Tuesday 20 April 2010

The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening & The Struggle by L J Smith

I am reviewing the bind-up version of The Vampire Diaries, published by Hodder, which contains the first two books in the series: The Awakening and The Struggle. I will review them jointly rather than providing two separate reviews.

Elena is the ice-blonde queen of the school, admired by girls and boys alike. With her friends, Bonnie and Meredith, she enjoys her status and uses it to snag the most eligible boys. However, Elena always feels as though something is missing. When new boy Stefan starts at the school, she suspects she has found what she is looking for, but Stefan manages to resist her charms. Elena makes a vow with Bonnie and Meredith that she will have Stefan no matter what - little suspecting that he hides a deadly secret. When Stefan's brother Damon arrives on the scene, Elena may be in more trouble than she realises.

(I am actually finding it hard to write a summary of the two books jointly, avoiding spoilers - but that paragraph will have to do!)

I am a big fan of L J Smith's writing, and have enjoyed a number of her books. I did enjoy both The Awakening and The Struggle, but felt that they suffered from a central main character that I actually didn't like too much.

It is my belief that Smith is deliberately writing Elena in this fashion, since the heroines of her other series have been characters I could relate to and found myself admiring them for their integrity, honour and humour. Elena is a hard character to like, at least in these first two books of the series.

She thinks way too much about boys (although this is forgiveable compared to her other faults, especially considering how much I used to think about boys while at school!)

"After all, what was more important than boys? They were the mark of how popular you were, of how beautiful you were. And they could be useful for all sorts of things. Sometimes they were exciting, but usually that didn't last long."

She is completely manipulative when she wants to get her own way.

"Throughout Tanner's lecture on Europe, Elena repeated to herself, 'Hello. I'm Elena Gilbert. I'm on the Senior Welcoming Committee, and I've been assigned to show you around the school. Now, you wouldn't want to get me in trouble, would you, by not letting me do my job?' That last with wide, wistful eyes - but only if he looked like he might try to get out of it."

I disliked her to the point that when one of her friends says the following, I almost cheered and completely agreed!

" 'You only want everybody and everything revolving around Elena Gilbert,' he said bitterly. 'You only want everything you don't have.' "

With this in mind, at the start of the book, I wasn't sure I would like it. And yet the story sucked me in. This is mainly because of the brothers - Stefan and Damon. On the one hand, we have the tortured soul and on the other, the brother who has embraced the darkness. It is a mark of L J Smith's superlative characterisation that I genuinely didn't know which of the brothers I wanted to end up with Elena.

Some of the plot devices are less than realistic (which teacher invites his student over for a evening to get to know them?) and some of the subplots become extremely tired (Elena's lost diary), but at the heart of this book is a love story and the quality of this shines through. Of all the teen writers, I believe that L J Smith captures best how utterly and sweetly in thrall you can be when falling in love for the first time. The burgeoning relationship between Elena and Stefan is impossibly fairytale and yet very realistic (if you disregard the vampire side of things!)

I also like the diary entry method of writing part of the story - it helps to convey the way Elena's feeling, and gets inside her head properly. I enjoyed the switch in point of view over to Stefan - the way he saw Elena was beautifully done, and the flashbacks to his history were entertaining.

In summary, this book has some major faults but I couldn't help but love the central romance. Elena and Stefan are Romeo and Juliet for the MTV generation!

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