There have been a number of YA books with a dystopian or post-apocalyptic theme involving vampires popping up lately, so when Julie Kagawa's Blood of Eden series was first announced, I was a little wary. Still, Kagawa's Iron Fey series was a fairly original idea among the multitudes of YA paranormal series so I was hoping she'd put an interesting twist on vampires as she did with fairies. While I was certainly not disappointed, I felt like the first book of the Blood of Eden trilogy, called The Immortal Rules
, left some things to be desired.The Immortal Rules
is about Allison Sekemoto, an orphaned human teenager living in the outer region of a city ruled by vampires. In order to survive as an Unregistered human, she must go out and search for food while avoiding being caught by both the city's blood-sucking rulers and the crazed Rabid vampires that have succumbed to their beastly desires and lost all control of their reason. It is on one of these scavenging trips that she is attacked by Rabids. On the brink of death, she is approached by a mysterious vampire who tells her that her life can be saved in exchange for her mortality. Allison, clinging desperately to life, chooses to become of the the blood-sucking monsters that she hates most.
One of Kagawa's strengths is her excellent worldbuilding. Her vampires are the frightening soulless creatures of traditional vampire lore. They are not necessarily beautiful or elegant, and they are very very deadly. Her vampire "science" includes details about their lack of breathing, what happens to their flesh and blood when they heal themselves, and she really tries to explain what it's like to be a vampire through Allie's perspective. The setting, like the vampires, is terrifying as well. The first 100 or so pages detailing Allie's life as an unregistered human gives us a close look at the harrowing conditions she lives in. The descriptions are gritty and visceral, and Kagawa paints a starkly grim picture of a broken down society clinging to the last dredges of life, where even cannibalism is an option for the most desperate.
The characters, on the other hand, were a little lacking. Allison is a good heroine for the most part; she's strong and self reliant from years of living on the streets, depending almost solely on herself for survival. She's a little bit cookie-cutter, though. Like most urban fantasy heroines, she's stereotypically "kick-ass" in that she can fend for herself and doesn't let anyone boss her around. I do like that, in a world where books have been banned, she has a desire to learn how to read and believes that the information and ideas in books hold the key to saving humanity. But this side of her is too underdeveloped at this point to flesh her out much more as a character. The other characters were also rather archetypal, although I was pleasantly surprised to see that Kagawa included some important religious characters.
It was an unexpected decision to include the religion in the book, as I don't often see it as a theme in popular YA paranormal fiction and I hope it gets elaborated upon in the sequel. Kagawa presents it in a non-judgmental way that is fitting for the story. It is also pretty rare to find a devoutly religious love interest as well. I suspect he'll abandon his beliefs by the end of the series, but I sincerely hope not, because it'll be interesting to see how his beliefs play out and if/how they affect his relationships with people, particularly Allison.
Although most of the plot twists were predictable, I was engrossed in the story. There were, however, some parts that I felt could have been edited out, and I felt the book did not need to be as long as it was. The pacing was also quite uneven, most noticeably in the last third of the book. After the big climactic event, I felt like the story should have ended faster, but instead it dragged out at a weird pace. I understand the reasoning for it-- Kagawa wanted to end this book at a specific point, and she had to get to that point, even if the climax was long over-- but it definitely slowed the book down at the end.
On a final note, I want to point out that Allison is described as being Asian. Her last name suggests that she is of Japanese descent (though I'm pretty sure Sekemoto is not an actual existing Japanese surname) and she is described as having "squinty eyes" and called an "Asian doll" by other characters in the book. I am very pleased to see that Kagawa, who is of Japanese background herself, wrote a book wherein the main character is of a non-Caucasian race and I'm happy to see that Harlequin Teen published it. I'm even ecstatic that Allison's characterization doesn't follow any sort of Asian stereotype (for example, being demure or servile).
So, why, Harlequin Teen, did you pick a white girl to represent her on the cover?! I know book covers don't often reflect accurately on the content inside but I can't help but think that this is probably a case of deliberate whitewashing by the publisher in order to sell more books. As if we wouldn't notice that the protagonist is described as Asian as soon as we cracked the book open. Seriously.
Overall, The Immortal Rules
is an enjoyable enough read. Kagawa's writing is direct and functional, with few flourishes, and makes for a solid narrative style that drives the story. However, the book doesn't really add anything to the existing number of vampire and post-apocalyptic fiction already out there but I may be speaking too soon. Kagawa's Iron Fey series wove together fairy lore and technological progress in an interesting and creative way, but these themes were developed over the course of the series and were not entirely evident in the first book. Perhaps Blood of Eden will be the same.