Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A New Kind of Vampire ...

... And we all know the Vampires are super hot right now. Blame "Twilight", "Buffy", "The Vampire Diaries" or whatever - the young adult Vampire movement is hot. Very hot.

Now, I am biased. I have been reading YA Vampire fiction since I was like ... 8 or so. I think I started with L.J. Smith's Nightworld series (where I promptly fell in love with Quinn and Ash from "The Chosen" and "Daughters of Darkness" respectively). Then I had to read Christopher Pike's The Last Vampire series, and Smith's Vampire Diaries Quartet (fell in love with Damon, not Stephan - I am a sucker for the jack ass vampire as opposed to the remorseful, mopey one - see my Angel vs. Spike monologue) and I was firmly rooted to the YA Vampire insanity. More followed, of course - and I was not limited to just Vampires of course - I love the paranormal. I love the way it opens up writing and incites the imagination. I love how it can be symbolic of growing up or love or hate or traditional values vs. modern values. And I love that people are exploring it to its fullest now.

I recommend all of those mentioned, btw - and here's a short list (ha ha ha) of my favourite Vampire YAs:

L.J. Smith
  • The Vampire Diaries, 1 -4 (The Awakening; The Struggle; The Fury;Dark Reunion; Also there are four more out now - but I have not read them, as they apparently follow Damon though, I might yet)
  • Nightworld, 9 books - 10th not out yet, but about 6 are really about Vamps. (Secret Vampire; Daughters of Darkness; The Chosen; Soulmate; Huntress; Black Dawn

Christopher Pike
  • The Last Vampire Series, 6 books (The Last Vampire; Black Blood; Red Dice; Phantom; Evil Thirst; Creatures of Forever)

Scott Westerfield
  • Peeps
  • The Last Days

Annette Curtis Clause
  • The Silver Kiss

Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
  • In the Forests of the Night
  • Demon in my View
  • Shattered Mirror
  • Midnight Predator
Throughout all of these (and some Adult ones, too - I couldn't help it, the Vampires drew me in and I was suddenly in love with Lestat) the author's interpretation of "Vampire" varies but generally, they are like humans in the sense that there are good ones, there are bad ones, but most are in some vague neutral territory stuck with humanity and other paranormal creatures on a train going at ramming speeds towards some inevitable conclusion.

This goal drives them - whether it is to be "normal" or to find true love or to have a happy coexistence of human-vampire-and-the-everything-else-catchall.

Not so anymore.

I introduce you to: The Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead.

These are the first two installments, Vampire Academy and Frostbite.
The stories follow a dhampir girl, Rose Hathaway, and his best friend, Lissa, who she has sworn to protect for life. Here is a synopsis of #1:
Ever since the car accident, Lissa and Rose have been bound together through a unique bond. But weird things have been happening recently and Lissa finds herself in grave danger. Fear made Lissa and Rose run away from the VA but after two years of freedom, they are dragged back to the VA, the very place they are in the most danger. History begins to repeat itself and Lissa is in more danger than ever, now that someone knows their secret. But how can anyone help, when Rose and Lissa barely understand the truth? Determined to protect Lissa, not just from Strigoi but from whatever is out there waiting, Rose trains with Dimitri. As their connection grows, their distraction increases and Lissa's in even more danger now that the time is perfect for their enemy to strike. Will Lissa be saved from her enemy? Can she be saved from herself?

As stated, there is a school and it trains and protects dhampirs and Morois. Morois are good vampires, essentially - vampire with heartbeats. They need blood, but they don't kill to get it (that is the area of the Strigoi, who are generally just bad news). I won't go deeply into the plot details so that I don't ruin it for you, but let's just say that this is teenaged vampires to a tee. I mean, the characters are teenagers. They aren't hundred year old teenagers, since they are mortal, but they are vampires. And herein lies the genius of it all, since they have teenaged things on their minds - dances, boys, popularity, etc.

