Friday, April 27, 2012

We Live By A Different Set Of Rules

The Immortal Rules
~The Immortal Rules~
Blood of Eden
Book 1
By Julie Kagawa
Amazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks


"Sometime in your life, Allison Sekemoto, you will kill a human being. The question is not if it will happen, but when. Do you understand?"

I didn't then, not really.


Allison Sekemoto survives in the Fringe, the outermost circle of a vampire city. By day, she and her crew scavenge for food. By night, any one of them could be eaten.

Some days, all that drives Allie is her hatred of them. The vampires who keep humans as blood cattle. Until the night Allie herself is attacked—and given the ultimate choice. Die…or become one of the monsters.

Faced with her own mortality, Allie becomes what she despises most. To survive, she must learn the rules of being immortal, including the most important: go long enough without human blood, and you will go mad.

Then Allie is forced to flee into the unknown, outside her city walls. There she joins a ragged band of humans who are seeking a legend—a possible cure to the disease that killed off most of humankind and created the rabids, the mindless creatures who threaten humans and vampires alike.

But it isn’t easy to pass for human. Especially not around Zeke, who might see past the monster inside her. And Allie soon must decide what—and who—is worth dying for.

This was another offer NetGalley was kind enough to e-mail me about. I've heard so much about Kagawa's Iron Fey series (though I haven't read them yet) that I was eager for a chance to finally read her work. And it starred vampires, for crying out loud. Why wouldn't I jump at the chance?

Perhaps it was so much hype going in, but this book never clicked for me.

The book starts out with Allie, our narrator, living in the slums of a vampire city. She's tough but kind, realistic yet idealistic, and intelligent without knowing too much. Your typical street-rat/diamond-in-the-rough character.

Oh, and she's human.

Yeah, that introduction (above) from the book cover? We haven't gotten there yet. So I spent all of Part I waiting. Sure, I got to read about the city, learned a little bit of history, listened to rants about the evil vampires, but the whole time I knew that something was gonna go wrong and she was gonna end up a vamp. I mean, you can tell from the cover picture! I found it tedious.

And then we get to Part II...which was nothing but one long lesson. Allie's finally a vampire, now she has to learn the real history, how to fight, how to eat, and the ways of the vampire. But rather than getting to experiment on her own, make some discoveries or mistakes, she's given an all-knowing teacher to guide her through everything. Granted, she doesn't listen all the time, but even those parts are fleeting. In short, this is all setup so we know the world and, to some extent, the characters we'll be dealing with.

185 pages (36%) through and we're finally to the good stuff; the end of the exposition! That's right, the main story doesn't begin until Part III. All that stuff before was, in essence, a prologue—a telling of Allie's tragic backstory. Really?

But now it's time for the good stuff, right? Allie's finally allowed to venture out on her own. Unfortunately, she's a completely blank slate. That's right, by the time Part III rolls around, Allie's past has completely resolved itself. She's a vampire now, so all her human aspirations (Part I) are defunct, and she doesn't have to interact with all-knowing teacher (Part II) because she's on her own. She has absolutely no clue what she's 'living' for. Except she doesn't want to be a monster...which is the definition of what she is.

This is the crux of my problem with Allie. Like I said earlier, Allie is made up of cliché contradictions, things we know every strong female character will be, and honestly, I didn't find anything unique about her. I never understood her motivations, what she really believed in, and thus all her decisions felt half-assed. Like she could take them back if things didn't work out right. It wasn't until well into Part IV that I actually felt some conviction behind her actions. Which is great for the sequels, but for this book I felt cheated out of a character.

So that's the main character, what about the supporting cast? Well, they're pretty much vampire chow. Okay, actually I'll divide them into three groups: annoying, somewhat sympathetic, or integral to shaping Allie's story. You have the teacher, the antagonist, the villain, the love interest, and that basically sums it up. Because, see, Allie's a monster and can't get too close to anyone, so we never learn much about anyone, and thus I didn't care about anyone.

Okay, there is Zeke, the story's love interest. You can tell from his first scene that he's important because Allie actually seems interested. Zeke was quite possibly the strongest character of the story (though that's not saying much). He's got a tortured past (but who doesn't in this story?), yet he still has hope for himself and the world in general, and he's willing to fight for it. Finally, a character with some conviction! In terms of romance he was kinda bland, but then again so was his partner.

Blandness seems to be the reoccurring theme of this review. The writing as a whole just seemed that way. I looked at what was there, all the elements, and just wondered why Kagawa had chosen to write it that way. I wanted to love the story, I wanted something new and innovative, I wanted to be wowed and enchanted, but all I got was blah. The characters never popped, the dialogue was stiff, and the world was interesting but nothing I hadn't seen before.

On the bright side, I could picture everything happening. It was a very clear, visual read. But that only made me think of it as a movie. Or a novelization of a movie. That it's already been optioned as a movie only makes sense—the screenplay's practically already written. And really, I think it worked well as a movie—given the right actors and director, I'd pay to see it. But as a near-500-page book, I wanted more than what I could see.

But I feel like I've harped on the book a lot. Here are a few things I did genuinely like.

The vampires were really awesome. They were gritty, tough, non-sparkly— they weren't romanticized, which I loved. Even the 'good' vampires were demons in their own right. The Hunger was completely non-negotiable, and if they went too long without human blood (accept no substitutes) it would make them kill. I did take some issue with the physics of speaking, the fact that if you wanted to speak you'd have to take a breath to do so, yet vampire breathing was something so rare it had to be pointed out every single time, but never in speaking. But really, other than that, the vampires were believable, detailed, and deadly.

The whole apocalyptic story line, with the plague, the rabids, and the vampire uprising, was great, too. I do wish a little bit more explanation of the rabid disease had been present—like what, if anything, made them different from vampires, other than insanity. But the Red Lung disease thining out humanity, making it easier for vampires to take control, was well thought-out and explained, making a plausible backdrop for Allie's story.

Also, I loved the ending. No, not that way. Obviously, I can't go into it too much, but let me just say this ending made me excited to pick up the next book, despite all the things I hated. I finally feel like Allie has some experience and conviction under her belt, so now she can go be the character I always wanted her to be. And, for a book that is so filled with darkness, doubt, and hopelessness, the ending gave me a tiny bit of hope.

Ultimately, I'm a character-driven reader, and this book just didn't give me the character I needed. I thought the story was interesting, but I couldn't find anyone to latch onto to make me care. This is an origin story, but because I never connected to any of the characters, it felt more like one huge prologue. Now that Allie is motivated (read: fully-formed), I'm eager to find out what the next books have in store, so I guess this wasn't a total loss. I just wish I hadn't had to struggle through nearly 500 pages to get here.

Overall I found The Immortal Rules to be an interesting concept but kinda forgettable in the scheme of things. I'd recommend it for those with a lot of patience and who enjoy YA angst with some bloody vampire action. There is a good amount of violence and gore, so I'd rank this appropriate for high-school and older, despite the absence of language or sex. This first installment wasn't my favorite, but now that introductions are out of the way, I think the Blood of Eden series has a lot of potential to be great. So if you're looking to add a little more fang to your collection, you might give The Immortal Rules a try.

Approximate Reading Time: 9.5 hours

Disclaimer: I received this ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.