The character of Sydney Sage first appeared in the fourth Vampire Academy book, Blood Promise, introducing the alchemists, humans who hide vampire activity from the world. Despite an ingrained hatred of vampires, dhampir, moroi and strigoi alike, Sydney helps Rose, and comes to have a grudging respect for her. While Rose is much beloved by the fandom, Sydney has a special place in a lot of hearts: she is intelligent, complex, and is terrifyingly competent. It is remarked upon frequently that she can do anything, and she pretty much can. Syndey gets her own series, Bloodlines, six books which follow many of the characters from the Vampire Academy series.
Sydney goes through incredible growth in Bloodlines, but the end of the series completely destroys all of the progress she’s made, and relegates her to domesticity. Sydney begins the series disliking vampires, and distrusting them, forced to work with Adrian Ivashkov to protect Jill Dragomir, a moroi princess. Over the course of the series, Sydney overcomes her distrust of vampires, becomes adept at magic, and falls in love with Adrian. She makes friends, develops new skills, and discovers that the alchemists are not always the good guys. She makes tough decisions, overcomes seemingly impossible odds, and defeats those who seek to control her. All of that, to end up living in the middle of nowhere with Adrian, and to become a mother by adoption at twenty.
Sydney spends a lot of her life sacrificing for others- she becomes the alchemist in her family to protect her older sister, who was a victim of abuse. Sydney deals with an eating disorder brought on my control issues, which stem from her upbringing. She realizes that the alchemists are essentially a cult- a cult built on brainwashing, xenophobia, and fundamentalist Christianity. Sydney breaks free, and tries to get her sister out. This is no small thing- Sydney has built her entire life around a belief system, and has to break free of it almost completely without help. It is through the love of her friends, people she was told to distrust, that she detaches herself from the alchemists and makes her own choices.
Adrian and Sydney are a couple fans love, and for good reason. They started out with completely different world-views, and basically hating each other. Over time, they develop a mutual trust, an attraction, and then they fall in love. They each bring out the best in the other- Sydney helps Adrian with his self-destructive behavior, Adrian sees the best in Sydney and is proud of her at every turn. Both help each other to stop repeating patterns of behavior that harm them. Their love helps them grow, and it is a complex, nuanced relationship, which is tested both by its forbidden nature, and their differing backgrounds.
Sydney and Adrian go through hell to be together, before they marry to protect Sydney from the alchemists. This might have been earned by the trajectory of the previous books- since they have been separated by the alchemists, they need a way to never be torn apart again. I can buy them getting married, despite it not really being completely in character for Sydney to make an impulse decision like that. It makes some kind of sense for them to marry, considering how high the stakes are at this point, but it still feels a little wrong. It doesn’t ruin Sydney’s character arc, though. She’s still herself, even if she marries Adrian, she has the potential to follow her dreams and live the life she wants. At the end of Silver Shadows, one has a reasonable expectation that they will find a way out of their predicament, defeat the bad guys, and live happily ever after.
And then The Ruby Circle happened.
To make a long story short, Olive, a dhampir restored from being strigoi gives birth to a baby, one she claims is fathered by another dhampir. This should be an impossibility, but she thinks it’s because of the spirit used to restore her to life. She dies in labor, after being attacked by a strigoi, and tells Adrian and Sydney to bring the baby (whom she names Declan) to his father. His father rejects him, and later runs away, telling Sydney and Adrian to look after him. And then . . . they just do? They adopt Declan, pass him off as their child, and move to Maine, where Adrian teaches kindergarten and Sydney goes to college.
There are a couple of reasons this makes no sense. Firstly, the reason Declan “needed” to be hidden is because he’s the child of two dhampirs, and his mother didn’t want him used for experiments by the moroi or the alchemists. This is an easy fix, one of two ways: either tell Lissa, the queen of the freaking vampires about it, and have her sort it out, or just lie about who his father is. Declan has a living aunt, Nina, his mother’s sister, who loved Olive so much that she nearly sacrificed her life to restore her sister’s. It makes zero sense to have Adrian and Sydney adopt him just to conceal his identity and abide by the wishes of a teenager who ran away from fatherhood. Sydney is way too smart not to realize these options.
Secondly, there is no way anyone would feasibly believe that Declan was Sydney and Adrian’s child. They have been in the public eye of the vampire court the entirety of when Sydney would have had to be pregnant with him, when she clearly wasn’t. Did they just hide him for a year, and then trot him out, hoping no one noticed that she was never pregnant?
Thirdly, even if Sydney and Adrian had to make a choice about taking him in or letting Nina have Declan, they would have let him be with his aunt. No matter how much they might have bonded with him, or felt bad about not saving his mother, they are young, dependent on others, and unready to be parents.
There are a few other reasons that this ending is unsatisfactory, and unworthy of the Sydney Sage fans love. After uncovering corruption in the ranks of the alchemists, Sydney merely bargains with them for the names of corrupted alchemists, in exchange for her freedom. She also has some words with her father, but just to get her younger sister the freedom to see their mother. Sydney knows that the entire alchemist organization is a corrupt, zealous cult, with dangerous, inhumane practices, and she just . . . walks away? She has been the victim of reeducation, brainwashing, and torture, and she just negotiates what amounts to amnesty for herself, and shared custody for her sister. The Sydney Sage fans love would have (and should have) torn the alchemist organization asunder. Allowing a corrupt institution like that to continue to exist would not be acceptable to her- Sydney is a pragmatist, but she’s also uncompromising in her morals. Whether Sydney would have destroyed the alchemists, or reshaped them, she wouldn’t have let them continue to do their work and just move away.
Another source of rage is what Sydney and Adrian do with their fresh start- move to Maine and live a low-key life. Sydney deserved to go to an Ivy League school, or run the UN, or do something equally extraordinary. She could have done those things, even with a husband and a young child, if she wanted. It doesn’t make any sense for them to settle in the middle of nowhere. Adrian becomes a kindergarten teacher, which is equally out of character. Sure, he loves art, and has a childlike sense of wonder, but Adrian can’t get up that early in the morning, nor does he have the qualifications to teach kindergarten. It would make more sense for him to go to art school, or become a reclusive artist who supports his high-achieving wife by providing childcare. This ending isn’t disappointing because they left the vampire world behind, Adrian didn’t have much to keep him there. It’s disappointing because they both wanted something else, and deserved better. They both grew so much, and learned so much from each other, and ended up in a completely illogical place. It is especially tragic for Sydney, who worked so hard, and achieved so much, only to live in relative obscurity in the human world, where she would never be able to be her true self. While Adrian certainly deserved better, the triumph of the series is Sydney, a young woman who went from being controlled to controlling her destiny, from being strong-armed to making her own choices, and from an isolated existence to a life full of love. She deserved to have a real ending, one worthy of her journey.