Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa

The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa grew on me as I read. It started well, but I couldn’t help but feel knowing the premise, as described in the blurb, detracted from the surprise of events near the start. However, this feeling quickly passed and by the time I finished, my overwhelming reaction was AWESOME.

The setting for The Immortal Rules reminded me of a cross between I Am Legend and the alternate Buffy universe ruled by vampires. In The Immortal Rules, Vampires have always existed on the fringes of human society but when a plague threatens to wipe out humanity, they step in and take measures to preserve their food source. The resultant norm has the main character, Allison, living in a city where humans are branded and required to submit to blood “donations” regularly. Infected rabids are kept out by the city wall. Rabids are the result of the plague and are something like zombies with some vampiric elements. Compare with the reanimated dead vampires vs the live undead vampires in I Am Legend.

The start of the book feels like a YA dystopia more than anything else. If I hadn’t read the blurb, I would have expected the standard dystopian arc of: 1. identify societal issues 2. revolution! However, that isn’t where the story goes, at least not in any conventional sense. If I’ve whet your appetite and you haven’t yet read a blurb for this book, you could do worse than to stop reading this review now and go pick up a copy. If you don’t mind not being surprised for a development near the start (or you’ve already read the blurb), then keep reading.

Instead of the story taking place in Allison’s home city as she overthrows the vampires or something like that, disaster strikes and Allison finds herself turned into the very thing she despises; a vampire. The story then goes off in another direction as she is forced to deal with being a monster and loosing everything from her human life. And forced to deal with how humans now see her, judging her based on what she is not who she is, despite any intentions she might have.

She’s a pretty independent, competent and compassionate character that I very much enjoyed reading. The secondary characters all complement her well. I like that Kagawa included annoying characters to antagonise Allison semi-benignly (as in, not just actual ‘bad guys’) and rub the reader up the wrong way. People fearing/hating her when they learn she’s a vampire is a prime example, but there were also personality clashes between Allison and other characters which added depth to the story.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a novel from a vampire’s first person perspective (unless you count the last part of the Twilight saga, which I don’t). Possibly not since Anne Rice. It was also a nice change to read about a female main character struggling with being a vampire and what that might mean for relationships (although any romantic aspects don’t dominate the story) rather than having the genders swapped as seems to be more common. Another nice thing was a lack of white-washing in this novel. Despite being set in the former US, Allison is of Japanese descent, other prominent characters are brown and black and there is, generally, a mix. Really the only white-washing is the cover because that girl is not Japanese.

Structurally, this did not end up reading like a conventional YA novel, despite starting like one. First, it’s longer — just over 500 printed pages — and it’s in four parts which have pretty distinct minor story arcs of their own. The overall arc is her journey and isn’t event-centred (not the revolution kind of event, anyway). Stylistically it felt like a fantasy novel that happened to have teenagers and vampires and so forth rather than a YA vampire novel. I think that reflects a difference in style to other (much shorter!) YA vampire or dystopian novels I’ve read recently. (They’ve all been and felt like quick reads, which this was not.) While it’s a book 1, I expect the subsequent books to continue in more of a fantasy style than a YA dystopia trilogy style.

The other thing I really enjoyed was the cinematic quality of many of the scenes. The descriptions were vivid, especially the action scenes, without dragging out. That and the nature of the setting and story made me feel like this story would work really well on the screen. Maybe as a TV series, since it’s too long for a movie. It would be awesome.

I highly recommend The Immortal Rules to anyone with even a passing interest vampires, fantasy or YA. I think this is a book that will appeal to a fairly broad audience. I will definitely be reading the next book when it becomes available.

5 / 5 stars

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