Received from the Publisher
From the BLURB:
Sydney Sage is an Alchemist, one of a group of humans who dabble in magic and serve to bridge the worlds of humans and vampires. They protect vampire secrets—and human lives.
Sydney would love to go to college, but instead, she's been sent into hiding at a posh boarding school in Palm Springs, California–tasked with protecting Moroi princess Jill Dragomir from assassins who want to throw the Moroi court into civil war. Formerly in disgrace, Sydney is now praised for her loyalty and obedience, and held up as the model of an exemplary Alchemist.
But the closer she grows to Jill, Eddie, and especially Adrian, the more she finds herself questioning her age–old Alchemist beliefs, her idea of family, and the sense of what it means to truly belong. Her world becomes even more complicated when magical experiments show Sydney may hold the key to prevent becoming Strigoi—the fiercest vampires, the ones who don't die. But it's her fear of being just that—special, magical, powerful—that scares her more than anything. Equally daunting is her new romance with Brayden, a cute, brainy guy who seems to be her match in every way. Yet, as perfect as he seems, Sydney finds herself being drawn to someone else—someone forbidden to her.
When a shocking secret threatens to tear the vampire world apart, Sydney's loyalties are suddenly tested more than ever before. She wonders how she's supposed to strike a balance between the principles and dogmas she's been taught, and what her instincts are now telling her.
Should she trust the Alchemists—or her heart?
‘The Golden Lily’ is the second book in Richelle Mead’s ‘Vampire Academy’ spin-off series, ‘Bloodlines’.
Full disclosure: I was decidedly unimpressed with Richelle Mead’s first book, ‘Bloodlines’. I am such a fan of ‘Vampire Academy’, and was so excited that Mead’s intricate, vampiric world would live on in a spin-off series . . . but then I read ‘Bloodlines’ and felt a resounding “meh” about the whole thing. I didn’t love the Palm Springs human-world setting, and felt that the new series was lacking that extra “oomph” by not being set in St. Vladimir’s Academy again. I was also wholly unimpressed with new narrator, Sydney Sage, having had kick-butt Rose Hathaway for the six ‘VA’ books, Sydney’s introverted, cautious and health-conscious voice was a bit of a letdown. So, all in all, it wasn’t a great first outing for me. Okay. Fine. I was more than willing though, to give Richelle Mead the benefit of a series. I know she’s a phenomenal author – having stuck with her through the completion of ‘Georgina Kincaid’ and ‘Dark Swan’ in the last year. So I went into ‘The Golden Lily’ with an open mind and heady optimism for a great second attempt. . .
Unfortunately, ‘The Golden Lily’ was more of a wilt than a win for me.
The books starts out brilliantly, I should say. In Chapter One we’re out of Palm Springs and in the Alchemist’s den, where Sydney is learning the outcome of events previous. After discovering that fellow Alchemist, Keith, was selling Moroi blood to humans she reported him to the council, and when ‘Golden Lily’ begins, Sydney sees just what sort of punishment an Alchemist receives if they’re thought to be coercing with Moroi. This was a powerful and unsettling Chapter, purely because we’re given some insight into the slightly fanatical underpinnings of the Alchemist ethos. Seeing Keith’s punishment for having a business deal with Moroi also unnerves Sydney, because deep down she knows that her increasingly affectionate and friendly relationship with Dragomir Princess-in-hiding, Jill, and her spirit-bonded Adrian Ivashkov is bordering on something the Alchemist’s wouldn’t approve of.
After that first chapter, Sydney is back in Palm Springs and dealing with the many and messy tangled webs of her group. Eddie is fighting off the unwanted affections of rough-around-the-edges fellow dhampir, Angeline, while also suppressing his crush on Jill (who is dating his human roommate, Marcus). Dimitri Belikov and Sonya Karp are in Palm Springs as the only two known dhampir-turned-strigoi-turned-back dhampir, who are testing theories on how exactly they survived the transition.
Meanwhile, troubled soul Adrian Ivashkov is now only mildly wallowing in the loss of Rose Hathaway to the Russian Dmitri. He is more concerned with his imprisoned mother and silent father, and continuing the arts course he promised Sydney he’d stick out.
Sydney, meanwhile, finds herself in the odd predicament of having a date. When her classmate, Trey, unofficially sets her up with a co-worker who knows about Shakespeare, Latin and windmills . . . thus, Sydney finds herself a social life with wet-rag Brayden.
Phew. Now, that sounds like a lot of stuff going on. But, honestly, the above plots were all very . . . mundane. For a spin-off ‘Vampire Academy’ series called ‘Bloodlines’, I really felt there wasn’t enough paranormal stuff going on in this book. Mead also threw in a few clunky chapters in which Sydney translates magic spells for her kooky teacher who knows all about the Moroi and calls Sydney ‘Miss Melbourne’, but otherwise I thought this was a very paranormal-lite book. And after I got so excited with that first chapter that really concentrated on the Alchemist world, I was doubly disappointed when this 418-page book didn’t properly revisit that aspect until the very end, and even then in a single chapter.
This is another reason why I’m still somewhat disappointed that ‘Bloodlines’ isn’t set in St. Vladimir’s. On the one hand, I do like that Sydney’s rag-tag bunch are all outsiders and on the periphery of Moroi society. But having them be undercover at a human boarding school in sunny Palm Springs does mean that they’re not so involved in the supernatural goings-on of the Moroi world. It’s boring.