And this is where the YA Vampire mythos has changed over the years.
But first, here's the second book plot:
Rose loves Dimitri, Dimitri might love Tasha, and Mason would die to be with Rosea] Itas winter break at St. Vladimiras, but Rose is feeling anything but festive. A massive Strigoi attack has put the school on high alert, and now the Academyas crawling with Guardiansaincluding Roseas hard-hitting mother, Janine Hathaway. And if handto- hand combat with her mom wasnat bad enough, Roseas tutor Dimitri has his eye on someone else, her friend Masonas got a huge crush on her, and Rose keeps getting stuck in Lissaas head while sheas making out with her boyfriend, Christian! The Strigoi are closing in, and the Academyas not taking any risksa].This year, St. Vladas annual holiday ski trip is mandatory. But the glittering winter landscape and the posh Idaho resort only create the illusion of safety. When three friends run away in an offensive move against the deadly Strigoi, Rose must join forces with Christian to rescue them. But heroism rarely comes without a price
From Borders

I personally loved the first one, but loved the second one more.
Now, plots and intrigues asides, and those are amazing, I just want to discuss the Vampire character itself. Namely - how has the character of the Vampire evolved to what it is now for popular YA readers?

There is Twilight, of course - sparkly vampires that clan into families, go veggie, etc. That is not, of course a unique feature - lots of vampires have some of those qualities - living in families like in Daughters of Darkness, or in a gang like family like in Huntress. And of course the sparkly thing seems unique, but Vampire literature has always included unique physical features of the vampire - asides from the obvious elongated teeth, of course. Ethereally beautiful, white like lace, etc. They have always stood out from regular humans - it's part of what makes them sexy.

In The Vampire Academy we have two factions of Vampire - three if you count the dhampirs - the Moroi and the Strigoi (apparently Russian in origin?). Through their genetics, they are Moroi - they are born into Moroi families and have powers that correspond to their genetic heritage, and they need blood to survive, but don't need to kill to get it. Becoming a Strigoi is a choice - unless you're forced - but ultimately, it is presented as a choice - choose Strigoi and you get immortality but you must be a thing that runs from light, drains the life out of people and strikes fear into the hearts of all. The difference here of course, is that there seems to be a lack - just a bit, though - of victimization. From Dracula to Buffy - Vampires take what they want. They turn and lack a moral compass, or memories that bring the warm fuzzies. With age, boredom, gypsy curses or a computer glitching thing that is infused into your brain by the military (heh heh, Spike) those scary vampires can find a moral compass again. But ultimately they are seen as scary - and almost pathetic. The poor things have lost everything bu becoming what they are, so with the sexiness - there is also a touch of sadness. As if we ought to pity these poor creatures.

Silly Humans ...

Ms. Mead tears this down slightly. The Strigoi retain their scariness - they're fast and strong and they kill without thinking. But they are a choice. I think this is most evident in the character of Christian, who becomes Lissa's boyfriend in Book 2. His parents choose to turn Strigoi when he is young and Christian is then subjected to glares, suspicion and osterization from the adults and his peers. He is the tragic character, not his parents who ultimately cut down by the Guardians. They chose that life, they were seduced by the promises of eternal life and power, and they chose to become what they became. They are not tragic, they are just spineless people.

This is also shown in Victor - without giving too much away (though I think any discussion of Victor's charcter necessitates giving away too much), his will to live allows him to choose a grisly end to those around him, including his daughter.

I think what Ms. Mead is doing is illustrating a powerful point -people choose to be bad. They can be born into something predisposed, but ultimately it is they who choose what they become. Of course, this doesn't always turn out - there are road bumps and manipulators and freak accidents - but ultimately, you choose who you are. So choose wisely.

And that is the difference, I think. Past YA Vampires were turned of necessity or turned because they were unlucky. They struggle with their fate after the fact. These vampire struggle before they turn - because they are masters of their own turning.

I think it's a good dynamic and cannot wait to read more!
Especially since my friend slipped me a spoiler that I cannot get over!

Anyways, computer glitches aside (sorry!) I will be back tomorrow!
Cheerio! :)

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