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Spirit Bound (Vampire Academy, Book 5) Hardcover – Bargain Price, May 18, 2010
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Now back in the States after her sojourn to Russian, Rose has passed her final exam and is prepared to face the world as an official Guardian. Despite the challenges that face her in the highly political world of the Moroi Court and the start of a new relationship with Adrian, Rose can’t shake the hope that there might be a way to change Dimitry back…and to do that, she needs to spring an old enemy from prison: Victor Dashkov. With her friends by her side and big changes brewing in the vampire world, Rose is determined to go to any lengths to restore Dimitry to his proper dhampir state. The biggest threat to her future, however, may be closer to home than she suspects.
“Spirit Bound” succeeds in hitting on many of the elements that made the first three books so enjoyable (and the lack of which made “Blood Promise” such a disappointment). From the very first page of the book, it’s such a relief to be back on the familiar grounds of the Academy and Royal Court, surrounded by the characters that we grew fond of from book one. Lissa, Christian, Adrian, Mia, and Eddie have all returned to give the story some colour and provide both a comfortable sense of familiarity and a feeling of personal urgency as they jump from one obstacle to the next. As far as events go, several big things happen and there are developments that are guaranteed to have a huge impact in the final novel. In short, things finally seem to be moving forward again. After being stuck in such a Rose-centric plot in the previous book, it’s nice to see the characters we love (that aren’t necessarily Rose…actually, does anyone love Rose anymore?) putting their all into tackling situations and playing their roles in events that could reshape the vampire world. It’s such a step up for that reason alone that it seems to be on track for redeeming the series.
However, it can’t be ignored that there are pacing issues. There’s a lot of action crammed into the beginning, which frankly makes the book a little too fast paced and stifles the impact of some of what happens because it’s just one thing after the other. It’s easy for the reader to (much as I hate to say it) lose interest when there’s no time for the characters (or, indeed, the reader) to decompress. The plot blows its load too early with the big event (Dimitry being changed back) occurring a little more than halfway through the book. Things start dragging after that with too much angsting from Rose about her relationships and how unfair her life is occasionally interspersed with the odd event. It picks up again at the end, but the pace is extremely uneven from Dimitry’s change onward and Rose feeling sorry for herself doesn’t make for particularly interesting reading. Honestly, the story stalling for Rose to lament over her difficult relationship conundrums has been a bit of a problem throughout the series, but it didn’t become painfully noticeable until “Blood Promise.” I sort of get the impression that Mead suddenly decided to throw more “heroine angsting over her men” into the plot to make it more Young Adult-ish (or something) but couldn’t quite figure out how to weave it into the story that she already wanted to tell, so we end up with this weird pacing of a big event happening followed by too much dragging introspection from Rose followed by another big event and then more dragging. If Mead would just shut Rose’s internal monologue up every now and then and even out the beginning a bit, the pacing would be pretty solid.
I can’t discuss the plot without touching on Rose, Lissa, and Eddie freeing Victor Dashkov. There are some cool, interesting things that happen in this book. Lissa and Christian learn basic combat and how to wield stakes, Lissa unleashes some of spirit’s true power, the dhampir age law is passed, the queen is murdered, someone successfully changes a Strigoi back into an dhampir…some pretty significant stuff happens in these pages. Victor Dashkov’s release isn’t one of them. Well, I guess if I’m going to be fair, it’ll probably have some big consequences down the road, but I can’t help but be annoyed that it even happened. In addition to it being completely ridiculous that two dhampirs and a Moroi could break into one of the highest security prisons to extract a closely watched prisoner, the whole thing illustrates another huge problem that I have with “Spirit Bound.” It’s all driven by Rose’s selfishness. Victor Dashkov is the man who kidnapped and tortured Lissa, Rose’s best friend. Rose should want to keep this individual as far away from Lissa as possible, especially since Rose wants to be Lissa’s Guardian…however, while Rose pays some lip service to this sentiment, she fully expects Lissa (and Eddie) to put aside her reservations and help out because Victor knows how to find the only man to have successfully turned a Strigoi.
