Review: ‘The Vampire Diaries – The Awakening and The Struggle’ by L.J.Smith

After thoroughly revelling in the success of the CW series, ‘The Vampire Diaries’, I decided it might be worthwhile checking out where it all began:  L.J.Smith’s novels about the school ice queen, Elena Gilbert. And while it was definitely worth investigating, this is definitely vampire-fantasy-cheesiness at its best.

Both the dialogue and the characters are rooted in stock traditions: the tortured brooding soul (Stefan Salvatore), the gorgeously evil demon (Damon Salvatore), the fierce yet beautiful and loveable heroine (Elena Gilbert) and the loyal, compassionate  yet slightly less brave friends (Meredith and Bonnie). Each are used to motivate a compelling story: Elena is torn between two brothers, each representative of good and evil, lightness and dark. The rivalry and Elena’s torn loyalty are the truly fascinating elements of the plot: her division between these two worlds is the motivating factor amidst the often clumsily constructed sentences and typical high school dramas. The construction of Elena and the Salvatore brothers is done particularly well: whilst the brothers become representations, Elena’s struggle between the two potential paths is what stops these from being stereotypical battles. ‘The Struggle’ in particular shows this with Elena’s reluctance to tell Stefan about her encounters with Damon, seemingly to protect him, whilst masking the desire she feels herself compelled to hide for the darker brother. Indeed, the ending of ‘The Struggle’ highlights the ambivalency in Elena’s newly-awakened self heading to protect one of the Salvatore’s, with the hint being that her choice may not be the obvious one.

The problem I’ve faced reading these books is that I’m predisposed to judgments about the characters: Katherine’s innocence was hard to swallow, the passing reference to Klaus in ‘The Awakening’ and Alaric Saltzman’s semi-presence have caused me to be conflicted between what I think their role should be and what they actually are. Obviously, this is my own problem, and when taken for themselves, ‘The Awakening’ and ‘The Struggle’ become increasingly gripping, so much so that I’d definitely consider buying the next in the series to find out what happens to this Elena next.

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