The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting where humanity has been ravaged by a virus, called the “Red Lung Virus”. Humans are now ruled and oppressed by Vampires, and, if Registered, humans are given food and protection at the cost of giving their blood for their Vampire masters. Refusing to be ‘human cattle’, Allison “Allie” Sekemoto has vowed to be Unregistered – a human not recorded in the system – and has chosen a life where she must do whatever she can – except relinquish her autonomy to the Vampires – to survive.
Despite the spoiler-free summary above, there are many developments in the book, plot-wise and character-wise, so the above may not do it justice. To my surprise, I quite enjoyed The Immortal Rules, and I’d go as far to say that I liked it – or at least, liked it enough to continue with the series. (Also, thank you to Suzie for lending me her books and recommending me this series!)
The Immortal Rules has a slow and shaky start. The characters felt flat and stereotypical, and above all, Allison was boring and uninteresting. Her characterization felt bland – your typical tough-survival girl – and whilst that sort of characterization is expected, given the character’s backstory, her thoughts and dialogue were predictable. However, as the story develops so does Allison’s character (which is refreshing, considering how bland Aria was in the Under the Never Sky series); however, I won’t delve into her character development, since that’s something that is best left for readers to enjoy firsthand.
Before my analysis, I just want to say this: Allison is ethnically Japanese, which is great; I love seeing non-White protagonists for a change. The cover, though, does not depict a Japanese woman, and that’s some bullshit there.
– Minor spoilers to follow –
In any case, what interested me in The Immortal Rules was the exploration of identity. The idea that a character must reconcile their identity, and grapple with the emotional, physical and psychological burdens of becoming something different or non-human is a theme of particular interest to me, particularly in paranormal stories. It’s fantastic that Kagawa explores this through Allison’s character, and her constant attempts to negotiate between blood-lust and yielding to her vampiric nature, and retaining one’s ‘humanity’ (I’ll elaborate on the quotation marks later). More importantly, for Allison, this struggle and battle between herself is waged internally and is an emotional process for her, especially when she is tempted by things that challenge her nature and carnal tendencies.
The only issue I have with this otherwise interesting theme is that, because this conflict is constantly framed by the definition of what is human or what is not human, this raises the question of ‘what does human mean?’ And I know this is a concept that is taken upon by intuition – human means having compassion, it means having emotion, having thoughts, having restraint, being selfless, etc. – it feels a little underdeveloped when the very nature the character is fighting against is juxtaposed with humanity, which seems to presuppose that all humans should, ideally, have these characteristics. Compare that with Allison’s life as a human where her mantra is ‘do anything to survive’, where she recognizes the importance of self-interest and disregard of others if necessary, is the opposite from the ‘humanity ideal’ that Allison propagates (and rather actively?) as a human… so where did her notion of humanity derive from?
Although I was glad that Kagawa incorporated these ideas and themes into her novel, I felt like maintaining these ideals as separate entities limited the potential for this novel. Although Allie comes to the realization that she is not defined by her nature, and that she can ultimately choose her path – choice, here, is what ultimately makes us – I feel like this revelation is still rooted to simplistic, black and white categories of human and vampire, especially since we see both sides to each coin in the novel – humans who are good, humans who are bad, vampires who surrender their compassion to their nature and vampires that try to show restraint. Even for Allison to blur that very line, it fails to underpin the complexity of all beings – human or vampire – and it doesn’t dismantle the very categories that Allison is trying to challenge. But, maybe this will be explored in the following books; I’ll reserve further criticism on this matter until then.
Character dynamics are not this novel’s strong suit, but there were some moments that I really enjoyed. One particular example is when Zeke is confronted with the fact that Allie is a liability in the group (supposedly, anyway); this was a particular scene that was so incredibly compelling and intriguing, and Kagawa wrote that moment well enough that I could feel the intensity and the emotional struggle. And I enjoyed this, particularly with this novel’s themes of identity, and doing what is ‘right’.
On the topic of Zeke, his character caught me off-guard when he started talking about his ideals and desperate attempts to uphold his values despite the nature of the world and necessities of survival. At first, I took him for some stereotypical nice boy who is enthralled with the main protagonist for no apparent reason other than to stir some romance-y subplot, but when Allison challenges Zeke’s outwardly kind demeanour, the reader discovers that he’s quite an idealistic guy who is trying to do right by everyone and only wants to protect everyone, which is an ideal that is incongruent with Allie’s philosophy. (Also, on the topic of Zeke, what is it with young adult novel male love interests and blonde hair?)
Something I found incredibly disappointed was the treatment of Ruth’s characterization. I empathize with Ruth and her hesitation to accept Allison into the group, but until the end of the book, she was nothing more than someone who constantly vied for Zeke’s attention and affection. I wished that Kagawa developed her character to be more than this bitchy-female stereotype or someone who is constantly antagonized to juxtapose Allison’s characterization and importance in the novel. More so, especially since the novel lacks (important) female characters, to have the secondary female character painted as a superficial, attention-seeking woman with no deeper internal motivations was deeply disappointing, especially since that is all we see of Ruth. What is Ruth’s story? Why is she so cynical and manipulative, and why is she so infatuated with Zeke? Kagawa doesn’t give us enough to guess (in fact, she doesn’t give us anything), and all that’s left of Ruth is an empty, superficial husk that readers are supposed to dislike, whose sole purpose in the novel is make Allison look like the rational, grounded female.
All in all, whilst The Immortal Rules has its flaws and is problematic in some areas, it’s an enjoyable novel with themes developed enough (though, the critical part of me says not enough) to pique your interest. There are some questions that are explored in the novel (though it doesn’t have the elegance and sophistication that Frankenstein has), and the way these conflicts are resolved have a reasonably sensible and satisfying conclusion. I will definitely be giving The Eternity Cure a go sometime soon, and I won’t lie: I’m pretty interested to see where this series goes!
Book Name: The Immortal Rules
Book Series: Blood of Eden #1
Author: Julie Kagawa
Publisher: Mira Ink