Now I understand why Stephen King was so happy that the vampires in the Passage are killers. The vampires here, and maybe in other books like it, are basically just teenagers with fangs and magical abilities. That began to wear on me, especially in the middle of the story when the characters were mainly just being mean teens obsessed with popularity and social standing. I knew that urban fantasy riffed off of that kind of thing, I just did not expect that to dominate so much of the story when better things could have gone on.
I bumped the rating up to three stars because of the beginning, the ending, the setting, and the clarity of the writing. Rose narrates the story. She is not a vampire, but a Dhampir. They're mixed: human and vampire. Dhampirs guard Moroi, which are living vampires. Rose, our narrator, guards her best friend, a Moroi princess named Lissa, who is the story's focal character because Rose is fiercely loyal to her. The beginning was interesting and humorous because blood sucking is equated with sex: it is so sensuous. Almost made me uncomfortable, in fact (I felt like a voyeur). When Lissa sucks Rose's blood, I thought it had homosexual undertones, perhaps by accident since it did not seem to be a theme of the book. Anyway, I liked the beginning because the world that unfolded was complex and the blend of romance, boarding school narrative, fantasy, and princess baloney was entertaining, at first. And there are also Strigoi, which are undead vampires who attack the Moroi and try to turn them into Strigoi, which is why the Moroi need guardians.
Rose and Lissa fled school, St. Vladimir's Academy. The story starts when they are forcibly returned. The story gets bogged down in the middle with Lissa and Rose trying to one up a bitch girl named Mia, who is out to get Lissa and by association, Rose. Neither Rose nor Lissa seem all that admirable themselves though. The author makes it clear Rose has some growing up to do. At the same time, Rose is supposed to be strong-willed, but I don't think her actions actually justify the reputation. She hits Mia at one point, but Mia isn't even a guardian, she's just an underclassmen vampire. And Lissa? She's portrayed as if she is high and mighty, sort of like Frodo, but I didn't think she seemed worthy of Rose's loyalty. It's told, not shown.
A few other things bothered me: 1.) Rose can go into Lissa's head and see and hear what she sees and hears, especially when Lissa is experiencing strong emotions. It's part of their special bond. I tolerated that, but it occurred too often and for too long. Reading about something happening to Lissa through a first person narrator who isn't actually there was strange and just a bit too convenient after awhile, I thought. 2.) The writing is clear and crisp throughout, but at key moments, especially action, fights, the author summarised hastily instead of providing details that show what is happening. That deflates a few events. 3.) And finally, Rose is a guardian who sacrifices a lot for Lissa. That theme of sacrifice was never quite developed in a satisfying way. I guess because their relationship was just taken for granted. I often felt the Moroi did not deserve the Dhampirs. Personal rights versus group sacrifice also plays an important part near the end but the theme just fizzles, along with the denouement. Why? It just seems to be another instance of Lissa and/or Rose putting themselves first.
Despite all that, one particular twist near the end was great. I can't give it away but it neatly wrapped up something I'd been longing for since the set up.