Sheer, utter brilliance - Richelle Mead's books always blow me away, and The Golden Lily is no exception. From the very first page the story grips the reader, and before you know it, you've read the whole thing and hunger for more. Mead's masterful writing means that this sequel is not marred by the 'bridging' nature of many sequels, in fact, if anything this is a stronger novel than its predecessor, Bloodlines.I didn't warm up to Sydney when I read Bloodlines and I am sad to say that even though I tolerate her now, I am still far from liking her. I think most of my feelings come from having loved Rose, Lissa and Dimitri so much in the original series: it's very difficult for me to read from the perspective of someone who regards them as unnatural and entertains irrational, hypocritical ideas about them. I very much understand that as an Alchemist, Sydney has been conditioned to think in a certain way and it is difficult for her to break the mould, but it's very painful for me to read none-the-less.I also find Sydney to be extremely incongruous. She has all these ideas about how people should act but herself has severe body image issues stemming from a lifetime of comparing herself to another species. I find her aversion to 'junk food' perplexing because of her obvious addiction to caffeine. Sydney can explain that away but doesn't understand Adrian's need to self medicate for the effects if Spirit? She also imbibes Diet Coke at an alarming rate, especially with her weird ideas about health food, because Coke, even the Diet kind, is so much worse for a person than the fruit drunk Sydney passes up.I love that The Golden Lily explores relationships in a myriad of ways - through Sydney's bumbling relationship with Brayden, Jill and Micah's continuing friendship and even an external look at Rose and Dimitri. I liked that Sydney found someone who meshed with her so completely. In this book Jill shows a lot of maturity with how she handles her growing social circle and all the hormones that are flying around, and I hope there's a happy ending there! Angelina is also a surprise - I had expected not to like her as much as I did, she certainly adds a bit of colour to the group! But my personal favourite of the crew has to be Eddie - I loved getting to know him better and having him open up to Sydney a bit more.No review would be complete without mentioning Adrian, who steps up and matures brilliantly in this book. He is still a near constant source of headaches for Sydney, but it's so endearing that I ended up loving him all the more. One of the things I really like about Adrian is the lack of severe brooding that marks Dimitri (although I still love Dimitri more!).There is a lot going on in this book, and Richelle Mead handles it all very well. Small clues that were dropped in Bloodlines are now fully explored and reveal a dark secret that changes everything we believe about the vampire world. I like how this revelation makes Sydney question whether humans may be more dangerous than vampires. Although the Alchemists as a whole still strike me as despicable, it is nice to see them working alongside the Moroi and dhampir to counter this threat. There are also some interesting clues which will have me theorising about where the series will go until the release of the next book in February!As you can probably tell, I really enjoyed The Golden Lily. It's a great book filled with action and romance and a little blood. I can't wait for the next instalment of what is shaping up to be an incredible series, and strongly recommend that you read it! It is not necessary to read the Vampire Academy novels before reading this series, but I believe a reader would benefit from reading Bloodlines before The Golden Lily.You can read more of my reviews at Speculating on SpecFic.