The Immortal Rules, by Julie Kagawa: In a future world, vampires reign. Humans are blood cattle. And one girl will search for the key to save humanity.
Allison Sekemoto survives in the Fringe, the outermost circle of a vampire city. By day, she and her crew scavenge for food. By night, any one of them could be eaten.
Until the night Allie herself is attacked--and given the ultimate choice. Die...or become one of the monsters. Faced with her own mortality, Allie becomes what she despises most. To survive, she must learn the rules of being immortal, including the most important: go long enough without human blood, and you will go mad.
Then Allie is forced to flee into the unknown, outside her city walls. And Allie soon must decide what--and who--is worth dying for. (Slightly edited synopsis from Goodreads)
This book is actually built on a similar concept to another book I’ve just read – Vampire Hunter D. It is dystopia combined with vampires, a future in which the human race has been severely depleted and vampires have taken over. In Vampire Hunter D it was nuclear war; in this it’s a virus that’s wiped out most of the Earth’s population. Whereas in Vampire Hunter D, enough time has passed that humans have fought back, in this the vamps are very much in control, though there are suggestions of human resistance. The vampires pen the remaining humans into strictly policed cities where they are treated like farm animals – kept alive to donate blood at regular intervals, as we keep animals to give us milk and eggs.
It’s a fantastic idea for a setting, made even more interesting by the addition of one more element – zombies! ...well kinda. The wastelands outside the cities are teeming with mindless, ferocious bloodsuckers, a sort of vampire-zombie, infected with a virus that has become mixed with vampire blood/DNA and mutated out of control. Sounds confusing, but makes complete sense in the story. These are known as rabids, and it’s only some really big walls and vigilant guards that keep them from tearing apart the vampire-controlled cities.
So: vampires, zombies, dystopia, virus. Basically all the really big trends of recent years rolled into one. It was either going to be amazing or really awful. Thankfully Julie Kagawa pulls it off, creating an interesting and exciting world, and a few really great characters. The main character is Allison Sekemoto, a girl who won’t take nonsense from people, and who can look after herself. She’s a wonderful protagonist for this story, and one that the reader can really root for. The author also states quite clearly at several points that Allison is of Asian descent, which means that front cover is pretty awful. And besides the obvious whitewashing, why would you pass up the opportunity to put a kick-ass girl with a sword on the cover anyway, in order to put a crying girl there instead? It misrepresents the awesome story Julie Kagawa has written.
And speaking of the story, it’s fantastic and... odd. It shifts from one thing to another, then to another, unexpectedly so, and I would never have guessed what the main bulk of the book would be about from the first chapters. I really liked this; it kept me guessing, and on the whole it never seemed to do the obvious thing. Characters died very early on who I had pegged as love interests. Others disappeared out of the story. The main character is struggling to survive, then suddenly she’s a vampire and thrown into a whole new world, then she’s forced into a completely new situation again. It’s fast paced, exciting, page-turning stuff. Julie Kagawa also doesn’t hold off on the gore and the frights, which really worked well with the setting.
I also enjoyed bits that felt like nods to pop culture – vampires, zombies and dystopias are so entrenched in popular fiction now that it’s hard to come up with anything truly unique. So why not acknowledge your influences and have fun with them? I felt like this is what Julie Kagawa was doing: bits with the zombie-vamps that felt like scenes from video-games, biker gangs on the highway, a flooded city, a burning theatre, the samurai sword, some nods to anime? Everything felt at once familiar and new, which is hard to pull off. I loved this. And that’s why I mentioned Vampire Hunter D at the beginning of my review; I can’t help wondering if it was an influence?
Unfortunately, there was a small section in the middle that I thought was shakier, and was a little bit of a slog to get through it. It fell into predictable patterns with a group of survivors trekking through the ravaged world, being set upon by dangers, and there was too much repeated walking and talking for me. The main character, who had been totally kick-ass up to this point, started to get into silly, catty fights with the only other girl her age in the group, and this was, yes, down to jealous rivalry over a boy. Sigh. The love interest at this point also irritated me; he was just so... Speshul Snowflake in this Cruel Cruel World, and although the main character acted like he was an angel and too good for her, his reaction to her secret was pretty predictable and intolerant. Okay, maybe that’s unfair, given the world they live in, but it didn’t endear me to him.
However, the book got back on track almost immediately after this, with the action and the danger revved up until the end. Even Mister Love Interest completely redeemed himself, and I actually really liked him by the end of the story! And wow, what an end. There were more unexpected deaths, great action in another amazing setting, cinematic fight sequences, and some genuinely sad moments. This really made up for the slightly frustrating middle. The book ends satisfyingly, but also with a great cliffhanger. I can’t wait for the next one, to find out what will happen to Allison next.