Friday, February 14, 2014

Women in Horror: Vampire Academy

Rose Hathaway and Lissa Dragomir are on the run, escaped from St. Vladimir's Academy for two years. Lissa is vampire royalty and Rose is a Dhampir, dedicated as a guardian to protect her best friend. Unfortunately, the professional guardians find them and drag them back to the school, which is pretty much like any other high school filled with blood sucking fiends. They are faced with a new set of problems like vicious gossip, peer pressure, two faced friends, and a rather disturbing prank where dead animals are left in Lissa's room. It becomes clear that whoever is behind it is much more nefarious than a catty classmate or a jilted crush, but can Rose convince the faculty that the threat is real before it's too late?

Don't let the film version deter you from reading this book. While the film was over the top and trying much too hard to be funny, the novel has moments of comedy, but is at its core a heartfelt, emotional story of a close friendship. Rose is fiery and defiant while Lissa is kindhearted and sweet. Each has their own issues to contend with. Rose is on the verge of being kicked out of school, has to deal with vicious rumors and slut shaming, has a crush on her hot mentor, and is trying to figure out who is threatening Lissa. Although she appears to be tough, she’s just as conflicted and unsure as any teenager on the inside. Lissa recently lost her entire family in a car crash she and Rose survived. She also suffers from depression, self-mutilation, and bullying from her classmates. They complement and support each other absolutely. In addition to their close friendship, they have a supernatural bond that allows a one way communication of emotions and sometimes images from Lissa to Rose. Throughout the course of the book, Rose protects Lissa and learns to put aside her own feelings and comfort to help her friend.

The vampire society has some interesting gender dynamics due to the biology of Dhampirs and vampires (known as Moroi). Moroi are vampires that are born, live, and die, much like humans except with magic powers and a diet including blood. Dhampirs are human/vampire hybrids that can’t reproduce with other Dhampirs, but can with Moroi. Moroi/Dhampir relationships are typical as flings or teenage crushes, but when they grow up, Moroi are expected to settle down with others of their kind. Dhampirs are expected to either reproduce with Moroi or stay alone and dedicate their lives as guardians to protecting the Moroi. Dhampir relationships with each other are especially looked down upon and seen as selfish since it distracts from their guardian work and won’t result in any children. If they choose not to become guardians and opt to be stay at home moms or they allow Moroi to feed off of them, they are known as blood whores, the lowest of that society.

All of these expectations has a huge effect on Rose. Because she allowed Lissa to feed on her while they were on the run, classmates accuse Rose of being a blood whore. They embellish the truth and also claim that she had sex with two guys at the same time and allowed them to feed off of her, adding a slut accusation to the already awful blood whore one. In typical fashion, the boys in question and Lissa are not looked down upon for either the sex or the feeding. Rose is a virgin, but also likes to make out with boys because it’s fun and pleasurable. She starts to doubt herself and questions if she really is the person they say she is. I’m sure many girls and women experience feelings like this. Our society has the same view of sexual women being sluts and sexual men being typical and inconsequential. Later on, she develops a crush on her Dhampir mentor after she just condemned another Dhampir relationship of being stupid and selfish. Her feelings are conflicted because she buys into the social view of that relationship. The society’s condemnation of this type of relationship reflects our attitude towards people who choose not to have children. The majority see them as selfish or broken people and their relationships as pointless.

Vampire Academy is refreshing change from a lot of young adult novels. Instead of being exclusively about romances, this one focuses on the friendship between two girls, slut shaming, and highlights ridiculous societal expectations only applied to women. The film version does a poor job of portraying these issues and with the overuse of humor actually trivializes many of them. I recommend this book and the series to those looking for something different in a sea of romance driven young adult novels.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins 


Niala Wesley said...

I have the movie checked out from the library but haven't watched it yet because I know I'm going to hate it. It seems like the difference between Buffy the movie (light, stupid kind of campy) and Buffy the tv show (deep, intelligent, strong emotions).

To be honest, while reading the book series (I've read all 6 of the Vampire Academy books and 5 of the spinoff Bloodlines series) I couldn't get behind the Rose/Lissa friendship. I tried since it really is one of the most important aspects of the entire VA universe but I don't like Lissa. If I was just reading about her online I would probably love her and think she was inspiring but I can't having read all the books. I know most of what I don't like about her comes from the affect of spirit use but I still end up blaming her. Even though Rose doesn't we are seeing things from Rose's perspective and it makes me really protective of Rose and see more of how she is affected by nearly sacrificing her own life, reputation, and sanity for Lissa. Although it does help me to understand why so many Supernatural fans dislike Sam (a great sympathetic character) since the tv series is told more from Dean's perspective and we see everything he goes through because of his brotherhood and love for Sam.

The VA books are definitely a springboard for discussing feminism and misogyny but for me they deal more with classicism, racism, and xenophobia.

titania86 said...

I didn't have a problem with Lissa, but I haven't finished the series yet. I chose to write about feminism and misogyny because of the vastly different way female dhampirs are treated compared to their male counterparts. Classicism, racism, and xenophobia are definitely important as well.