FYI. There’s so many SPOILERS in this post that you’re going to cry. Because this book’s been SPOILED. ← I feel like that could be a catch phrase.
While this next book is also for YA audiences, I don’t think that should stop you from reading it. Cue The Golden Lily‘s entrance. The 2nd book in the Bloodlines series and the 8th book in the Vampire Academy universe, this book follows Sydney the Alchemist as she questions her entire existence, whether vampires and dhampirs are truly as evil and unnatural as the Alchemists have been led to believe. And while this book sells itself as a YA paranormal romance, including the stereotypical love triangle with the protagonist, it does a much better job than most books in the genre. Characters don’t like each other just for their hotness (although this does happen, just like with every other romance), they like each other based on the other’s actual characteristics.
And you’re also one of the most fiercely loyal people I know-and caring, no matter how much you pretend otherwise. I see the way you look after Jill. Not many people would’ve traveled across the country to help her. (136)
I also love how they’re willing to go out of their way just to make the other one happy:
Liquid sugar. Yes, that was exactly what it had been. I hadn’t wanted to drink one, but I’d known if I’d just brought a slush for Adrian, he really would’ve read that as pity and refused. I had to act as though I’d wanted one too, with him as an afterthought. He seemed to have believed my lie about the drink’s sugar content. (158)
I love how mundane a lot of these instances are. Reminds me of cooking steak for my boyfriend, even though I’m a vegetarian. You can go to great lengths to please someone you love (or like).
Sure, sunstroke and sunburns were concerns, but I loved the sun and had a high tolerance for it. Vampires did not…”Come on, we have to get out of here before you get worse. What were you thinking?” His expression was astonishingly nonchalant for someone who looked like he would pass out. “It was worth it. You looked…happy.” (307-308)
But, I don’t want to talk about their relationship, although I could spend forever talking about how great of a job Richelle Mead did. There’s so many hints and foreshadowing that the transition is really quite smooth. And she achieves the same smoothness in building-up/revealing the antagonist. But the facet I really want to focus on was how Mead had achieved a slow character reversal for Sydney.
First, Mead sets the standard; letting the reader see Sydney’s ideal perception.
We believed vampires were unnatural creatures who should have nothing to do with humans like us. What was a particular concern were the Strigoi-evil, killer vampires-who could lure humans into servitude with promises of immortality. Even the peaceful Moroi and their half human counterparts, the dhampirs, were regarded with suspicion. (8)
But of course nobody’s perfect, so Sydney has her doubts of herself.
Despite all the running around [my Moroi/dhamphir] friends made me do, I’d missed that motley group almost the instant I left California…Now, feeling that way confused me. Was I blurring the lines between friendship and duty? (17)
At this point, the reader’s got the perfect exposition, all within the first chapter. And throughout the book, we should see a slow reversal until the book resolve itself with Sydney thinking completely opposite to how she originally was, where she believes that “I’d been taught the existence of vampires was wrong and twisted, but I was about to witness was the true atrocity. These were the monsters” (375). But a writer cannot automatically change a character’s POV. Readers have to be convinced, so hence, you have to convince them with a slow build-up, an exposition if you will.
And just like any persuasive essay, you have to tackle the haters first. Cue Sydney’s instinctual responses to her vampire friends.
I laughed out loud and immediately felt guilty. I shouldn’t have responded. (22)
But, we’re only human. We have to doubt ourselves, and doubt instills that idea: Is she doing the right thing? We then have to repeat this train of thought occasionally in order to remind the reader of the conflict of this plot: Are all vampires are monsters?
A bit of the anxiety from the bunker returned, making me question if what I did was truly Alchemist responsibility or the desire to help those who-against protocol-had become my friends. (36)
But she can’t help but have grown comfortable. They’re her friends. Of course that instinctual-evil reaction was going to dull over time.
It was a sign of my progress that vampires talking about “food” no longer made me hyperventilate. I knew she didn’t mean blood, not if the dhampirs and I were being involved. (47)
And yet there are some things she still can’t stand, showing how much progress she still has to make.
I could take a lot of Moroi things in stride now, but drinking blood-human blood-made me shudder every time. (91)
But when it comes to her friends, there’s nothing she won’t do. Especially when looking at her personality, showcased earlier in para. 3. She can’t help but help.
I knew all about what it was like to have a father who continually judged, whom nothing was ever good enough for. I understood as well the warring emotions…how one day you could say you didn’t care, yet be yearning for approval the next. And I certainly understood motherly attachment.
You don’t have to help, my inner voice warned me. You don’t owe him anything. You don’t owe any Moroi anything that isn’t absolutely necessary…”Okay,” I said. “I’ll do it.” (103-104)
And when someone finally returns the favor, you can’t help but grown more comfortable. More appreciative. More trusting.
“How many times does she have to refuse?” Adrian demanded. “If she doesn’t want to, then there’s all there is to it.”
I dared a peek at Adrian. He no longer look angry, but there was still a fierceness there. It was almost…protective. A strange, warm feeling swirled in my chest, and for a brief moment, when I looked at him, I saw…safety. (108-109)
Leading to this nice back-and-forth of helping each other, until the characters reach some sort of threshold of trust.
Skipping lunch wasn’t going to compensate for those calories, I thought glumly…I suddenly felt stupid for even attempting this ruse…Then, I thought back to that brief moment by the car, and Adrian’s fleeting look of contentment. (159)
And then finally realizing that not everything is black and white.
Adrian using spirit to bring Jill back from the dead was still a troubling matter for me. Every bit of Alchemist training I had said that kind of magic was wrong…At the same time, whenever I saw Jill bright and alive, I was convinced Adrian had done a good thing. (161)
That you have to look beyond preconceptions to the person underneath.
“I did it because he wasn’t fair to you. Because you deserve credit for what you’ve done. Because he needs to realize you aren’t the person he’s always thought you were. He needs to see you for who you really are, not for all the ideas and preconceptions he’s built up around you.”(243)
Of course, Sydney goes on to demonstrate how much she’s grown to trust her vampire friends, such as on p. 299, p. 306, and p. 320. I loved watching her questioning herself, even as she grew more comfortable, always wondering did she make the right decision? This doubt is what makes her seem human, makes the character seem real. And by supporting her acceptance of vampires with multiple scenes, Mead reinforces Sydney’s decision, that not all vampires have to be evil. And not everything is black and white. You have to look beyond those original ideas and think for yourself.
I think Mead’s major strength in enacting this is reflection. Because she drew attention to the same idea multiple times, she forced her character and the reader to consider this topic. She treated this reversal as a persuasive argument by first presenting the idea and then slowly presenting supporting scenes that would prove that vampires could be good people too. Which leads me to my final question, have I convinced you to read this book yet?
Mead, Richelle. The Golden Lily. London, England: Penguin Books, 2012.