I also have a complaint about the development of secondary characters in ‘Bloodlines’. Now, in ‘Vampire Academy’ the clear stars of the series were Rose and Dmitri, and their illicit, scorching love affair. But Rose’s best friend and spirit-bond connection, Lissa Dragomir, did get a very well constructed story arc too – and a love story with outsider, Christian Ozera. I didn’t necessarily like Lissa, or really rate her romance with Christian, but I can’t deny that over the six books they got a very well fleshed out story arc. Not to mention fellow dhampir’s like Mason and Eddie and Moroi, Mia also got enough side-story mentions to keep things interesting. Now considering that the first book in ‘Bloodlines’ was 421-pages, and ‘The Golden Lily’ is 418-pages long . . . it’s a bit odd that I feel no real connection or interest in any of the book’s secondary characters. Jill, Eddie, Angeline and Sonya . . . I can’t say that I know any of them any better now, than I did when reading about them in ‘Vampire Academy’. Jill is just a bit of a twit, in my opinion, seemingly content to walk runway fashion shows and have a human boyfriend who has gained her lots of human friends. Considering she only recently found out she was the illegitimate daughter of a Moroi prince (not to mention half-sister of the current Queen!), you’d think the girl would have more depth and be more interesting. She’s not. And, honestly, I don’t even notice when she’s not there – she walks into a scene and suddenly I remember there’s a character called Jill who’s meant to be important. Now, I personally think this is another reason that ‘Bloodlines’ should have been set in St. Vladimir’s – so we could read about the student body reacting to having Jill in their midst, and so there was a chance that Jill could interact with Lissa on occasion. Mead is trying to increase Jill’s interest by including a still-forming maybe-crush with her dhampir bodyguard, Edie, but honestly it’s so half-baked and underexplored in ‘Bloodlines’ that it’s more afterthought than romantic entanglement.
No, clearly the secondary characters in ‘Bloodlines’ are just props. The real stars are meant to be Sydney and Adrian – but they are a weak imitation of the Rose and Dmitri that made ‘Vampire Academy’ such a hit.
In theory, Sydney and Adrian should be interesting. They’re opposites attracting, for a start, Sydney with her perfectly compact, sugar-free life and whose Alchemist upbringing has her wary of Moroi. Paired with wild-child, tortured soul and ‘Vampire Academy’ romantic underdog, Adrian, it should be a star-crossed slam-dunk. But it’s just not. After reading ‘Bloodlines’ I said I was delighted/half-hearted about the clearly intended Adrian/Sydney romance – but I did predict that it would take a long time to get there. As it turns out, I was wrong. We’ve seemingly jumped from a few questioning glances and stray thoughts in ‘Bloodlines’ to barely-restrained-adoration in ‘The Golden Lily’. Adrian just suddenly really likes Sydney. He devises paper-thin excuses to hang out with her, and he asks in very round-about ways if her feelings towards Moroi have improved. He’s barely civil towards Brayden (a secondary character red-herring who doesn’t really deserve a mention for the amount of unnecessary page-time he took up!) and Adrian takes up arms with any who cause Sydney discomfort. Sydney, of course, is none the wiser. But I just wasn’t buying it. . . especially not when Adrian reveals that his and Rose’s romance has only been over for approximately three months since she chose Dmitri over him. Three months!? And now he’s smitten with Sydney?! I just wasn’t buying it.
Speaking of Adrian Ivashkov. Yes, I am a fan. A big fan. But I’m just not digging him so much in ‘Bloodlines’. I feel like he has lost a lot of his snarky, anti-hero, anti-social appeal that made him such a delicious bad temptation in ‘Vampire Academy’. In ‘Bloodlines’ he seems watered down, and it reads like Mead is forcing this chivalrous, romantic persona on him when he is much better suited to the sarcastic, tortured soul schtick. Some of that still shines through in ‘The Golden Lily’, but not nearly at the level Adrian was when he first stepped onto the scene in ‘Frostbite’:
“It is terrifying,” said Adrian. “And weird, for lack of a better word. And part of you knows. . . well, part of you knows something’s not right. That your thinking’s not right. But what do you do about that? All we can go on is what we think, how we see the world. If you can’t trust your own mind, what can you trust? What other people tell you?”
“I don’t know,” I said, for lack of a better answer. His words struck me as I thought how much of my life had been guided by the edicts of others.
“Rose once told me about this poem she’d read. There was this line, ‘If your eyes weren’t open, you wouldn’t know the difference between dreaming and waking.’ You know what I’m afraid of? That someday, even with my eyes open, I still won’t know.”
*Sigh*. Speaking of ‘Frostbite’ – there really is no comparison between the second ‘VA’ book and second in the ‘Bloodlines’ series. Although ‘The Golden Lily’ is a hefty 418-pages, ‘Frostbite’ did it figuratively bigger and definitely better at just 327-pages.
I didn’t love ‘The Golden Lily’, and I am rapidly losing steam with the entire ‘Bloodlines’ spin-off series. I want more paranormal, vampires and fighting. I want to delve deeper into the slightly psychotic Alchemist organization. And I want to like the secondary characters, but that will only happen if Richelle Mead gives them meatier secondary roles and more page-time. I guess I’m stuck with sugar-free Sydney Sage as protagonist, and sunny human-centric Palm Springs instead of vamp-focused St. Vladimir’s. But above all else I want the snarky, witty, damaged but beautiful Adrian Ivashkov of yesterseries. Basically I just want ‘Bloodlines’ to be *better*!