Review: The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa (@jkagawa @HarlequinTeen)

When I picked up The Immortal Rules, I thought I knew what I was getting into. I haven’t read Julie Kagawa’s highly praised Iron Fey series (YET), but I gathered from the reviews that Ms. Kagawa is a great writer with engaging characters. I also knew that The Immortal Rules was a vampire dystopian, so I was prepared for kind of a Hunger-Games-meets-Twilight book.

Um, no.

I probably should have gathered from the creepy cover (that I still don’t like, even though I now understand it) that this book was going to be darker than that. It makes The Hunger Games look positively mild, and the Twilight vampires would be reduced to trembling granite-hard puddles of sparkly fear in the face of the beasties in The Immortal Rules.

A better mashup comparison would probably be Interview-With-a-Vampire-meets-I-am-Legend. It’s the internal struggle between man (or in this case, woman) and monster, set in a world where plague has decimated humanity and horrifying creatures like this (but scarier) roam the planet.

The Plot

In a future world where plague has wiped out most of the human population, vampires rule supreme. Allison Sekemoto lives on the fringes of a vampire city, struggling to survive from  day to day with no parents or food.

One day, desperate from hunger, Allison ventures outside the walls of the vampire city in search of food. Venturing outside the walls is dangerous and possibly deadly, as the open area surrounding the city is haunted by rabids — once-human creatures turned insane and bloodthirsty by the plague. If the rabids notice her, they will tear her to pieces.

But Allison’s risk pays off when she discovers a huge cache of untouched food. She hurriedly brings the rest of her small gang back to scavenge it, when it all goes horribly wrong.

They are attacked by rabids. Allison herself is mercilessly ravaged, to the point of death, when suddenly a mysterious figure appears. A vampire. He offers her a choice: Die a human. Or rise a vampire.

Allison chooses a new existence as a vampire. And then she is forced to deal with the consequences of that decision.

Her situation is further complicated when she is driven from the city to wander the wilderness alone. She meets up with a small group of humans searching for something impossible — a city without vampires. As she hides her true nature from them, she struggles between her desire to retain her humanity and the Hunger that threatens to consume her, always conscious of the fact that if she denies herself human blood for too long, she will go mad.

My Thoughts 

First off, this book is dark, people. D-A-R-K. There is a lot of death. A lot of violence. And the feel of the world that Ms. Kagawa has created is bleak and hopeless and terrifying. I would not recommend this one for the faint of heart.

That said, I actually loved this book. I know it seems kind of weird that I’d love something I just described as “hopeless and terrifying,” especially since I’m not normally one to go for that sort of thing. But the writing is vivid and engaging, and had me sucked in from the first page.

The world is extremely well planned and developed. I understood the intricacies of the vampire mythology, and how the world came to be this way. I really felt like I was there in the dirty city, and then out in the open wilderness with Allison.

Allison is a bit of an anti-hero, in that she spends the majority of the book struggling to avoid killing everyone around her. Her internal struggle between the kind of person she wants to be and the monster she realizes she is, is fascinating and heartbreaking.

There are moments of bittersweet tenderness followed directly by heart-pounding (or…not…in Allison’s case) action. There is a love story (not a triangle, thankfully) that is sweet and impossible and heartbreaking. There are characters that you want to hate that you kind of like, and characters that you want to like that you kind of hate.

It’s a nuanced and fascinating book, creating a frighteningly believable world where darkness rules, and clinging to even a small glimmer of hope and happiness seems naive. It makes most other YA dystopians seem downright utopian.

And yet, even though Allison is a monster, she fights to be human. Even though the humans are searching for the impossible, they continue to search. And even though hope seems foolish, we do it anyway.

The Immortal Rules is the first book in a new series, and I will be very interested to see what happens next in Allison’s journey.

Content guide: contains extreme violence, deaths, some strong language, suspense, and an overall sense of foreboding and hopelessness.

I received The Immortal Rules as a digital review copy from NetGalley.