Elena Gilbert has returned from the Other Side, and has to relearn how to live amongst humans. She is helped by the love of her life — Stefan Salvatore, a vampire — and her three closest friends. However, evil forces are gathering around Fell’s Church, drawn by the beacon of a returned soul, and Stefan is snatched away from Elena when she needs him most. She has to turn to his dark brother, Damon, for help — never knowing for certain what motivates Damon or whether he has been possessed by the dark forces that want to steal Elena for themselves.
Unfortunately, The Return: Nightfall is a horrific mess of a story. It is a long rambling book — almost 500 pages, which is a great deal longer than any of L.J. Smith’s previous novels — and seems to leap from event to event without any obvious connection. Some of the writing is terrible, and disappointed me greatly because usually Smith’s prose is so very good. I just didn’t understand some of the descriptions Smith used, such as in the following passage:
"Tears pooled in Bonnie’s brown eyes. “I didn’t mean-”
But she didn’t get to finish. Meredith and Elena drew in protectively around her in the solid phalanx of what they called ‘velociraptor sisterhood.’ It meant that anybody messing with one of them was messing with them all."
I honestly didn’t get this reference, and it was mentioned a couple of times through the book — why would anybody refer to themselves as a velociraptor sisterhood? What does that even mean?
There is also a quote from the book which seemed to indicate the way in which L J Smith wrote this novel:
"The knowledge seemed to come moment by moment as she needed it."
It felt as though Smith was never in control of this story — that she was throwing ideas at the pages and hoping they would stick to create a coherent whole. None of her characters are consistent with how they are written in the four previous novels. Sure, on the surface Bonnie is still impetuous and fiery, Meredith cool and collected; but at times they would do something so wildly out of character that it jarred me from the story horrendously.
What made this so disappointing is the fact that during brief periods, the prose still soared in the way I have come to expect from L.J. Smith. When she is on form, I genuinely believe that there is no other YA author who can touch her, but sadly there is very little of that in Nightfall, the below excerpt being a rare exception:
"She had seen him when she was a human girl, and she had defied him and desired him in equal measure, and he had seemed to love her best when she was defying him.
She had seen him when she was a vampire and had been drawn to him with all her being, and he had cared for her as if she were a child.
He was a womaniser, he could be callous, he drifted through his victims’ lives like a chimera, like a catalyst, changing other people while he himself remained unchanging and unchanged..."
In all honesty, I was never sure why Smith revisited The Vampire Diaries after the first three books, which presented an excellent tale with a very natural and moving ending. I could sort of accept book 4, since there was clearly a decent story in place. Book 5 is a step too far, and ensures that I shall not be picking up any further novels in the world of Elena and Stefan. Some authors need to learn to quit while they’re ahead. I recommend pretending that this book doesn’t exist.
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