Title: The Immortal Rules
Author: Julie Kagawa
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Series: Blood of Eden #1
Other Reviews for This Author: The Iron King ; The Iron Daughter ; The Iron Queen ; The Iron Knight
Let's be honest here: if Julie Kagawa writes it and/or Harlequin Teen publishes it, I'll probably take a chance on it. The authorial voice and the imprint voice both speak highly to my tastes as a reader, and at this stage I trust both of them enough to take a chance on anything out of my comfort zone. The Immortal Rules was an announced departure for Kagawa that I was excited for, but also a bit wary about. I've seen vampires in many incarnations, but never a dystopian one (until this year, when there are several of them coming out). I also had just recently read a very disappointing dystopian YA novel, which made me even more concerned for my reaction to the story. Let's just say that my expectations were blown up with a few metric tons of authorial TNT. Julie Kagawa has managed to prove that's she's not only a great writer but a versatile one as well. The Immortal Rules is the start to a fabulous new series that promises to live up to the idea of being epic.
The world is bleak for Allison Sekemoto and the rest of the Unregistereds. They live in the slums of what is already a destroyed area. Food is scarce and can only be obtained via hunting, scavenging, or trading. The Unregistereds refuse to be a part of the vampiric governmental regime, denying the ability to become Registereds. Registereds actually get food from the government and have a better chance of making it through, but they pay a price by becoming blood slaves for the vampires. Allison decided early on that she would never give herself to the vampires. They heartlessly take from the humans well past what they should - the very reason that Allison's mother got sick and wasted away before her.
Now Allison lives in poverty with a few other Unregistered teenagers like herself. The motley crew is barely able to scrape by, with Allison being one of the toughest of the bunch. She ends up being a mother-figure to Stick, a tall and gangly boy who is fearful and needy. A boy named Lucas is tough like Allison, and a boy named Rat completes their crew - and he lives up to his name time and time again. Allison, out of all of them, is the one that can best find food stores through scavenging. She knows of a hidden exit from the Fringe area of New Covington - the area where most of the humans live, separated from the vampire-populated Inner City - that leads into the ruins outside of the city. The ruins are what's left of the previous human-dominated civilization. Ruined houses are the best places to scavenge for forgotten foodstuffs and provisions.
Allison comes on a stroke of luck and discovers a food store in a ruined house; the store most likely came from a paranoid human being long before, now a safety net for a completely different set of people. On her way out of the ruins to alert the group of the discovery, Allison comes face to face with a mysterious vampire who, for whatever reason, spares her life. She knew that going into ruins would be dangerous - rabids, which are mutated beings semi-related to vampires, populate the areas outside of the city - but did not expect to run into a being that is her sworn enemy. As Allison returns to the group and they set out to get the food, she doesn't realize that it won't be the last time she sees the vampire...or danger.
Being an avid reader of Kagawa's Iron Fey series, I found it to be a treat to read Allison's story. Allison is a departure voice for Kagawa - she has a level of vulnerability about her that is reminiscent of Kagawa's Iron Fey narrator, but she also has a lot of fierceness to her that I've never seen in Kagawa's writing before. Allison is battle-hardened. She's a character with many emotional and physical scars. She's cynical but still compassionate towards humanity, and it's a combination that really gets tested and changed as she goes through her story arc. There's so much to Allison, and her character growth is extremely skilled in its execution. It's no secret that she becomes a vampire within the novel (the back blurb kind of gives it away), but Kagawa really takes the idea of vampirism to a new level. It's very much "traditional" vampirism - sunlight being a weakness, stakes through the heart - but it has a level of depth to it. Her monsters are monstrous humans in many ways, and Allison discovers that being a vampire allows her to explore the dynamics of humanity more in some cases. She has urges that are far from human, but she also ends up with more sympathy and understanding of the human race as well. She becomes less impulsive about her thoughts towards humans and vampires alike, and it's really great to watch her shell fall away as she gets an emotional attachment towards a particular human or two...There's so much to like about a protagonist like Allison. Jaded readers will also appreciate how her emotions take a backseat to her main priorities. The romantic arc in The Immortal Rules is most certainly present, but Allison is often able to set it aside completely or push it down when she needs to focus on important matters. It's a change from the Iron Fey series that readers will find unique, and it will also allow them to see how kick-butt Allison is without a man in her life. She's kind of amazingly strong as a solo female character. It really makes the narrative stand out.
