From page to screen: Vampire Academy

WITH Vampire Academy set to hit screens next year, self-confessed mega fan Juliana Mare asks whether it’s better to read the book or watch the movie first.  

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The VA series has six books plus a spinoff series called ‘Bloodlines’. Photo: Juliana Mare

Adapting novels into films always causes a tremendous amounts of stress for fans. Will the actors correctly resemble the characters? Will the set design and costumes do your imagination justice? Are they going to skip the scenes you love?

Hollywood is no stranger to book-to-film adaptations. This year, a number of extremely successful book franchises like the Hunger Games, City of Bones and Beautiful Creatures shined on the big screen.

But on March 2014, a new young adult film franchise will launch. With six books in the series, this could be Hollywood’s biggest film saga since Harry Potter.

It’s Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy (VA). 

The Plot:

The book series follows the life of Rose Hathaway, a completely badass dhampir (half-vamp, half-human) who’s in training to become a guardian and protect the Moroi species (benevolent vampires) from the Strigoi (ruthless vampires).

Unlike so many young-adult supernatural novels, the VA series isn’t another sappy romance between a human and immortal.

Rose Hathaway is a fierce fighter with superhuman combat skills and a sassy, humorous, I-ain’t-got-time-for-your-nonsense attitude. Although she finds herself some pretty epic relationship drama with her hunky Russian trainer Dimitri, this doesn’t overshadow the plot. Instead, the budding romance only adds fuel to the fire and drama that already exists within the secret vampire world.

The first novel begins with Rose and her best friend Vasilisa ‘Lissa’ Dragomir being forcibly returned to St. Vladimir’s Academy, a prestigious school where dhampirs are trained to become guardians for the Moroi.

With a rare psychic bond between her and Lissa, Rose is determined to finish her training to ensure she become Lissa’s guardian. But all of this is threatened when Lissa is kidnapped and the book becomes a gripping page-turner to see if she can be found and rescued in time.

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The films’ promotional photo. All rights reserved.

Which brings me to a most important question: What should you do first? Read the book or watch the movie?

Read the book first:

Once you let someone create a movie that’s representative of his or her own experience or even the author’s, you take that power away from the reader. It’s like finding out what was in your head the whole time was wrong, which shouldn’t be the case. – Jake Manwaring, 21.

Given the style of the films promotional poster, a seemingly clique-y, preppy school with pupils who wear heels (Rose Hathaway would never, ever wear stilettos!), and the director’s prior claim to fame with Mean Girls, I feel like the school setting of VA is going to be too cliche. A predictable boarding school with vampire pupils, which isn’t at all how St. Vladimir’s is conveyed in the books or in my imagination.

“Viewing a movie removes the individual experience. A reader constructs their opinion based on their own history and views. Viewing a film homogenizes this experience because as a viewer you are dictated to, as in this is how characters are supposed to look and sound.” – Jacob Lewis, 29.

The unique, hunter-style school environment and wit, sass and self-professed tomboy nature of the protagonist are what make the books so fantastic so it’s a huge concern for me that these elements may fall short of my expectations.

“I think sometimes having read the book gives you a greater understanding of the movie. For things like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games I often notice little subtleties in the movie that if I didn’t know the back story from the book I wouldn’t pick up.” – Amy Foyster, 22.

Another potential problem for the movie will be adequately conveying the differences between the three vampire species that exist, the Dhampir, Moroi and Strigoi. These unique vampires aren’t found in any other vamp fiction so will be previously unheard of by moviegoers who haven’t read the books.

“Read the book first if you want to understand all the inside jokes that the scriptwriters inject into the film. However, this means you’ll probably expect the movie adaptation to be faithful to the source material and might be disappointed if it isn’t.” – Grace Yew, 21.

While the differences will have to be explained in the film, it’s the little things like a Strigoi’s craving specifically for Moroi blood or their inability to walk on consecrated ground that might sadly go amiss in the screenplay. This may not be damaging to the plot, but it’s these bonus interesting facts that make the book characters seem much more complex and well thought out than their screen counterparts.

Russian actor Danila Kozlovsky has been cast as Dimitri Belikov. All rights reserved.

Russian actor Danila Kozlovsky has been cast as Dimitri Belikov. All rights reserved.

Watch the movie first:

You shouldn’t read the book because knowing what happens at times ruins the experience. If you read the book, in your mind you’ve made your own picture of the characters and settings in your head. Therefore if you don’t like the direction of the movie, its mostly because it doesn’t fit what you’ve already imagined.” – Carlos Iacuccio, 20.

And herein lies the crux of the fandom struggle. One of the joys of reading is the ability to independently imagine characters, costumes, locations and accents, absolutely anything any everything else within the book universe. Films take this creativity away.

On the other hand, if you agree with the film making and casting decisions, there’s nothing greater than seeing your favourite fictional characters come to life.

