The Vampire Diaries 1-5: The Awakening, The Struggle, The Fury, Dark Reunion and The Return: Nightfall – L.J. Smith
Elena is the undisputed Queen of the School, and can always get any guy she wants–except the mysterious and handsome new boy, Stefan Salvatore. She vows to get him even if it kills them both, but she doesn’t know how very likely that is until Stefan’s troublemaking brother Damon shows up, and life-or-death-or-undeath mayhem ensues. With everything from the familiar vampire lore to Druidic magic and Japanese fox demons, this as-yet-unfinished series follows the exploits of Elena, Stefan, their friends, and all the baddies that haunt the little town of Fell’s Church.
The Vampire Diaries started out with the same old first day of school setting, which I was mentally bemoaning as another Twilight copy until I realized it was published more than ten years prior to the Cullen Craze. Which then led me to wonder if Stephanie Meyer read your first Vampire Diaries book, then went to sleep and had a dream that inspired her to write a book….. You know the story, I’m sure. At any rate, as I started reading, I found the prose slightly less lacking than Stephanie’s, but still in need of a firmer editorial hand. Still, the twists and turns of the story were enough to make me continue, partially because I was traveling and had brought no other books with me. I will admit that I was intrigued enough to soldier through, and somehow found myself at the end of five books that just kept getting more and more…complicated, to put it delicately. I was with you for a while, with Stefan’s tragic past and Damon’s very very hidden secret good heart, and Elena and Stefan’s everlasting love. It was when you started going a little bit ’round the bend that I began to lose faith. You just kept throwing things at me–human death, transition to vampirism, vampire death, returning from death as a glowing, flying, unbearably pure angel-spirit-child-thing, magic invisible wings of redemption and healing, and Japanese kitsune that stuck out like sore thumbs in an established world of European vampire and magic lore.
I mean, okay. I love Buffy, and Joss threw many of those things at me, too. But the difference was that I cared about Buffy, and all the characters surrounding her. I never particularly cared about anyone in the Vampire Diaries–Elena’s the sort of stuck-up bitchy popular girl I always hated in school, and all her friends revolve around her like she’s the sun in the sky. Stefan is a bit like brooding Angel at his most irritating, and Damon is evil but lacks Spike’s rakish charm, let alone his depth. So I hope it’s believable when I say that it’s not the fact that all those things happened that turned me off, but the way they happened, and the people they happened to. I get that you’re trying to create a world in where magic and beasties and such exist, and you’re going gung-ho for the drama, and I even get that you’re trying to branch out into the mythology of other cultures by bringing in the kitsune in the most recent book. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work. The execution just isn’t there to support the huge leaps of fancy that really require the reader to be sticking right with you the whole time. I think if more of the word count was spent making the characters into fully-realized, somewhat likeable people, it would be easier to swallow the crazy plot turns.
Let me say, though, that I think this sort of thing has its place in the world of books. There are plenty of other books I read that I could objectively review just as harshly, but that I adore with unwarranted and enduring fervor. The Vampire Diaries didn’t do it for me the way Twilight did, or even the way Mercedes Lackey or Caroline Cooney or even Joanna Campbell did when I was younger. But that’s just me–it doesn’t mean there aren’t people out there for whom The Vampire Diaries are just the right kind of junk food, and I wouldn’t begrudge them that pleasure. Still, from my perspective, you get a 3.