The Immortal Rules, by Julie Kagawa (Harlequin Teen, 2012, YA) is a story set in a nightmarish future. The countryside is teeming with humans who have been infected with a horrible virus that turns them into savage zombie things, known as "rabids." The cities are, for the most part, enclaves of powerful vampires who keep humans as blood cattle. And the few humans who fall into neither of those two categories eek out desperate lives trying not to be killed or infected by the "rabids," and not having their blood drained on a regular (and sometimes fatal) basis by vampires.
17 year old Allison Sekemoto has managed to avoid both fates, scrapping together a hand to mouth existence in the fringe area of a vampire city, hating the bloodsuckers, and allowing herself to dream of a human renaissance. But all that changes when she's savagely attacked by rabids, and given a choice by the vampire who finds her. Either she can die, or she can be turned into a vampire herself.
She chooses the later. Now Allison must negotiate not only the logistics of life as a nocturnal, inhuman bloodsucker, but she must struggle not to turn into one of the monsters she has always despised. Chance leads her outside the city, where she meets a quixotic band of human travellers, searching for a fabled haven of humanity. But can she travel with them, without being driven by desperate hunger to prey on them? Can she keep from falling in love with the charismatic Zeke, when she knows that if he finds out who she truly is, he will hate her? And will she be able to keep him and his companions alive in a world of monsters?
I do not think I have reviewed a vampire romance YA novel before today. Heck, I think I have only read about two and a half in my whole life. So I approached The Immortal Rules somewhat uncertainly, and indeed, for a time I was awfully worried that it would turn into a romance between Allie and the aloofly brooding vampire (clearly with lots of Darkness in his Past) who turned her, and she would be super powerful and make everything ok. I was pleasantly surprised--the story was a heck of a lot more nuanced and tangled than I had expected!
For one thing, the practicalities of daily living, both as a human scavenger and as a vampire, are given lots of page time. And I, for what ever reason, like being excited along with the characters when tinned foods are discovered! I like reading about people's coping methods when trying to survive in disastrous situations.
For another thing, Allie's story is one of struggle--she does not want to be a monster, yet if she does not drink human blood, she'll become a ravaging death bringer. It's a paradox that haunts her, as she tries to make her undead vampire self a person she can live with. I sympathized with her regarding her feelings for Zeke--although nothing is hopeless, this romance is certainly not one where a happy outcome is guaranteed, and so it is more interesting than one that seems pre-destined.
And for a third, the journey that Allie embarks on gives a geographical spaciousness to the story, that lets this horrible new world emerge in rich detail.
In short, I found it an engrossing read, one that nicely blends the paranormal and the dystopian (though I did skim some of the violent fighty bits--vampire Allie has mad fighting skillz, which certainly come in useful, but which I didn't find quite as interesting to read about (and this probably is over sharing--sigh) as the smaller excitements of canned goods. Or the more substantial, but similar, appropriation of a working motorcycle.)
I am most certainly intrigued enough to be looking forward to the next book in the series! This one stops at a good stopping place, but there is certainly lots more to Allie's story that needs to be told.
However, the cover is yet another sad example of white-washing (portraying a non-white character as Caucasian). Allie is clearly of Asian extent (you can find the exact quotes that demonstrate this in Leila Roy's blog post at Kirkus, and Sekemoto seems, from cursory web searching, to be a variant of a not uncommon Japanese name, Sekimoto). You would not know this from the girl on the cover. Despite the cover, this counts as a multicultural fantasy, and I'm adding it to my list, hoping that the paperback will show Allie as the Asian girl she is.
note on reader age: This is most definitely Young Adult; not one I'd give to a middle school student. There's quite a bit of bad language, and lots of scary violence. No sex, though there is threatened rape.
GIVEAWAY! Thanks to the publisher, I have a hardcover of The Immortal Rules to give away--just leave a comment by midnight on Wednesday, May 2nd, with some way to contact you. (US and Canada only)