Saturday, November 13, 2010

Book Review: The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening/The Struggle

The Awakening and The Struggle (The Vampire Diaries, #1 and #2)
Author: L. J. Smith
Hardcover, 492 pages
Published 1991 by Harper Collins/Harper Teen
Reading Genre: YA Paranormal Romance

I have been an L.J. Smith fan since the first two books of her Night World series -- I'm referring to the omnibus editions -- became compulsive reading for me from the moment I started page one.  I fell in love with the Night World characters, as well as with the plots of these stories; indeed, with the whole premise behind the series.

I did enjoy this first omnibus edition of The Vampire Diaries, although not quite as much as the Night World books.

I had a very hard time relating to the protagonist, Elena Gilbert, at first. She's used to being the queen of her school, Robert E. Lee High, in the fictional town of Fell's Church, and seems to think that she's entitled to use and manipulate people, to have the unquestioned adulation of all her peers, and have any boy she wants, only to discard them later.

This type of girl usually has a coterie of loyal followers who will unquestionably do her bidding. Elena has two such friends: Bonnie and Meredith, and she does not hesitate to order them around.

Elena does start to evolve, slowly but surely, throughout both books, becoming fully aware of her egotistical behavior toward the end of the second book, The Struggle.  I did feel some sympathy for her, though, since she's an orphan, and pours her heart out in her secret diary, which turns more introspective as she begins to realize how she's been using people.

Stefan is the vampire Elena becomes obsessed with.  He's basically good, and tries very hard not to hurt humans. He hunts animals, like the Cullens do in the Twilight books. However, he does give in to his anger at one of the students, Tyler Smallwood, and very nearly ends up killing him, in spite of all his noble ideals. The guilt he feels regarding this incident renders him vulnerable to succumbing to his ever-present feelings of being a monster.

Stefan finds Elena compellingly attractive from the beginning, since she reminds him of a girl he loved and lost, back in Renaissance Italy. Once he becomes involved with her, he realizes that she's not like Katherine at all.  She has an inner, fiety strength he admires. 

Elena becomes just as obsessed with Stefan as he is with her. In fact, she dumps her current boyfriend, Matt, in order to "win" Stefan. This might seem cruel, but she has suddenly discovered that she never felt anything more than friendship for Matt.  She does do her best to "let him down easily", which provides a glimpse to her true, inner self.

Damon, Stefan's older brother, is totally evil. He has always hated Stefan, and they have been rivals all their lives. Of course, they fight over Katherine, and then Elena. I did find some traces of Julian, the villain of Smith's The Forbidden Game, in Damon, whose love for Elena is entirely based on her physical beauty, as well as the strength Stefan has already perceived.  Julian, in contrast, is fiercely attracted not only to Jenny's outer beauty, but to her goodness, as well.

The flashback scenes in the first book, The Awakening, are fascinating.  To me, they are one of the strengths of this book.  The dialogues in which Stefan, Damon, and Katherine enact their love triangle are full of barely suppressed tension that finally erupts climactically, leading to tragedy.  Stefan will carry the guilt for this tragedy throughout the centuries, and the feud between the two brothers seems destined never to end.

The plot in the two books is very well handled, with plenty of suspense and very scary moments.  Bonnie, who is a reluctant psychic, provides an unexpected foil for the pervading, oppressive atmosphere with her constant, humorous references to druid lore.  There is plenty of bad weather, created by the powerful Damon, and this appropriately contributes to the gloomy tone of several crucial scenes in the story, mirroring the characters' inner confusion and turmoil.

The one thing I felt could have been depicted more realistically was the romance between Elena and Stefan.  They fall in love much too quickly.  True, they both realize, when they first touch, that they're soulmates, but there really should have been a more gradual buildup to this realization.

In conclusion, I would have to say that I prefer the Night World series, although The Awakening  and The Struggle are also page turners.

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