“Vampire Academy” by Richelle Mead

I must be the last person on the planet to read “Vampire Academy.” I know it came out a while ago, but holy crap is it good. Rose is such a kick-ass heroine and Lissa is such a gentle soul. Their halfway mind connection, where Rose can see her best friend Lissa’s thoughts but not vice-versa is a nice plot technique.

The world building of vampires with their damphir bodyguards (half-human, half-vampires who have serious martial-art skills) creates a lot of exciting action sequences. But it’s not all blood and guts. There is some serious romance.

Damphir Rose balances her bad attitude with loyalty to for friends. And her attraction to her older teacher Dmitri is H-O-T. Of course, maybe I have a slight bias towards shipping them, since I met my husband in a teacher-student relationship. Just like Dmitri and Rose, my husband-to-be was seven years older than me. But he didn’t teach me martial arts. He taught me calculus, which also led to some potentially lethal lessons, haha.

Anyway. I shipped Dmitri and Rose. Hard.

Also, this series has a unique approach to discussing mental illness. Lissa is a vampire who has an unusual power called spirit that is poorly understood. She basically has healing super-strength, which is great for other people, but not so great for herself. Using her powers, even though she often wants to, causes her to feel depressed. Even though Lissa is strong, she has to learn how to balance self-care with caring for others. Bringing the dialogue on mental illness into the fantasy arena surely will help reduce stigma for readers who suffer from the same conditions.

So yeah. “Vampire Academy” isn’t just about fighting and kissing, it has some additional depth. Although, honestly I like the violence and romance just as much as the deep parts.

 

“Winter” by Marissa Meyer (The Lunar Chronicles)

I just read Marissa Meyer’s “Winter” and it did not disappoint. Ever since “Cinder” stole my heart with her cyborg awesomeness, the Lunar Chronicles have made a serious impression on me. There’s a strong message of being yourself no matter your background and abilities. Each novel in the series introduces a new character and romance to the cast to overthrow the cruel Lunar Queen. And each is loosely based on a popular fairytale – Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White.

“Winter” is the final episode in the battle against the Lunars and is a hefty volume at 823 pages. Of course, the cast of characters at this point in the series has become quite large, so Meyer needed a fair amount of space to describe each of their contributions.

At first I found Prince Kai’s participation in the plot a bit tiresome – how many times must he attempt to bait the Queen into a marriage that will make her empress over the Commonwealth? And then, it hit me over the head with the brilliance of it. This complaint is usually one I have for female characters. Why is Princess So-and-so only valued for her marriageable eligibility and sex appeal? Why is her only plot device the betrothal and the wedding?

Here, Prince Kai is the sex muffin who is traded around in marriage, a typically female role. His love interest, Cinder is the one who has to save him – a girl who’s part cyborg, part human. Now, I’m back to remembering why I love this series so much. The feminine empowerment is incredible.

Winter, the newest character in the cast, suffers from mental illness. In spite of her struggles, she triumphs. Cress overcomes her shyness. Scarlet tames the beast. I found the parallels between the long list of couples to cause characters to become indistinct at times, however this didn’t freeze my heart to “Winter.” The message of loving someone despite of their flaws is a good one.

Will they all live happily ever after?

Read “Winter” to find out.