The world of Bloodlines is at once familiar and unusual. It’s an unusual take on the usual vampire myth, with two races of vampiric beings: the mortal, human-like Moroi, and the immortal, monstrous Strigoi. The Moroi, though magical, are physically weak, and are guarded from the Strigoi by the semi-human dhampirs. Throw in the Alchemists, who officially want to protect the world from the Strigoi but unofficially think anyone with vampire blood is sub-human, and you end up with a unique world that nods towards vampire myth while making it its own.
Usually this is the part where I summarise the plot, but because Bloodlines follows directly on from significant events in Vampire Academy there are spoilers. That said, you don’t need to have read Vampire Academy in order to enjoy Bloodlines, and I think in some ways Bloodlines may be a better introduction to the world. Rose, the protagonist of Vampire Academy, is a dhampir, and grew up amongst the Moroi vampires at a boarding school, and the majority of the series is set either at that school or at the Moroi court. It’s a series that’s very much immersed in Moroi civilisation.
With Bloodlines, Sydney, too, grew up as part of the vampire world, but she was brought up an Alchemist, humans who use the scientific resources available to them to fight the Strigoi vampires. Moreover, the early books in the series are set at a human school, and so the series is grounded in the real world in a way the Vampire Academy series isn’t.
I love Sydney as the protagonist in this series, and I think she’s the perfect complement to Rose. Rose is an ass-kicking, smart-mouthed BAMF, while Sydney is a religious, self-conscious nerd. Both of them, though, have a strong sense of right and wrong and deeply-held loyalty to their loved ones. Sydney grows so much over the course of the series, discovering that the Moroi she so despises are not so evil after all, while the Alchemists to whom she is loyal are not so pure as she may think.
I think Bloodlines, like Vampire Academy, is classed as YA, but it’s a bit of an older YA. For one thing, Sydney turns 19 midway through the series, and Adrian, who is 22, becomes a POV character in book 4. More than that, though, Sydney is a more mature narrator than Rose. It’s true that Rose has had to grow up quickly, but she can be hotheaded and impulsive in a way that impedes her as often as helps her. Sydney, on the other hand, is more analytical and academically-inclined.
On the flip-side, however, Bloodlines is in a way a quintessentially YA story, about a young woman learning to differentiate herself from her parents and decide what she believes and whom she befriends.
One of the things I appreciate most about this series is that it subverts the first-love-equals-true-love trope so often found in YA. As readers of Vampire Academy know, Adrian was deeply in love with Rose, and still is at the start of Bloodlines. Over the series, though, he falls in love again, and his relationship with Rose turns to one of genuine friendship and platonic affection.
I really like the religious undertones of the Alchemists, too. Sydney’s upbringing has a lot in common with people brought up in fundamentalist families; she was homeschooled and taught to be cautious around the Moroi lest they seduce her to evil, in much the same way that children in many American Christian fundamentalist families are homeschooled and taught to be wary of anything ‘worldly’ lest it cause them to sin. Sydney’s character arc, then, is in part the story of a girl leaving behind the religious brainwashing of her parents and learning to think for herself.
Mead blends this isolated upbringing with a career entirely different from any a Christian fundamentalist girl would imagine for herself, as Sydney is, effectively, a secret agent, working undercover to preserve the fragile peace within the supernatural world. The conversations Sydney has with her father have undertones of the same kind as those Rachel has with her father in Devoted (which I recommended on Coven Book Club a couple of weeks ago), but in an entirely different context. Mead uses the supernatural context of the Moroi world to explore the way in which religion and overzealous beliefs can be used to brainwash children, and the fine line those children walk when they begin to think for themselves.
Bloodlines is, of course, the perfect series for existing Vampire Academy fans, but it will also appeal to new readers in search of a story that melds contemporary themes with a paranormal context.