Can I just say—I love seeing vampire stories where the heroine is really self-sufficient. Unfortunately, Twilight trained us into associating bloodsuckers with… well, a human girl who lets her blood get sucked. Now, however, newer vamp-centric book series (and their movie adaptations) are giving us girl protagonists who are smart, sexy, and a little bit scary. There’s Tana from Holly Black’s The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, who turns even other vampires’ blood cold with her thrill-seeking ways. And now, we can add half-vampire bodyguard Rose Hathaway from Vampire Academy to the mix.
Of course, Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series has been around since 2007 and commanded quite the following. I confess that I first entered Mead’s world via the movie adaptation (out in theaters now), with the screenplay adapted by Heathers‘ Daniel Waters and directed by Mean Girls‘ Mark Waters. It may be the same experience for many moviegoers experiencing too much vampire fatigue to pick up the books—but now that they’ve seen this funny movie, they really should dig into the source material.
Unlike other vampire movies, they don’t waste time with a human stumbling into the supernatural world. Instead, royal Moroi vampire Lissa Dragomir (Lucy Fry) and her best friend/Dhampir bodyguard Rose Hathaway (Zoey Deutsch) are returned to St. Vladimir’s Academy after having inexplicably run away a year prior. After a year sitting pretty in the human world, they’ve got to readjust to a stricter, more dangerous world governed by ancient vampire rivalries and the looming threat of Strigoi vamps.
Make no mistake: Rose and Lissa are part-human, which means that they can die just as easily as their human counterparts. That also means they’re not above the petty high school dramas of (in Lissa’s case) using mind control tricks to win over the popular kids or (for Rose) lusting after the much-older, worldlier Dhampir Dmitri. But, in the Waters brothers’ hands, this feels less like silly girls trying to “win” at high school and more like young women learning how to harness their powers, both vampirical and sexual. It’s also hilarious.
Like their forebears, Vampire Academy weaves the seemingly trivial with bigger-picture food for thought about social status and bullying. It helps that the movie contains a few, carefully placed, pop culture mentions and an endearing star. Whereas The Hunger Games‘ sequel Catching Fire relaxed a bit and allowed Jennifer Lawrence to inject more of herself into Katniss, Vampire Academy kicks off already in that mindset. Deutsch, like an even more pint-size Ellen Page, is sardonic and brash, yet you always root for Rose even as she’s diving into situations for which she’s far too inexperienced. Her witty asides and no-nonsense attitude toward protecting Lissa make up for her immaturity.
What I said before, about human girls and bloodsucking? It’s still here. In Coldtown, an infected Tana finds herself enjoying a bit of literal necking with her vampire love interest. One of Rose’s biggest problems at St. Vladimir’s is that she’s beset by rumors that she lets Lissa “defile her” by drinking her blood. The dilemma? She actually does it—because, as she pragmatically decided, Lissa needed blood to stay alive—but she also gets something kind of sexual out of it. But, unlike Bella, who passively craves the power of immortality, these girls bite back, figuratively and literally.
I’m excited to welcome another strong female protagonist into the YA movie sphere, and for more people to learn about Vampire Academy and its sequels. Let’s hope that more of the books make it to the big screen!