I suppose one could argue that Lissa and Eddie only agree because they’re good friends, but it seems like Rose gets her way a lot because she just happens to have good friends. If Rose wants to be part of a mission, she runs her mouth and stomps her feet until she’s allowed to join. If she wants to enact some crazy illegal plan (stealing classified documents), she just happens to run into the one guy (Mikhail) that’s sympathetic to her cause. Whatever she wants to do, the plot just sort of seems to conveniently step aside so she can do it. Everything works out for her. And even if she gets punished, things either work out for the best or there’s someone to bail her out. It’s a bit difficult to explain, but I feel like Rose used to interact with the story as a stubborn player in a bigger game, but now the story seems to accommodate Rose. In fact, much of the time, I couldn’t shake the feeling that things only work out for Rose because she’s the main character and things need to go her way for the plot to work…and that’s neither good character nor story development.
I’ll give Mead this, though: I’ll definitely (though perhaps resignedly) be reading the next book. Even if it wasn’t the last book in the trilogy, she can’t just leave off us with Rose going to trial as the prime suspect for the queen’s execution, complete with a grim reminder that execution would be the punishment if she’s found guilty. That’s just…mean. I waggle a scornful finger at Mead for using the cliffhanger ending as a way to guarantee readers for the next book, but I’ll also admit that in this case, after all of the other stuff that happened in this novel, it’s a very successful trick. At the end of the day, I’ll concede that Mead does know how to write some interesting events and create an interesting world. If it weren’t for Rose and her selfishness dominating everything (so, if we had a different main character), I think this’d be a damn good series instead of the shaky mess it’s turned into.
Whatever points the plot got were very quickly crushed by how agonizing the romance is. When I finished the previous book, I’d have been happy to bet a year’s salary and one of my cats on “Blood Promise” being the installment with the worst, most painful, eyeroll-inducing relationship drama…and I’d have lost big time. At the end of the last book, Rose had decided to give Adrian a chance to win her heart, and while I’d predicted then that he never really had a chance as long as brooding, godlike Dimitry was still around, I didn’t think it’d be anywhere near as frustrating to read as it ended up being. Now, I’ll admit that I’m biased because I quite like Adrian and despite Rose having fallen out of my favour, they have chemistry and I like them together. They sizzle in a way that Dimitry and Rose completely fail to do, their wits seem evenly matched, and their banter tends to be pretty amusing. What’s more, they see each other as equals in their relationship instead of one being elevated to god status while the other lusts for approval…or, at least, they would if Rose would stop being a selfish brat and actually keep her damn promise to give Adrian a fair chance. She’s happy to spend his money, happy to use his connections to get what she wants, and happy to canoodle and give him enough attention to keep him on the line (but only when it’s convenient for her)…but she does it all while occupying her thoughts solely with how much she wants Dimitry back. How is that fair? If she never intended to give him a fair shot at being with her, she should have bloody said something and let Adrian move on! I wanted to reach into the book and strangle her! Why the Hell is she pining over boring Dimitry when she has a guy at her feet willing to do whatever he can to please her. And Adrian isn’t the nerdy best friend that a lot YA heroines end up having to reject – he’s an attractive guy from a powerful family with a lot of wealth behind him who completely dotes on her. I’m not saying that someone should have to date another person because they’re rich or handsome or whatever…but come on, Rose! Open your eyes and actually take a look at what you have! Adrian deserved way better than what he got.