The verdict:

Given how cleverly written the VA books are and how unique the author’s brand of vampires are, I would recommend reading the books, or at least just the first, before the film is released.

The VA world is fascinating because while it fits within the wider supernatural young-adult genre, it’s completely unique, filled with wonderfully complex characters and isn’t bogged down by a cliche love story.

Read the books and fall in love with Rose, Lissa and Dimitri on your own terms before Hollywood sinks its teeth (pun intended!) into this franchise.

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This article was written for Meld, thanks for having a read. And Happy New Year!

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The Golden Lily: Book Review

With what seems like a bottomless pit of supernatural fiction now littering bookstore shelves, it’s rare to find a novel that doesn’t focus on the done-to-death romance between a human and the new, mysterious town stranger who happens to be a ridiculously attractive vampire/werewolf/witch/alien. One of the many reasons The Golden Lily so appealing is that we’re dealing with a romance between two supernatural characters yet there’s still ample amounts of power play, lingering stares, fear and of course, tension.

The Golden Lily is the second installment in the Bloodlines series which is a spin-off of Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series. Set in the fantastical world of “good” (Moroi) and “bad” (Strigoi) vampires, The Golden Lily also delves further into the mysterious, secret world of the Alchemists – a group whose work is to maintain the secret of vampirism from the blissfully ignorant human population.

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The novel follows the undercover mission established in the first novel to keep Jill Dragomir in hiding. Her protection cannot be understated as her half-sister Lissa, the Moroi Queen, can only keep her title if she has at least one living relative. Sydney Sage – the protagonist – is the young Alchemist sent to oversee the mission and despite Alchemists being indoctrinated  to be repelled or at minimum, feel uncomfortable around vampires, begins to question her beliefs and her place in the Alchemist world.

Sage is a generally likeable character if you ignore the constant quips and comments about her weight insecurities. In comparison to the ultra lithe Moroi, our Alchemist is constantly watching her calories and fighting a war against sugar which wouldn’t be a bone to pick if it weren’t a topic of conversation during every meal scene. Kudos to her unrelenting no-sugar rule but would it kill an author to have a protagonist that wasn’t a size 4?

And then we come to the other half of what the fangirls call the OTP (One True Pairing), Adrian Ivashkov. Think Chuck Bass but more disheveled, slightly insane, complete with an addiction to cigarettes, smoking and with fangs. Not to mention that I happen to believe Ed Westwick (pictured) is a dead ringer for the character’s description, if a little too tanned. Everything would be peaches and cream (but when is that ever likely to happen in a novel?) except for the fact that Ivashkov’s a Moroi and every bone in Sage’s body is telling her not to have feelings for him, not even a “just friends” feeling.

Ed Westwick by greginhollywood on flickr.

Ed Westwick by greginhollywood on flickr.

So we see Sydney start dating Brayden – a guy who everyone sees as being 100 per cent compatible with her. He also happens to be about as exciting as watching paint dry. While Sage mirrors this at times, at least she has moments of badassery to provide some balance. When our OTP (unofficially known as Sydrian) finally has their ‘moment’, despite it being electrifying and “glorious”, it’s over before it even really begins and we’re left with a gaping hole that should have been filled with butterflies and swooning.

With the exception of Brayden, most of the other side-characters are genuinely lovable and worthy of the reader’s attention. There’s Eddie, the Dhampir (human/vamp hybrids that train to become pretty badass bodyguards), Jill who fills the role of the adopted sister, Angeline, another Dhampir whose short temper and lack of social skills provide ample humor throughout the novel and Ms Terwilliger, the teacher who not-so-subtly forces Sage to dapple in the ancient art of witchcraft. Even the almost love triangle between Angeline|Eddie|Jill is detailed enough to make you care but not overshadow the main pairing of the novel. It’s not very often that I feel as strongly about sub-characters as the protagonists, but the amount of passion, heart-ache and to some degree, self-torture Eddie goes through makes him one of the more outstanding characters of the novel.

To top off the mountain of drama that befalls these characters, their problems worsen when they happen upon an unavoidable amount of evidence to suggest the existence of human vampire hunters. There’s conflict, as with most supernatural fiction but Mead is eloquent enough to describe violence in an almost dream-like quality, through the eyes of someone who isn’t accustomed to gunfire or hand-to-hand combat. It’s a refreshing break from fight sequences that are loaded with countless punches thrown and people tackled to the ground.

While The Golden Lily took a while to really get into the thick of the plot and had some pages wasted on boring dates and conversations between Sage and Brayden, as it progressed, I found myself less willing to put it down. By the last few pages, I had to actually stop myself from reading further because the anticipation for what was about to happen, or well, what I thought was about to happen, was too much.

Needless to say, the cliffhanger has left me desperate for the third installment – The Indigo Spell which is out now. Waiting for my pre-ordered copy to arrive from London has never been so torturous.

The Indigo Spell Finished Cover