(Note; I've only read the first three, so I'm reviewing the first three as a whole, and when I get round to reading the last three, I'll review them as a group. I'm weirdly obsessive like that).
I'll be straight here. I enjoyed Vampire Academy. I wasn't expecting to, and I have my reservations, but I did like it. Out of the storm of young adult books published in the whirlwind of post-Twilight vampire/paranormal/forbidden romance/fantasy knock-offs that hoped to cash in on the success of the franchise, Vampire Academy is the only one I ever liked.
Rose Hathaway herself is a major reason why. She's headstrong, clever, loyal, flawed, and ultimately likable. What's more, her flaws are actually addressed and she isn't treated like she's perfect. Richelle Mead, already you are head and shoulders above nearly every other young adult vampire writer in the business. Like most current heroines, she is gorgeous and has a harem of guys drooling over her, but still, it manages to avoid being annoying. (Besides, Rose is a good flirt. The funniest scenes in the books involve Rose discussing killer geese and broken hearts with Mason).
Still, it's difficult to get behind the Rose/Dimitri romance. Rose and Dimitri have chemistry. They compliment each other, they grow emotionally for each other. Dimitri himself was more likable than a typical "dark and brooding love interest"; he's intelligent, doesn't race in to play the hero in the way Rose does, and backs up what he teaches with proof that he is a powerful Strigoi hunter. But the student/teacher factor is still present, and for this reason, it is difficult to root for the pairing. And that's a shame, because I felt that I would've liked the romance otherwise. Dimitri's turning Strigoi element is unexpected, though, and I look forward to see how Rose deals with losing her first love in the later books. (And I'll admit that I would like to see some Rose/Adrian action. If only to piss the queen off).
One thing I do really like about the books is its depiction of teenage school life. Some of them smuggle alcohol in, get smashed, flirt, have parties, have sex and talk about it, and as well as that, often have their own insecurities and worries, and some of them have to see counsellors, take anti-depressants and the like. It's a refreshingly realistic representation of the teenage experience, especially coming from the YA paranormal romance genre, which has a tendency to gloss over some aspects and present a packaged, sugar-coated version of adolescence. I found Lissa's depression and self-harm storyline to be realistic, well-handled and touching. How the girls eventually dealt with it was good; Rose understanding that Lissa can't cope alone, Lissa eventually accepting that she needs help.
Otherwise, Lissa Dragomir is a wasted character. Originally, she seemed to be created as a foil and polar opposite of Rose, but so far, she's failed to grow out of her princess/damsel in distress mould and grow into a fascinating character. As Rose grows more and more complex, Lissa simply becomes insanely dull. Part of this arises from Frostbite; Lissa has recovered from her self-harm and depression, and it would be a great time to showcase what she can really do. However, she's pushed aside in this book to make way for Rose's developing relationships with both Dimitri and Mason, as well as introducing Adrian Ivashkov and Tasha Ozera. She isn't even present in the climax, and for the secondary female lead, that's disappointing. As a result, by Shadow Kiss, she's far less identifiable as a character; a reader doesn't know her as well, and now she has her depression cured and under control, she doesn't have many struggles that readers can sympathize with. (I'm guessing that the series is going to climax with some sort of dethroning of the Queen, and Lissa taking her place as the new queen. Unless she develops more of a personality later on, I can't find myself caring too much about her story-line). There are some interesting themes of classism touched upon in regard to Lissa and Rose's relationship; Rose is ordered by the bloody queen to lay off Adrian so he marry Lissa, Rose is expected to arrange her life to fit around Lissa's. Again, as Lissa is on the inside in all these situations, it's difficult to care about her, but Rose does give her a pretty heavy calling out at the end of Shadow Kiss, so I'm looking forward to how she develops in Blood Promise.
I do recommend this series. It has some touching moments, some hilarious ones, some genuinely tense places and when it comes to current vampire YA, Vampire Academy is definitely by far one of the better series. It's not perfect, it's not going to revolutionize the genre, but it's a good story.
3/5. It's a well-crafted story and has some great characters, but for every interesting character and good romance, there's something there to counteract this. Still, it's an entertaining read.