Rose and Lissa. The friendship that these two share is really incredible. Rose is headstrong and wild and fiercely protective of her best friend, the sweet, unstable Lissa. Lissa, in turn, trusts and respects Rose, despite her lower social status and questionable reputation. There were definitely times where I forgot that this book was about Vampires at all because Rose and Lissa's friendship was so commanding. Lissa is intensely vulnerable after the deaths of her parents and brother. Although she is a royal Moroi vampire, she has few real friends at school but Rose makes up for this completely. Rose, in addition to being her best friend, is also her guardian and has devoted her life to protecting Lissa. However, Rose does not act out of duty but rather out of love and loyalty. There's really nothing like a best friend, even if you're a vampire.
The Vampires. I was really expecting the vampires in this book to be tough, powerful, bloodthirsty immortals - you know, vampires. I'm usually a purist when it comes to these sorts of things, but Mead really put the humanity back into these guys. At least, some of them. There are two types of vampires, Strigoi and Moroi. Strigoi are more like the classic vampire: undead, ruthless, soulless monsters. Moroi, though, are alive and connected to the earth. And while they are strong and need blood to survive, they also need regular food and sleep and protection. They are hunted by the Strigoi and they need half-vamps to protect them. Their vulnerability makes them relate-able and easy to understand. It also makes it necessary for them to bond with their protectors. I just really liked they weren't huge bad-asses. And that surprised me.
It doesn't feel like an intro. Finally, I like that this book doesn't feel like it's just here to set up the rest of the series. There are so many first books that do this and it is one of my pet peeves. Vampire Academy could almost be a stand-alone novel. It isn't a cop-out.
Adult Themes. First, let me say that I don't have problems with adult themes in YA books, as long as they are dealt with tastefully and responsibly. Part of being a teenager is learning how to deal with "adult" things so I see no problem with putting them in YA literature. There were a couple of things about this book that bothered me. First of all, the language was a little iffy. I was sort of surprised by the amount of cursing throughout the book. I am no prude when it comes to language, but I thought Mead went overboard sometimes. Second, self-mutilation is a huge issue in this book. This is something that real teenagers sometimes have to deal with, whether it be with their friends or themselves, but I think it was handled a bit too lightly in some place. For instance Rose refers to Lissa's cutting as "her weird way of coping" at one point. I think that's a bit flippant, personally. To be fair, this issue is dealt with on a more responsible level later on, but it still bothered me.
Lots of dead/mutilated animals. This sort of goes hand-in-hand with my first problem. The shear amount of animal mutilation in this book is a little startling. I get it, it's a book about vampires, who cares if a bunny gets ripped apart when people are dropping like flies. But, it was just a little gratuitous.
Pedo-alert? Okay, this one might make some of you angry because I know how much you all love Dimitri, but seriously, Rose is in high school! He's in his mid-twenties. I'm 25 and I would go to jail if I were involved with a high school-er. Plus, yuck. I know, he's super hot and moody and ripped, but couldn't they be a little closer in age. Maybe as the books go on this gets less creepy as Rose gets a little older. Here's hoping.
Overall, I really enjoyed Vampire Academy. I think it was just what I needed after a stressful couple of weeks. It has adventure, action, horror and romance. It's a great summer read and I can't wait to get my hands on the next one!