What’s worse is that this doesn’t appear to be portrayed as a bad thing or even a character flaw on Rose’s part. Sure, she’ll sometimes toss a stray thought at the idea of being honest Adrian, but that’s about it. It’s like Mead was convinced that we’d be so on board with Rose and Dimitry that we’d be totally fine with Adrian being treated as a second class citizen in Rose’s mind. To Rose, it’s all perfectly justifiable because, as she says herself, there’s no way that a relationship with Adrian would last due to their differences in status. The problem with this is that Adrian doesn’t seem to feel this way…and Rose also seems to realize that. Yet she pushes forward with manipulating him because, hey, he’s not Dimitry so who cares? There’s no self-awareness, no moment when she really sits down and thinks about what might be best for Adrian. It’s all just Dimitry, Dimitry, Dimitry…
And speaking of godlike Dimitry, Rose’s selfish colours showed when dealing with him, too. He’s turned back into a dhampir via a traumatic spirit ritual that the vampire world has never seen before, so as far as Rose is concerned, that means he’s open to date her again. And for some God only knows reason, she seemed to think that he’d be perfectly normal and ready to jump back into his old life despite everything he’s been through. Never mind that he’s struggling with the things he did as a Strigoi or that he became the thing he hated the most or that he’s dealing with a tonne of guilt for the way he treated Rose…Rose wants Dimitry to pick up his relationship with her and when he tries to push her away, she screams at him that he’s being selfish. Yes, in a twist of irony, Rose calls Dimitry out for being selfish. Even when he has the perfectly legitimate reason of trying to process what’s happened to him and figure out what it means for him moving forward, he’s the selfish one for not jumping back into Rose’s waiting arms. He asks her to stay away from him? She makes a point of going to places he’ll be to continue telling him how selfish he’s being. He feels close to Lissa because she was the one who turned him? Rose is jealous that she isn’t the one he feels that way toward (even though it’s clearly a non-romantic closeness). It just makes me scratch my head over this relationship even more. I’ve never really seen what made them the one true pairing of this series to begin with…and with Rose acting like this, I’m even more lost. Yet we’re still supposed to believe that these two need to end up together. “Show don’t tell” is probably (rightly or wrongly) the most oft-repeated mantra of the writing world and when it comes to Rose and Dimitry, all I’ve experienced so far is Rose and Mead telling us over and over that this couple is destined to be without actually seeing any of the love that they supposedly have for one another.
And I guess while I’m on the topic of relationships, I should give a mention to the fact that Lissa and Christian are back together by the end of the book. I’m still not sure I understand why they broke up in the first place since they were pretty willing to talk it out and forgive one another, but good for them, I guess?
Moving on to characters…my God, has Rose become unlikeable. I feel like she’s just getting worse as the story goes on. When I finished the first novel (“Vampire Academy”), I couldn’t stop singing her praises for being the capable, practical-yet-sassy heroine that I rarely see in the Young Adult genre, but now I just feel like a fool for ever believing that she ever was in any way a good character. It’s weird, really: as these novels have progressed, they’re supposed to be about Rose’s journey into adulthood, how she goes from an impulsive teenager to a responsible adult forging her way in the highly political world of the vampire court…yet with every book, she becomes more and more immature. My biggest issue with her at this point is her selfishness. At the start of this series, I loved that she had a strong friendship with Lissa and often took Lissa’s feelings and priorities into consideration when planning her actions. I can accept and even welcome a little departure from that since part of Rose’s character arch is breaking the “they come first” mentality that defines the Mori/dhampir relationship, but Rose has reached the point of caring about absolutely nothing and no one other than herself and what she wants. Every decision is made based on how happy it makes her, even when it involves someone she claims to love and value. I’m just over her! There’s nothing satisfying about reading about this child throwing a tantrum when she doesn’t get her way…because that’s what she’s become: a spoiled little kid who stamps her feet and screams when she feels like things aren’t going her way.
I feel like I say this a lot in reviews (especially in regards to Young Adult novels), but it’s something that I think bears repeating every time it comes up: if a negative character trait is actually portrayed as a character flaw that the character is meant to overcome or improve, then it’s totally fine for, in this case, Rose to be so selfish and narrow minded in her focus. But this isn’t the case. If it was, the other characters would react as if Rose was stepping out of line with some of her behaviour…however, for some reason, they all endorse her behavior! For some God only knows reason, everyone else is completely willing to put their own futures on the line to make Rose happy and they feel devastated if they can’t give her what she wants. I don’t get it. Rose will occasionally remark about how great it is to have such selfless friends in her life, yet for some reason the only person in this series that seems to have such generous friends is Rose. She acts like an overgrown child with an anger problem, though somehow she has people in her life who either manage to get her exactly what she wants (or what is convenient for the plot) or shield her from any true consequences when her impulsiveness inevitably blows up in her face. Don’t the other characters have their own lives to live?
