Marked improvement over Blood Promise
In Richelle Mead's fifth installment to the VAMPIRE ACADEMY series, SPIRIT BOUND takes the reader back to St. Vladimir's Academy where Rose and Lissa are preparing to set out into the real world. Dimitri, still in his Strigoi state, is stalking Rose with the intent to kill her; Rose is frantically searching for a way to use spirit to cure him; and both Lissa and Rose are graduating and moving on to court, where Rose's guardian role will be assigned and where Lissa hopes to move into her royal role as the last in her family's line.
SPIRIT BOUND was a marked improvement over the past two books, and I was excited for that. Mead's writing style remains easily readable, and pacing was better, with the resolution of Dimitri's Strigoi state (one way or another - no spoilers) resolved within the first half of the book. Lissa's character grows in many ways, including her role in court, her personal strength, and her willingness to take risks for others. Adrian and Christian also develop as characters, with each getting more attention in this book; their wry and humorous dialogue adds much to the story.
Even with these strengths, the book fell short in other ways. The plot is unsurprising with resolutions to many points that you can see far in advance, and other events are so implausible that it takes away from the credibility of the story arc. The book ends with another cliffhanger, with a set up that comes out of nowhere and makes the book feel unfinished. Even though pacing picks up soon into the book, the first 100 pages are slow, with lots of backstory and reiteration from previous books. As for characters, Rose's development seemed stunted throughout. She shows no compunction about putting her friends and fellow guardians in mortal and professional danger for her own ends, and she acts out multiple times like a petulant child. While her actions annoyed and frustrated me, I couldn't decide whether it was 1) good characterization to show her traits as they are or 2) bad characterization because she doesn't grow or change. Also, while it was nice to see Adrian play a significant role, he becomes little more than a simpering fool for Rose, despite her recurring misuse of his feelings.
Overall, the Vampire Academy series continues to be leaps and bounds ahead of other YA paranormal series, but it still could see some improvement with more consistent pacing, fewer predictable plot points, and more character development for Rose. I hope that the final book in the series, LAST SACRIFICE, brings the resolution everyone been looking for, along with some significant growth for Rose.