Fans of Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy series will be quite pleased with the first installment of her new series that takes place in the same world of Moroi, dhampirs, and alchemists: Bloodlines. While the basic story points are a bit simple and predictable as we set up for a new run, Mead's consistently fun characters make for an entertaining read and a promising start to a series that will undoubtedly allow us to enjoy our favorite characters from the past and, in general, delight in the guilty pleasure of reading about teen vampires/those in their strange world.

Our heroine here has a familiar face (as do most of the faces we'll find in the book) -- it's none other than Sydney, the alchemist who played a major role in helping Rose Hathaway in her quests from the last series, albeit against her will as she made good on owed favors to Abe Mazur, the mob-boss-like figure known as zmey, or "the snake" and, incidentally, Rose's father. Alchemists are humans who are devoted to keeping other humans in the dark about the existence of vampires -- and this often means cleaning up after vampires and enforcing a lot of rules (which comes with a great deal of paperwork). Observant folk will notice that alchemists all have a golden tattoo of a lilly on their cheeks -- which gives them a certain amount of power and protection, but also keeps them from revealing too much about their world and activities to those not already in the know. Sydney was in hot water with the alchemists for her part in assisting Rose in Last Sacrifice -- not entirely because Rose was presumed guilty of murder but more because alchemists are not supposed to *like* vampires and Sydney seemed to have become entirely too close to the loathed creatures. So when a young female alchemist is needed for a mission, Syndey is passed over for her inexperienced little sister, Zoe. In her attempt to keep young Zoe out of the world of the alchemists, Sydney offends her by insisting Zoe's much too young and incapable, but it works and she gets the job.

Sydney is sent to Palm Springs help guard Jill, Queen Vasilia's recently-discovered half-sister who was attacked... and not by Strigoi (the evil brand of vamp), but by those who oppose her sister's politics. In order to maintain the throne, Lissa needs at least one living family member, which means Jill's safety is very important. Palm Springs, with the heat and sun, is one of the last places one would expect vampires and so a suitable boarding school has been located to serve as a relatively clear area to stash the young royal. Sydney is to pose as Jill's sister and Jill's dhampir bodyguard, Eddie, is to be their brother, but the family doesn't end there. Adrian, recently broken-hearted by Rose, is also around to post as another brother and, worst of all for Sydney, there's Keith, the alchemist in charge of the Palm Springs. Keith and Sydney despise each other as a result of an incident in their pasts (and not in the sexy "they hate each other now, but when passions rise" kind of way) and the most we can glean is that Keith did something terrible (though not necessarily to Sydney) and now he remains a slimy jerk, but a jerk in charge of her progress reports to their employers and who's playing the role of brother/legal guardian. Brilliant. Rounding out the cast are Clarence, an older vamp in the area that's willing to share his feeder/housekeeper with Jill, and Clarence's son, Lee, who is a shady fellow off the bat and yet Jill seems to have a small crush on him. Clarence's niece was killed a few years prior, presumably by Strigoi, though the circumstances are shady and Clarence blames vampire hunters. Intriguing. I wonder if that information will play in to our tale? (Hint: yes.)

Sydney must keep her eye on Jill while they navigate school, though to be honest, the latter isn't all that bad for Sydney, as she enjoys classes and is wildly intelligent. She even gets the opportunity to serve as a research assistant to a history professor, though that seems to be equal parts note-taking and coffee-fetching. Sydney, who was home-schooled and who loves architecture (even though her strict father thought it a useless subject), manages quite well... but Jill? Not so much. The sun and heat take a real toll on the young vamp and her shyness keeps her from making many friends. It also doesn't help that she attracts the eye of a human fellow that a particularly nasty girl in school wishes were *her* boyfriend and so the mean girl faults Jill and makes her life a living hell. There's also the fact that Jill and Adrian seem weirdly close these days, but not romantically, and Syndey is not pleased when she uncovers what has gone down. Meanwhile, the school seems to have some odd goings-on (beyond the whole vampires secretly attending thing) that has to do with some metallic tattoos that give the wearer strange powers (or at least an awesome high). Sydney's inquisitive nature will not let this lie and, unsurprisingly, things seem to be all wrapped up together.

The big mysteries are fairly easy to suss out early on, but if you're anything like me, you enjoy Richelle Mead for the clear, easy reading and the enjoyable characters. Sydney is an excellent heroine in many ways and she provides an interesting perspective (particularly as a shift away from Rose and the very intense Moroi/dhampir politics). Her dislike of magic will make for interesting future issues as she interacts with the vamps (and others). There's an interesting bit where Sydney is appalled that she receives a size two uniform instead of a zero -- the weight-control issues obviously going back to her disapproving father and the body image drama that must develop from working with model-thin vampires. Thankfully, Adrian is on hand to tell Sydney that she's too skinny as it is, so perhaps we'll move away from those ludicrous size discussions. (It's rather hard to feel too sorry for Sydney when the difference is between size zero and size two.) Even though the story doesn't feature much romance yet, it's obvious that Mead has plans for Sydney to help Adrian get over his broken heart and figure out his own life. Adrian, meanwhile, is still a bit wicked, but is much tamer (for several reasons) than readers might wish, but I suppose concessions must be made if we want to make him a viable romantic lead who's trying to get his life in order. Eddie remains strong and sweet while Jill is a bit petulant, but she's been through a lot, so I'm sure she'll mature quickly. Rose makes a cameo at the beginning of the story and she'll probably continue to pop in and out, but it looks like we might get a good deal more Dimitri in the next book. I'm not particularly enthralled with the Palm Springs setting, but that can obviously change up as things move around -- the real focus will be on Syndey and her relationship with the vampire community, primarily through Adrian and Jill.

Without Rose's mental line to Lissa that kept previous books jumping between the two perspectives, Bloodlines felt like a very focused story -- in a good way. Things were simple here (protecting Jill, placing Adrian in a new setting, a solveable issue at the school), but the scope will undoubtedly widen as we go on and Jill plays a bigger role at Court. I'm betting we can count on the Moroi/dhampir issues to continue and since Sydney is our focus, the alchemist system to come in to question. I'm curious to see where Mead will take us, as it's just not possible that she'll allow things to stay simple forever, and I'm more than content to let her go wherever she likes with this world, as long as she continues to entertain... and not veer Adrian too far away from his devilish nature towards the responsible-and-boring side of things.

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