Honestly, I’m ready to be rid of Rose. She’s easily become the weakest part of this series. There’s nothing likeable about her, she’s not growing as a character, and she manages to completely stall the plot to whine and feel sorry for herself when something doesn’t work out as she wanted. This is such a shame since the rest of the characters are actually pretty damn good. Lissa especially is really coming into her own as a character, taking big steps forward to establish herself not only as the last Dragomir, but as a spirit user. Christian and Adrian both have very distinct personalities and seem to be constantly growing more complex and interesting as the series progresses (though Adrian would do so much better if he just got rid of Rose). Even the lesser seen characters like Eddie and Mia are in top form. And I always like seeing Rose’s parents – they’re a blast. So, yeah…pretty much every character that isn’t Rose is interesting to read about. In fact, I often found myself wishing that Lissa or Adrian or anyone else could be the main character because they’re all lightyears ahead of Rose in character development. I don’t know what happened to make Mead drop the ball so hard with Rose while maintaining the others so well, but it’s a very noticeable issue.
Before I finish up with characters, I’ll spare a second for Dimitry. I think his character has a lot of potential and I’m glad that he’s no longer a Strigoi because, frankly, Strigoi Dimitry was so stereotypical that he was worthy of an eyeroll. Unfortunately, like Adrian, he’s so wrapped up in self-centered Rose that I don’t see him really stepping into his own character again. I found myself feeling pretty sorry for the guy for having to put up with Rose’s constant advances and attempts at provoking a response from him when he was trying to process the many things he’s been through. At the end of the day, however, I still don’t see what makes him so bloody dreamy. He and Rose are clearly the one true pairing of this series, but I just don’t see enough personality in him to get why he’s the only guy that Rose wants in her life.
So at the end of the day, I’m really glad that there’s only one more book left in this series because I don’t think that I could take many more. “Spirit Bound” is a step above “Blood Promise,” but that’s not much of an endorsement given how bad “Blood Promise” was. Rose has become such a hindrance to her own story, which has led to things getting drawn out way too long in order for her to reflect/feel sorry for herself about everything or, worse, the plot sort of conveniently twisting around her. Ultimately, I feel like this series has sort of lost its heart. The first three books were so fantastic because it felt like Mead really poured her soul into them, but now it seems like she’s just phoning it in for the sake of publishing books. I don’t know if she stretched herself too thin with her other series and ended up getting burnt out or if she simply lost her drive with this series, but it very much feels like she’s just filling pages to get to the end. And that’s about where I am, too…I just want to get to the end of this series. There are a few hooks that I’m looking forward to seeing play out, but my own excitement for “The Vampire Academy” has waned. Three stars.
I have to admit that I was frustrated with the characters in this novel at times. Lissa's anger towards Christian was really pointless. I also was irritated with her and Dimitri's weird relationship in the latter part of the novel. With Rose still clearly in love with Dimitri, Adrian acting all hurt when he finds out that Rose is still very much taken by Dimitri was dumb. But Rose also shouldn't string him along, knowing that she can't fully give her heart away. I can get both sides. Come on, guys, we know that Rose and Adrian aren't going to get their happily ever after.
These small character annoyances were minor and overshadowed by the amazing second half of this book! In the last book, Rose finds out that there may be a way to turn a Strigoi back to who they were before. This consumes her and she goes to great lengths to track down the person who can help—Victor Dashkov. Crazy! We're talking a prison break and the whole nine yards.
There was a part in the last quarter of the book where I just wanted to swoon so hard. Richelle Mead gives us all what we wanted after more than two books, but not EVERYTHING we wanted. Rose is kept at a distance emotionally and Lissa of all people are in the way...UNTIL Rose is ambushed and a certain person jumps into protect her. SWOON. Seriously, so hot!
What I love about this series is that none of the books feel like filler. Every book is jam packed with action and has its own gripping storyline. Even though I've read this series before, I am so excited to get to the last book! I know what happens but that doesn't damper my enthusiasm. I feel like I'm reading this for the first time because I have such a horrible memory.
* I purchased this book myself.
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