Other characters? Other characters EXIST outside the main character? (I am laughing like one of those vaguely pretentious people here). The Immortal Rules is a large book, but its cast of characters is surprisingly kept in check. For an epic dystopian-vampire story opening, Kagawa really takes the time to let the readers form attachments to each of her side characters. The first part of the story (of which there are four) primarily features Allison and her three companions, and Kagawa immediately nails them. They each have a "type" that has something deeper to it - Stick and his major psychological issues, Rat and his thievery, and Lucas and Allison's vague romance that is brought on by constantly being around each other in stressful situations. Then comes the vampirism and the introduction to Kanin, a vampire that saves Allison's life by turning her into one of his kind. Kanin is extremely nuanced. He's not necessarily a love interest as opposed to a strong mentor. He's aloof and secretive, but you can tell that there is a level of caring inside of him because of how he saves and treats Allison. Kanin eventually leaves the narrative as well, and then Kagawa primarily focuses on Allison and her interaction with a group of evangelical characters that are questing for something across the wastelands of what was once the United States. This is where we meet Zeke, the character that really brings out Allison's humanity...and her hormones. Zeke is a great character that actually does get very intense (there's this one scene with him and Allison and you just think, "Oh, crap!") and isn't a perfect hunk of man who can do no wrong. Kagawa does a great job of portraying the group as well. She infuses religion without making it into one giant anti-religion cliche, yet also shows how people turn to it as a beacon of hope that is at times misguided in its purpose and effectiveness. She makes commentary that is intelligent and character rich. You can't NOT love it.
Now, we move on to the stage where most readers will be really hesitant about this book. World building can make or break a dystopian novel for a lot of readers these days. I'm usually one that prefers a well-built atmosphere and characters (Wither; Delirium) to a novel that focuses all of its energy on world building. However, I also discovered recently that world building has become more important as a reader, especially when the novel has no stand-out qualities to it aside from the unique premise. The Immortal Rules is a novel that has a strong premise, but it's characters could have allowed it to ride on a flimsy world. Kagawa spends a lot of time in this novel developing everything, and the world is not left out. Her descriptions are detailed and atmospheric without being over-done. She doesn't describe things that don't need described, and she focuses a lot of time on the setting and the present events of the story. Her backstory is simple and thus believable. She doesn't add in extraneous details about the dystopian fall and rise that end up harming the plot's believable nature, which has happened in many dystopian novels. That, combined with the strong atmosphere and setting, makes it easy to slip into this world. Her vampiric regime is also very well done. There's something so intense about it, and it perfectly matches how the vampires are both "civilized" creatures and monsters. It's a perfect parallel to Allison's discoveries about herself through vampirism. It also makes things really dark and intense.
Where would this all be without some skillful writing? Kagawa has a knack for writing a well-paced story that manages to fit in character arcs, description, and action all at once. She writes a great action scene, folks. Katanas and machetes; quick movements and injuries. It's all there. It's crazy good. I'm normally not one for action scenes, either, so the fact that they are easy for a non-action reader to find exciting makes them all the better. Her description puts you into the heart of the novel itself. She has a way of portraying a world. New Covington is just the perfect mixture of a brightly lit Inner City area surrounded by rusted out slums that involve a lot of shady deals, rats, and scary thugs. The outside world and its ruins have the perfect air of mystery and desolation to them. There's just so much skill in how Kagawa portrays her mental images on the page - with all of the words she uses, none of them are wasted. Everything felt real and alive in my mind. It was such a treat. I've already waxed on about her characterization, so you don't need to hear more about that. Her pacing is also spot-on. There's a lot that goes on and not all of it is directly plot-related, but she manages to keep this long book feeling just right with its pacing. Heck, I plowed through it to the point where it could have been a hundred pages longer and it would have been fine. The story ends with a clear idea that there will be a sequel to help continue loose threads, but there's also a fairly strong resolution for one of the storylines - though it's not the romantic one. So, it will keep readers satisfied but also yearning for the next book in the series.
You just can't go wrong with Julie Kagawa. If you pick one new dystopian book to try this year, pick The Immortal Rules. It's epic in scope and design, reading like the novel equivalent of a Final Fantasy game (and yes, Kagawa's video game influence is used to the best of advantages in this story). Her characters are flawed and tough, and her writing and world building are high quality. I'm so eager for the next book it's ridiculous, and all I can think of is just how much I enjoyed this one. Pick it up if you are even remotely inclined to try it - I can't recommend it enough.
Cover: Two things: one on the general aesthetic, and one on the model in relation to her representation of the main character.
1. I'm kind of done with the whole "face of cover model" design these days. The tear of blood relates to the story and is symbolic, which is a plus. I do love the font for "Blood of Eden" - it's fabulous. The hardcover is also slightly gritty in texture, which is actually pretty cool. The overall design stands out to me and is intelligent.
2. The model has no defining qualities that represent her Asian or half-Asian (I regrettably cannot remember if she is half-Asian or if both of her parents were Asian). Now, initially this did not trip me up too much because I have no idea if the stereotypical traits would necessarily carry over into her appearance, and Kagawa didn't make a big fuss about the character's appearance to begin with. Regardless, I do think it's a huge mistake that there is nothing on the cover indicating that she is PoC, even if she might not necessarily have any obviously PoC facial features. Harlequin Teen was kind enough to inform me that they know they made a huge mistake on the cover and will be reworking it for the trade paperback edition of the novel. So, whitewashing? Yes. Does the publisher realize they did something majorly wrong and is fixing it? Also yes.
Rating: 5.0 Stars (If I could go higher, you better believe I would - this novel is great, and I'm not letting a huge mistake with the cover reflect my opinion on Kagawa's fabulous writing).
Copy: Received from publisher/publicist for review (Thank you, Natashya and Harlequin Teen!)