Sydney has an endless list of tasks to juggle; her friends, the Moroi, her relationship with Adrian, her continued mastery of magic as well as helping Marcus and his friends escape from Alchemist control. All of this while trying to keep it all secret from the Alchemists and trying to pretend she still tows their narrow, bigoted party line – made all the more difficult by her sister turning up. And her parent’s divorce – and the custody battle over Zoe where everyone expects Sydney to support her father.
Adrian has his own battles – he’s trying to get his life together and trying to help the Moroi with their spirit investigations – but the toll spirit is taking on him grows and can no longer be ignored. The pressure is risking his relationship with Sydney and he has hard choices to make on what to give up.
Sydney is an excellent fully rounded character. She is fiercely intelligent, incredible, legendarily capable, skilled, dedicated and hard working. She also has her magic making her more than a little dangerous. More than all that she is that rarest of things – sensible. She doesn’t make foolish decisions, she doesn’t drop out of character, she doesn’t let her emotions lead her into foolish choices or silly situations. Her realness as a character also reflects in the realness of her relationships – you can see why Adrian cares for her; not just because she is beautiful but because she is kind and caring and efficient with both and truly trying to do her best in every situation. It’s why she has such strong, loyal friends.
She’s grown so much over the passage of the books, opening her mind, discarding her prejudices and her fears – it has been a very natural, organic growth as her assumptions have been carefully demolished one by one. This continues in this book with an almost complete break from the Alchemists in her mind: she’s not on their side, she’s on her own side, doing what is right. This conflict is wonderfully displayed by it being played out through her sister Zoe and Sidney’s desperate attempt
And part of the basis of all these conflicts is her greatest flaw – she’s a control freak who fixes things. Yes, she genuinely cares – and in her caring she steps in, takes command and fixes things. It’s what she does. She sees a problem and she solves it – even if, perhaps, she could step aside (such as trying to free people from the Alchemists, or Trey and Angeline’s issues) or even if there isn’t anything she can fix.
Which in turn leads to the biggest problem she cannot fix: Adrian. We have a wonderful exploration of Adrian this book, his thought processes and what drives him. In particular we see the impact spirit has had on him – repeatedly we have been told in this book and in the Vampire Academy series that spirit causes mental instability. Adrian’s illness is presented extremely well and with great accuracy –it doesn’t require him performing over the top, stereotypically “crazy” actions to get the point across; we have a simple, stark depiction of the emotional highs and lows, the extremes of feeling that drive Adrian’s life – and work to destroy it. There’s a wonderful depiction of his conflict and fears about seeking treatment and a lot of really well presented agonising of the cost of it – and the threat that he may lose his magic to keep his sanity.