Sydney Sage is an Alchemist – she has a duty to protect humanity from the vampires (the Moroi and the Strigoi and their half vampire children, the dhampires) and hide the vampires from humanity. The Alchemists move around the world, covering up, hiding bodies, bribing witnesses and keeping everything silent – all the while fearing and loathing the vampires they hide. Dealing with them as little as possible, always recognising them as alien and unnatural and wrong and reviling any time they have to spend in their presence.
Except Sydney got to close to a dhampire – and now she's under suspicion. She now has a new job – to hide Jill, a Moroi princess, from assassins all the while being under the suspicious eyes of her fellow Alchemists who hold a grudge – and are looking for a reason to ship her to “re-education camps”. And if she fails – her sister will be drafted in in her place.
Going into hiding in a boarding school is further complicated by a streak of strange murders in the area – and by odd tattoos, so similar to the Alchemists own secrets, that are extremely popular among the student body.
This book is a continuation of the Vampire Academy series, following some of the side-characters who are now protagonists – it helps to have read that series first, but it's not essential.
It was a stretch to write the summary above, because I could just have easily said “They go to boarding school”. And for a good 80% of the book that's what they do. They go to classes. They make friends. Jill has problems in PE because it's sunny and is on the Mean Girl's (isn't there always a Mean Girl?) hitlist. Sydney does well in school because she had a superlative homeschool education. And she does extra-curricular activities – and occasionally they go to the Moroi house and hang out with Adrian who does various ridiculous things. Oh and they go to miniature golf and... ugh, gods above it's boring. And you get Sydney over thinking and fretting constantly through it all in a very long winded fashion.
It's almost dishonest to mention the murders or political intrigue or the magical tattoos in the summary because it implies they have even the slightest impact in the book. They're side notes, footnotes, distractions, they make little real impact on the story which is one excruciatingly boring diary of school life. It actually makes Vampire Academy seem remotely interesting. Honestly it gets to about 85% before any plot actually happens and then it feels tacked on because all of these issues that are supposed to be driving the book – the murders, the illicit tattoos – have been such footnotes in their lives that it almost feels like a different story clinging on to the end of the book.
I can't really comment on the characters because I'm so bored by the whole thing that I don't care about them. I don't care what they're doing, I don't care what's important to them, I don't care about their lives or motivations or petty little conflicts. I don't care if a bomb dropped tomorrow wiped them all out. There's characterisation there and the characters are actually quite real and realistic – but they're so boring, so very dreadfully boring, that I just can't engage with them
Social justice-wise – it's pretty much as erased as all of Richelle Mead's books are. Everyone is straight, cis and white (and boring). We don't have all the slut shaming and nasty sexist fighting that we had in Vampire Academy at least, though Mean Girl is an unpleasant stereotype we could do without (the story could do without her too).
In the end I dislike this book simply because it has no plot at all. It's not badly paced – to call it badly paced would be to imply there's a plot there that is just advancing too slowly. There isn't a plot, there's nothing there. Page after page and nothing happens, nothing is advanced, there's no story or action or anything that even remotely held my interest. I risk hyperbole due to the crap I have endured before but I think I can say – This is the most BORING book I've ever read. Not the worst book, but the dullest.