by Alicia Rudnicki, Library Mix
On a bright, balmy, Indian summer evening at Boulder Bookstore in Boulder, Colorado, everyone was seeing red.
Bloody good treats
Bowls were filled with red licorice and platters were stocked with red jelly thumbprint cookies and other rosy treats intended to appeal to the teenage girls attending a book signing for Blood Promise, the fourth novel in Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series.
Although not the queen of teen vampire romance fiction, Mead is definitely one of its most popular princesses. She was enthroned this evening behind a conference table draped in red and featuring a gothically lettered sign saying “St. Vladimir’s Academy,” Mead’s fictional boarding school for vampire royalty and their half-human “guardians.”
Similar to Bella’s hometown of Forks, Washington, in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, the location of St. Vladimir’s Academy is rural and remote. It is tucked away in the wilderness near Missoula, Montana, and is frightfully frigid much of the year.
Dozens of girls crowded into Boulder Bookstore’s small 1890s ballroom to hear Mead speak. And, like a parent’s dream come true, many spent a considerable amount of time chatting about the armload of books they had read over the summer.
Here’s a rogue thought: If vampires can inspire such devotion to the printed page, then maybe they are the angels of literacy instead of its demons.
Powerful and pretty
One of the reasons why Mead’s Vampire Academy books are so well loved is the sexy, powerful, 17-year-old heroine and guardian extraordinaire, Rose Hathaway.
Except for her striking beauty, Rose seems like an average human girl. She is, however, a Dhampir—half human and half vampire—whose lot in life is limited. Her best option is to become a guardian, a highly skilled bodyguard who protects good “Moroi” vampires from murderous “Strigoi” vampires.
Rose is best friends with a Moroi princess, Lissa Dragomir, who she is training to guard. One of Rose’s fascinating characteristics is her inability to resist being drawn into Lissa’s consciousness. Rose experiences Lissa’s thoughts and feelings even from thousands of miles away and even when it makes her feel like a voyeur.
Rose is so devoted to Lissa that she even allowed the princess to drink her blood in order to survive when they ran away from the rigid life at St. Vladimir’s Academy. It is a secret that deeply embarrasses Rose.
The Moroi have a symbiotic relationship with human and dhampir “feeders” who willingly share their blood for the rush they get from vampire venom. It is a taboo for guardians to lend their necks to the cause. It is also a taboo for a Moroi to kill a feeder, whereas Strigoi are without conscience and enjoy their victims to the last drop.
Mundanities mixed with the bizarre
The teen world Mead has created in her Vampire Academy novels is by turns mundane (lunch room cliques, gossip, kids cutting class, angst over boyfriends) and by turns bizarre.
The website Frenetic Reader recently quoted the author as saying she likes to “mix the real world with a fantasy world….It’s a lot of fun, and I’ve been a fan of mythology and the supernatural my whole life.”
Underneath its supernatural trappings, the series is, at heart, a feminist romp.
Forget about the weak ingénue who must be rescued by a man. Even vampire romance novels have benefited from the women’s movement. Rose may be curvy, but she is also a can-do, kick you-know-what kind of girl who efficiently dispatches Strigoi.
Yes, novels such as the Vampire Academy series use repressed sexual tension to build reader excitement. But they also appeal to girls’ needs to see themselves as competent and adventurous.
Young, capable, and independent
Mead’s writing allows young readers to focus on the desire to become increasingly capable and independent.
For example, tired of being passive and reliant on guardians, a number of young Moroi begin rebelling against the notion that they should not take part in their own defense. They do this by practicing and applying their individual, supernatural gifts, such as being able to make objects spontaneously combust—particularly, nasty Strigoi.
During the question and answer session at Boulder Bookstore, one girl raised a concern about stalking. She wanted to know if Mead had attracted any bad attention since becoming famous.
Mead answered that although she hasn’t been stalked, she has received “creepy requests” for dates. She has also become “a little freaked” by the many admirers who have posted fake movie trailers for Vampire Academy on You Tube. She noted that she has yet to receive a film offer.
Is the thirst for supernatural romance movies drying up? Hard to say. The market certainly seems saturated with vampires this year.
Stumbling into a popular genre
Following publication of her first vampire novel, Succubus Blues, which was written for older readers, Mead had an “18 month downtime” during which her agent suggested that she write a teen vampire novel.
“Only later I realized what I had stumbled into,” Mead said.
The crush to publish in timely fashion is intense for authors riding the tidal wave of supernatural young adult fiction. So Mead’s fifth book in the series, Spirit Bound, is due for publication in May. After that, she said, she will graduate from Vampire Academy when she completes the sixth novel of the series.
Does Mead like to read vampire novels? That’s what another young admirer wanted to know.
“I actually cannot stand to read them anymore,” Mead said, adding that she “spends too much time with vampires already.”
So if you are a parent who is concerned about all the time your daughter is spending in the company of fictional vampires, take heart. She will likely grow tired of it as well.