Dimitri.

In all, I enjoyed Bloodlines, but not as much as the original Vampire Academy series. It’s in part due to the characters, but mostly because I don’t think the plot was as original or strong—Vampire Academy surprised me; Bloodlines was at best predictable or took turns that made me think ‘Really? That’s the best you can do with that plot opportunity?’

Ultimately, less creative or not, I’m grieving finishing the book and wondering what else on earth I’ll be able to read that will grip me as much and help me jettison (or at least temporarily take my mind off) shrieking neighbours and jetlag. If I’m honest, I’ll admit that I’m seriously considering starting back at book one of Vampire Academy. There’s no book like Vampire Academy

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Fiona Crawford

Fiona Crawford is a freelance writer, editor, blogger, proofreader, and voracious reader. She regularly appears as a book reviewer in Australian BOOKSELLER+PUBLISHER magazine. Fiona is also (unfairly) known as the Book Burglar due to her penchant for buying family members—then permanently borrowing—books she wants to read herself.