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bloodlines Bloodlines (Bloodlines #1) by Richelle Mead | Rating: ★★★★★

“The greatest changes in history have come when people were able to shake off what others told them to do.”

Returning to the same world her Vampire Academy series is set in, Richelle Mead introduces us to characters we’d already come to know (and love) in their own spin-off series titled Bloodlines. Although taking place in the same world and having a similar structure, Bloodlines is on the fast track to take on a life of its own.

And it’s really quite satisfying.

In this first installment we see through the eyes of Sydney Sage, who we know as the alchemist who befriends and helps dhampir, Rose Hathaway, in the original series. We know Sydney to be a bit more standoffish in comparison to the other characters due to her strict upbringing and the way in which she was conditioned to feel and think, and in Bloodlines we get an understanding of who she is and what exactly she feels.

Hint: her thoughts and complex and conflicting because the longer she spends in the company of those she once viewed as “evil and unnatural” she grows to care for them a great deal. Old habits do die hard, though, and in spite of the newfound warmth towards them she has an awful lot of struggles when it comes to what she feels and what she believes she should feel.

It’s a great change from the narration Rose provided us and that’s refreshing. Sydney is a bit more tentative when she is compared to Rose (although they both go head on in a plot when they are certain; Sydney is a bit more polished compared to Rose’s reckless nature) but their humors are similar to one another. While it is a huge change in tone, it still feels right and will keep readers intrigued from the get-go.

For Sydney, life has been a bit downhill in the aftermath of her stunt in helping Rose escape her prison and played a huge part in proving the girls innocence when accused of killing the Moroi queen. Last Sacrifice changed everyone and more. Now with a tainted reputation, Sydney is on the outs with her superiors–but this changes when she gets an assignment that was to go to her younger and not well trained sister, Zoe.

Part of this mission is a man who holds the power to destroy her life and which she has a poor history with. Keith is an alchemist much like herself only far more corrupt than we could ever imagine. He’s the very definition of sleazeball.

As for the situation of the past, which involves sexual abuse at the hands of Keith to Sydney’s older sister Carly, their relationship is strained and Sydney is rightfully disgusted by his mere existence. Still, she sucks it up (to her sister’s annoyance) to protect the younger and takes the unprepared girls place without a second thought.

Due to the scandal and disapproval overtaking the Moroi world, with a small percent of people in uproar over Lissa Dragomir’s age and new position of power as queen, there’s a possibility all too real in regards to a civil war among their kind. And the biggest threats aren’t on the life of the young queen but instead brought upon her newly found younger half-sister Jill.

You see, in order for Lissa to hold the crown, she must have one living family member. In the events of the final VA book we discovered that the once-dying Dragomir line had one more person remaining, unbeknownst to their society.

Up until recently, Jill hadn’t known of her shared blood and suddenly finds herself known as a princess. And because of this, those who don’t support Lissa are threatening her life on many occasions including a recent attack on her life.

To keep Jill safe, the Moroi and Dhampir and Alchemists must keep her hidden. Enter the plan of hiding her away in plain sight: a boarding school in Palm Springs intending for humans. All that sunshine and cover is the perfect place to hide the young princess to keep her safe until Lissa can change the laws to keep her crown.

As an alchemist, it is their job to keep ordinary humans from discovering the vampire race and the world in which is hidden in our own. They cannot risk the dangers that could come with a civil war so reluctantly, they have a task at hand.

In order to do this without trouble, Jill needs people aware of who she is to surround and protect her–and to keep her identity secret. Sydney’s cover is to pretend to be her elder sister and go undercover as a student at this school. And returning for the ride is Eddie Castile, who readers will remember from the original series as one of Rose and Mason’s friends.

Also returning full time is Adrian Ivashkov, one of the most interesting and entertaining characters of both series and the only main character from VA to return as a full time main character in the spin-off. Adrian and Jill have something of a sibling bond, and after a surprise reveal: Jill is shadow-kissed and tied into Adrian much like Lissa and Rose were. On the attack that caused this plan to form, she actually died and was brought back to life by Adrian.

Being shadow-kissed comes with a lot of complications and while the structure is similar to the situations Rose/Lissa found themselves in, and the desire to protect one another is strong, Adrian/Jill have a different relationship that is sweet and very much like family.

And so the cover goes: Adrian, Jill, Sydney and Eddie (and Keith) are siblings.

But with complications such as Keith being a dick and trying to get Sydney taken away from the job to cover his own tracks when it comes to a mysterious business he is hiding, Jill not fitting in with her new school, all that sunlight, Adrian’s straying mind (whether this be boredom and feeling stuck or his inability to get over Rose) we’re certain of one thing: nothing is as it seems and nothing will be easy.

Other plot points: bullying and struggling to fit into this world, romance gone wrong–former Strigoi, who desperately wants back his immortality, anyone?–and the nasty business of magical tattoos laced with vampire blood. And lastly, perhaps most importantly, during an attack on Sydney and Adrian we discover two very big things.

One, Sydney’s blood tastes foul to the Strigoi and such. Is this because of her tattoo (the signature of all alchemists) or is it something more? And secondly… wait a minute, is Sydney a witch? That fire scene was awesome.

I'm excited to see more of the school they are attending and the teacher that tricked Sydney into doing magic. I also wouldn't mind seeing more of Sydney's new friends and Trey and Micah (who reminds Eddie especially of Mason Ashford--RIP).

What I liked most about Bloodlines is that the tone is so different from Vampire Academy but ties in with the series so well. Richelle Mead once more proves that things just keep getting better and will offer interesting takes on raw emotion, danger, mythology and more. I liked the idea of Sydney growing and eventually overcoming the way she was raised to act and think.

More striking is the way that Richelle tells each story so vividly.

My heart was constantly beating out of my chest during the more action-packed moments and I was truly blown away. I have to admit that I was skeptical when I read that Sydney Sage would be the narrator for this spin-off but it’s easy to warm up to her and I can feel good things to come.

I like that she has her flaws and struggles with what she is feeling and I also love her maternal side. In all rights she could be horrible–straight up horrible–to those she is taking care of but she is warm and determined in all the ways she can be. I enjoyed seeing her frustration and her strides and I can’t wait to see where her growth will realistically take her in time.

Overall Bloodlines is an engaging piece of work that serves beautifully as a starting point and I can’t wait to see what happens next. Richelle Mead basically owns me at this point and I’m so pumped to see where we’re headed next. Now that Sydney is back in the good graces of her superiors… so much more could happen. I’m excited.

And how cute are those Sydney and Adrian scenes? Ah.

Bonus: the next installment promises us the return of Dimitri, Sonya, Abe, Angeline and more. We saw a glimpse of them in the final pages of this little guy. I couldn’t be more excited! Although as much as I love Dimitri, I’m a little concerned as to what that means for Adrian’s well being–we all know our favorite sarcastic party boy vampire has had his share of heartbreak and I’m a little worried what his presence could do at this point.

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