Julie Kagawa’s The Iron King and I got off on the wrong foot. While struggling through the first in her Iron Fey series, I continually felt as if the blogging community had pulled one over on me, because for the life of me I simply couldn’t see the awesomeness that everyone else was gushing over. It was a serviceable take on fey lore, at best, and Kagawa’s reliance on pretentious metaphor was about as subtle as a semi truck. Yet, recently the blogosphere has been alit with excitement once again for The Immortal Rules, the first in Kagawa’s new Blood of Eden series. So before I wrote Kagawa off for good, I decided to give her one more shot to wow me, this time with vampire tropes in tow.
I’m sure there are many readers who appreciate a headstrong, stubborn female. Many
The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa
will see her as a welcome divergence from the weak-willed women who rely on others to save them, the damsels in distress who give reliant women a bad name. I am not one of those readers, because for me, it takes more than sheer determination to demonstrate strength of character. Allison has determination in spades, and unfortunately it’s the kind I dislike the most. She makes her own decisions, dependence be damned, yet those decisions aren’t reasoned, at least not to any degree reflected in the narrative. I’ve forgone many series for failure to connect with the main character, due mostly to my inevitable distaste for women who act before they think. Rose Hathaway from Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series springs to mind as an exemplar of this most detestable of character types. Standing in contrast, Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels and Ann Aguirre’s Sirantha Jax are wonderful examples of female characters whose strength is demonstrated not only through physical skill, but also through their abilities and willingness to utilize the fellow human resources at their disposal.
Honestly, Allison barely undergoes enough interactions with others to provide her with the opportunity to work together rather than blindly be contrary, yet the opportunities she does have, she squanders. Her decision to aid the ragtag band of humans she encounters speaks less to the connections she forms with its members than it does to the fact that she is fighting against her new vampire nature. While this might be an understandable reaction, it’s not groundbreaking, which rather sums up my reaction to the entire novel. As with her interpretation of fey lore, Kagawa has seemingly reconstructed the well-known tropes of past vampire legend in The Immortal Rules. Granted, literature, to a large extent, is necessarily a process of rehashing previous ideas into new formations. Yet while the most successful authors accomplish this feat seamlessly, Kagawa’s edges are so sharp, they basically point directly to her source material.
Nearly every aspect of vampire mythology described in The Immortal Rules is a derivative of earlier, better vampire stories. Yet perhaps the most troubling similarities I spotted are shared with the author who seemed to spark the current young adult vampire craze. I won’t name names, but surely I’m not the only one who noticed the parallels to two of a certain author’s series, one young adult paranormal and the other adult science fiction. An angst-ridden, self-loathing vampire? Present. Innate ninja skills upon being sired? Check. An uneasy alliance with a distrustful band of survivors seeking to eradicate the existence of your race (with a leader named Jeb)? Done and done. A beautiful boy who overcomes his initial hatred of girl’s inhuman existence to find le love? Got it. Girl’s rechristening as Wanderer? The list goes on.
I won’t spend much time analyzing the formation of the romantic relationship here, because even amidst the sea of hormone-induced instaloves rampant in young adult literature, there is no foundation for Allison and Zeke’s attraction. More confounding is the evolution of Allison’s relationship with her band of humans after they discover her true nature. A little calm, reasoned lecturing and she is able to make first Zeke, then Jeb- religious zealot Jeb- recant the convictions that served as their sole buoy for most of their lives in order to trust her. Well before the halfway point, I began to miss Kanin’s presence if for no other reason than the fact that, unlike vanilla Zeke, I enjoy the strong, silent trope. Unfortunately, given Allison’s reaction to her vampire “brother,” I suspect that Kagawa is going to develop this relationship in a decidedly paternal direction. It’s rare that I request a love triangle, but in this case I think it could only improve things.
When I read a rather mediocre redo such as The Immortal Rules, I fear that kids will neglect the classics of the genre-Dracula, Anne Rice, Let the Right One In, I Am Legend (from which The Immortal Rules essentially stole what little plot it provides)-in lieu of these derivatives. And it’s not an original derivative at that. See authors such as Delilah S. Dawson, Ilona Andrews, and Clay and Susan Griffith for some new takes on the classic vampire theme. Suffice it to say, I am not a Kagawa fan, and while her sentences might flow nicely, her substance is severely lacking.