The Mountains of Instead

Championing fiction as an escape from pandemics, politics and bad TV.

Gilding The Lily (Review: Bloodlines by Richelle Mead)

Richelle Mead
Razorbill 2011 

Bloodlines is the first in a new series that follow the events of Spirit Bound, the final book in Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy series. If you haven't read all of the Vampire Academy books then this review WILL contain spoilers.  However, it is spoiler free for Bloodlines itself.  You have been warned.

The Moroi, Dhampir and Alchemist worlds are still reeling from the events triggered by Rose Hathaway, Dmitri Belikov and Vasilisa Dragomir. With Lissa now on the throne, things are no less settled and her half-sister Jill has become a target for dissenters. As Lissa needs one family member in order to remain the Moroi monarch, Jill is spirited into hiding until laws can be changed. Given the rather dubious honour of helping Jill fit into the human world is Alchemist, Sydney Sage who’s already had more of the vampire world that she would care for. Now babysitting not only Jill, but Dhampir Eddie and notorious party-Moroi, Adrian, Sydney once more finds herself drawn into a world that both scares and intrigues her.

Many Vampire Academy fans expressed concern when it was announced that the protagonist of spin off series, Bloodlines, would be the rather straight laced Alchemist, Sydney. However, they needn’t have worried as Sydney proves to be an interesting protagonist. Her strict upbringing and somewhat puritanical views make her almost the complete antithesis of VA’s, Rose although they often have the same focus and determination. Having never attended mainstream school, Sydney finds herself slightly lost posing as Jill’s sister at boarding school but she’s pretty smart and uses her vast knowledge of, well, everything to get by in social situations that often confuse her. She has a pleasingly analytical approach to most things but is far from the cool, almost unfeeling character she sometimes appeared to be in VA. Rather, she is compassionate and genuinely believes in her cause. Ironically, it is this belief that causes her most conflict as she begins to rather like her strange group of charges. However, while she does become slowly more comfortable, her horror over the Moroi lifestyle and use of magic never leaves her entirely. Latterly, a different side of Sydney is revealed - one that is darker, less scientific and a little frightening. It is testament to Mead’s writing that this revelation doesn’t appear incongruous.

Of the core group of characters, Adrian is (rather inevitably) the most compelling. A favourite of mine, he remains as screwed up as ever. When readers last encountered him he had been deeply hurt by Rose and in Bloodlines he is still suffering. While he is ostensibly with the group to keep an extra eye on Jill (to whom he has become inextricably attached), one suspects that he has also been sent away from the Royal Court in order to keep his distraught mind off his lost love. His interactions with Sydney are insightful, sometimes touching and often hilarious (his description of a desired tattoo is laugh out loud funny) but there is, realistically, little hint of romance between the pair allowing a believable friendship to grow in its stead. While bad guys are less obvious in Bloodlines than in VA, Sydney's fellow Alchemist, Keith is an extremely unpleasant character and school bully Lauren is infuriatingly nasty.

The plot of Bloodlines at first appears pretty simple and it would be easy to assume that it might take a predictable turn concerning Jill and the many dissenters out for her blood. However, Mead cleverly turns the title into a mystery thriller surrounding odd, metallic tattoos and suspicious deaths of both Moroi and human girls.  She really does keep readers guessing until the very end and, while I had my suspicions, I really wasn't sure how the plot was going to develop or conclude. The ending itself sets things up beautifully for the second book in the series, introducing a fantastic new premise and re-introducing some familiar faces.

On reading the VA series over the course of a month last year, I was surprised that I didn't get a little Richelle Mead-ed out yet Bloodlines captured my imagination in just the way the first series did. The world is so well constructed that it's impossible not to be curious to find out more. Allowing readers to now view the Moroi et al from an outsiders perspective is a clever and entirely successful way in which to start a new series. Cleverly, Mead doesn't stray far from her VA characters - and why should she? Most refreshingly, she allows her cast to act in believable ways. From Rose's previous rejection of Adrian and his ongoing grief to Jill's teenage insecurities and Dhampir Eddie's haunted past, nothing is too easy for this lot - rather, it's all remarkably easy to relate to despite the fantastical setting. I look forward to the second book in the Bloodlines series with interest and have no doubt that this new venture for Richelle Mead will become as successful as the initial series.

Bloodlines is available in shops and online now.  Many thanks to the publisher for sending me this title to review. 


Sara said…
I've got an Author crush with Mead's work. I love her adult stuff also. It's all awesome.
Anonymous said…
Very thoughtful and interesting review - we share a lot of the same views about VA and Bloodlines ^.^
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