Sunday, October 31, 2010
In Which Trai Reviews 'The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening and The Struggle'
The Book: The Vampire Diaries, Volume 1: The Awakening and The Struggle
The Author: L.J. Smith
How I Found It: I read a trilogy of L.J. Smith's when I was 14 and wasn't too huge a fan, but I heard nothing but positive reviews of the Vampire Diaries books. At that time, all of Smith's books are out of print, but now, due to the resurgence of YA paranormal fiction and the popularity of the TV series based on The Vampire Diaries (which I now have plans to watch), all of her books have been reprinted.
The Review: This book is comprised of two separate books, The Awakening and The Struggle. I will try to focus on the strengths and faults of each indiviudally, but the books are so cohesive--really, it's one big, continuous story--that I might just end up evaluating the book as a whole.
I have to start off this review by mentioning that these books have marked similarities to Twilight, although these were out in the 1990s and Twilight only came around in 2005. From what I've read, there was actually a lawsuit--not initiated by L.J. Smith, I think, who says she hasn't read them or seen the movies, but is aware of the similarities. Borders apparently refused to carry both the Twilight books and these books until the lawsuit was settled. I don't know how true this is since I read it on a message board and can't dig up more info, but there are plenty of lists with comparisons between the two out there. There are superficial plot similarities, but I found the characters different in some fundamental ways, and I personally found this story more engaging. (I will put it out there now that I am not a fan of Twilight, as I said in my second-ever blog post.)
The Awakening: Elena Gilbert has just returned to her hometown of Fell's Church, after the death of her parents in France. Living with her unmarried aunt and her baby sister, Elena is trying to readjust to life in her old community. She is the queen of the school and has a circle of friends willing to do whatever she wishes, and she can have any boy she wants--except the new one. His name is Stefan Salvatore, and he is impossibly gorgeous, mysteriously enchanting--and able to resist Elena. Elena makes a vow to have him, stopping at nothing until she gets what she wants.
The atmosphere in the town begins to change as a homeless man is attacked and partly drained of blood, and on the night of the Homecoming dance, one of Elena's classmates is attacked as well. This is the night that Stefan saves Elena from being raped by a drunken classmate, and this is the night when Stefan finally begins to let her in. They begin a relationship, though Stefan still attempts to hide his true nature and darker secrets from her.
I have to say that I liked this first part better than I was expecting. I have read extraordinarily mixed reviews about the series--on the one hand are the readers who read this series when it first came out and have fond memories of it; on the other are the readers of today, who seem to take issue with Elena's character and prefer the show. I will admit that although Elena is self-centered and unlikable until about halfway through the second volume, I found that this is one area where this series triumphed over Twilight, for me. Elena does not sit around and wait to be saved; when she wants something, she goes out and does it. Her friends, Meredith, Bonnie, and Matt, are actually there to support her and help her with these things; they are not simply window dressings in order to put more human characters in the story. Even if Elena sometimes needs help from the vampires in order to get what she needs, she almost always makes a valiant effort of her own first.
I also enjoyed this book a bit more than the second half because of one primary difference--Damon. If you've seen any summaries of the show at all, and even the summary on the back of this book, it plays up the love triangle aspect between Elena, Stefan, and Stefan's evil older brother, Damon. Damon actually is not a huge player in this first part; he comes in very late. Though every other reader and viewer seems to fawn over Damon, I found myself much more in love with Stefan and who he was trying to be for Elena. I guess I'm just not one for the bad boys! Stefan does lay on the tortured-hero a bit too thick at times, but he genuinely cares about Elena and has a reason for wanting to protect her from himself. I really enjoyed seeing their relationship (although Elena does fall in love rather too quickly for my tastes; I do so wish we could change this whole trend of "I see you and now I'm in love!" in YA).
This book sustains the action and mystery very well, as the events in Fell's Church become weirder and scarier. I'd advise that it's best to read the whole book all at once, as each book ends on a cliffhanger and it really is one continuous story. Which leads us into my as-spoiler-free-as-possible review of...
The Struggle: Damon is in Fell's Church and wreaking havoc among its citizens. Stefan has disappeared and so has Elena's diary, in which she wrote all about Stefan and his secret. After she and her friends find Stefan, pages with excerpts from Elena's diary are slowly posted around the school, and Elena finds herself desperate to retrieve it, while trying to do so without Stefan knowing.
The one person who can help her is the one person she does not want to help--Damon. Determined to possess her after what he views as Stefan's betrayal centuries ago, he offers Elena a deal: a few drops of her blood in return for him retrieving her diary. When Elena refuses, Damon works harder than ever to enter her mind and heart, trying to draw her away from Stefan. Time is running out before the contents of Elena's diary will be publicized all around town, and Elena finds herself struggling between Damon's offer and her loyalty to Stefan.
I felt that this half did an admirable job of reforming Elena's character from the self-centered ice queen into the girl who, while still harboring some selfish impulses, wants to be someone more. She is forced to recognize how selfish she has been and that she wants to be someone worthy of Stefan's ideals about honor and love. We don't see all that much of her relationship here, as it is more focused on her efforts to fight Damon and get him to leave her and her friends alone.
I have to admit that I really don't understand what makes certain readers attracted to Damon. I actually have to give Smith a lot of credit for creating such a polarizing character--some think he's just a bad boy waiting to be saved; I happen to think he's a complete monster. Not only is he responsible for murders and attacks over centuries (Stefan drinks only from animals, whereas Damon goes for human blood), he goes so far as to threaten to harm Elena's four-year-old sister if she doesn't obey him! He has no remorse and won't stop until he gets his way, and even if he comes off as over-the-top, his presence still felt genuinely threatening to Elena, Stefan, and the town at large.
So it's my opinion that what's going on between Elena, Stefan, and Damon isn't really a love triangle, because Stefan and Elena are the only ones in love! We never get any indication that Damon wants her for any reason other than to have her, period, and use that to screw over Stefan. He basically attempts to seduce Elena through mind games and manipulation, whereas Elena actively pursued Stefan and there is interest on both sides. I do feel that the marketing for this is somewhat misleading, as there is no love on Damon's side, just a really, really big sense of foreboding and menace.
All in all, though I know the series itself garners mixed opinions, it is worth it to give this one to teens looking for bigger books (the two books combined clock in at 494 pages) that have in interest in vampire fiction, and who might be interested to see an early example of the craze. For anyone concerned about romantic content, there's just some kissing that leads to blood-drinking (glossed over in short paragraphs, not described in great detail), although there's some pretty scary things going on, so I'd recommend this one to maybe 15 and up, unless you feel a younger child could handle it. Happy Halloween, everyone, and happy reading!