Fifteen years ago, myself and a whole legion of teenage readers were introduced to Richelle Mead’s world of moroi, dhampirs, strigoi, political intrigue, and romance in the six-book Vampire Academy series—and I never forgot just how incredible that world was. Vampire Academy was a series that captured my imagination and haunted my dreams, but even in those wildest dreams, I never could have imagined getting to screen the first eight episodes of a series that strikes right at the heart of what makes Mead’s world so compelling. Of course, it took someone like Julie Plec and her fellow Vampire Diaries alum, Marguerite MacIntyre, to create a series that has me wanting to climb onto the highest rooftop at St. Vladimir’s to shout about how incredible it is.
The Vampire Academy trades a rural Montana school complex for a stunning castle in an isolated region of Europe, and trades daylight trips to the Macy’s and Target in Missoula for the ostentatious wardrobe befitting of a secret society of vampiric nobility. I will always hold the novel series close to my heart, but eight episodes into Peacock’s new series, and I’m ready to proclaim it as one of the best book-to-series adaptations that I’ve ever seen. It takes aspects from the books that I loved and pushes those plot points to the next level, creating something that new audiences can really sink their teeth into.
With the swirl of court rivalry and the pulse of regality, there are elements of Vampire Academy that inspire far-off memories of Kindred: The Embraced, while the romantic tension, interpersonal drama, and the bonds of friendship and responsibility could easily rival fan-favorites like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Regardless of potential comparisons, Vampire Academy is easily in the running as one of the best new shows of the year. Particularly because it is so fresh and new. It may be a book adaptation, but it isn’t part of an existing on-screen IP, or a true remake of something that came before it. It’s a fresh, tantalizing take on vampires and those who protect their secrets.
Unlike the novels which place Rose Hathaway at the center of the story as its first-person narrator, Vampire Academy splits the focus, giving Rose Hathaway (Sisi Stringer) and Lissa Dragomir (Daniela Nieves) an equal chance to shine as leads as their stories converge and run parallel with each other. Stringer and Nieves perfectly embody every aspect of the characters from the novels; Stringer excels at Rose’s sharp wit and stubborn personality, while Nieves brings to life Lissa’s good-hearted nature and desire to help.
But Stringer and Nieves aren’t the only standout performances in the series; Christian Ozera (André Dae Kim), Dimitri Belikov (Kieron Moore), Mason Ashford (Andrew Liner), Mia Karp (Mia McKenna-Bruce), and Mikhail Tanner (Max Parker) are spot-on adaptations of the characters. In particular, Moore is a pitch-perfect choice for Dimitri—perfectly balancing the highwire of being a dedicated guardian and slowly falling for Rose Hathaway against the odds. And their chemistry? While the first four episodes delivers their chemistry like tantalizing hors d’oeuvres, there’s a feast to be had in later episodes. But that’s not to say that Rose couldn’t have her pick of handsome men on the grounds of St. Vladimir’s, as Mason is definitely in the running for her heart too.
There is nothing slow burn about Peacock’s Vampire Academy—it launches its audiences right into the political drama of moroi society, lays out the groundwork for the dynamics between moroi and dhampirs, and establishes the painstaking training dhampirs go through to become Guardians. Much in the same way that Mead laid everything out in her first novel, the four episodes premiering tomorrow dive head-first into the dangers of the strigoi lurking beyond the gates of the dominion, the purpose of the communes—with clear parallels to the Handmaid’s Tale-esque dynamic between female dhampirs in the communes and the moroi who breed with them—and the blood whores that the moroi seek comfort from. The “young adult” guardrails are completely ripped away for the television series, giving them full reign to explore their TV-MA rating. But even then, it definitely doesn’t reach something like True Blood territory—it’s just more mature and a little more developed than some of Plec’s previous vampiric exploration.
Rose might be an acquired taste for new Vampire Academy fans—she’s a prickly little contrarian, just like she is in the novels, but her friendship and bond with Lissa help to soften her sharp edges. The first four episodes establish that Rose has two romantic avenues in the series: Mason, her long-suffering friends-with-benefits situation, and Dimitri, the hunky brooding Guardian who would absolutely be a forbidden love affair. The Guardians might be aggressively competitive by nature, but there’s nothing frustrating about this blossoming love triangle. It’s that latter romantic potential that will undoubtedly launch countless fanfics, fanvids, and gif sets —and that’s exactly what that pairing deserves.
Speaking of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Vampire Academy reunites J. August Richards with the vampire genre as Victor Dashkov, Lissa’s dapper godfather and a figure of sound reasoning on council. Victor has a heart of gold, and he is not only devoted to guiding Lissa’s future, but also to shepherding his own daughters’ futures. In a slight deviation from the books, Mia and Sonya Karp (Jonetta Kaiser) are the daughters that he shares with his husband. Early on, Lissa is thrust into the duplicitous politics of the council, forcing her to reassess her future and, in the process, finding her footing within a society she was never willing to be fully part of. But as the pressure of responsibility starts to crush her, she is offered a place to escape from it all in the ostracized Christian, who understands her unique brand of tragedy on a level that even Rose can’t quite comprehend—though the unique bond between Rose and Lissa gives Rose a front row seat to Lissa and Christian’s slow-burning romance.
By design, Vampire Academy requires a significant info dump to catch its audiences up to speed with the off-beat world of moroi, dhampirs, and strigoi, but the scripts never leave viewers feeling foolish for not knowing everything. The details are carefully strung throughout the four episodes, doling out just enough info without ever overwhelming. The premiere sets you up with the most vital information, lays out the dynamics that will extend throughout the series, and prepares you for what’s to come for Rose and Lissa as their story begins to unravel.
With four episodes already streaming on Peacock tomorrow, let’s look ahead at where Vampire Academy is headed in the next four episodes. The first episode lays out the mystery of what happened to Lissa’s family and as the story progresses, that mystery begins to unravel with a number of suspects coming to the forefront. But some of them may be red herrings for the real mastermind behind the accident. While the truth hasn’t been fully uncovered, it seems Plec intends to deviate from the “villain” of the book series—and for the betterment of the story. There is also no shortage of romance, kisses, and marriages of convenience on the horizon, though some beloved relationships may be met with unexpected twists and deaths that might blindside fans of the book series. Book fans will also have to contend with a fan-favorite character that arrives in Episode 6 that isn’t quite like the character we knew in the novels.