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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The Vampire Diaries: Where did it all go right?

For the past six months, ‘The Vampire Diaries’ has been my drug of choice, with a weekly fix barely being enough to keep me going.

With the finale episode, ‘As I Lay Dying’, airing in the State yesterday, I have to wonder: what is it that makes TVD such a compelling program?

Well let’s start with the basics: characters. Each one remains true to who they are, there are no massively unexpected changes which make you question the skill of the writers. We know Damon has a softer side, just as we know Stefan has been struggling not to be a ruthless killer. Likewise, despite all the insanity, it’s remembered that Elena, Bonnie and Caroline are actually still young girls struggling to find their way in the world, let alone finding it with the added pressures of the supernatural.

Moving on: plot. There has never been a slow moment, and it’s clear that the writers aren’t just hashing this together as they go along. One event leads into another, some events have clearly been set for a shock ending miles in advance (fake curse, anyone?), whilst others are clearly the offspring of all the other shocking moments hearts have been racing to. There’s not been a stilted moment. Releasing Katherine led to discovering the curse, the curse naturally led to Elijah and the big bad Klaus, which has ultimately led to Klaus’ plans for species domination. It’s all been flawlessly sewn together, everything has clearly had a known destination from the start. 

Speaking of Klaus, he’s a testament to the casting. Joseph Morgan is a brilliant kiss-him-or-kill-him character, fitting in perfectly with Daniel Gillies’ Elijah to blend their stories. Likewise, the original cast are brilliant at representing their characters. Elena struggles without becoming whiney or repetitive, Damon’s a jerk without making you want to switch off, Stefan’s a perfect mixture of good trying to overcome evil…The supporting cast have never let them down either, with my personal favourite being Candice Accola, a.k.a. Caroline, who epitomises the abnormality of the events in Mystic Falls. She’s been like a gauge to measure events by: moving from innocent human to confused victim of Katherine struggling to cope with her new life, she’s demonstrated the place of humans and human emotions within this supernatural drama. Talking of Katherine, Nina Dobrev cannot go unpraised for her doppleganger double-act. She switches between the two without compromising our belief that she’s Elena and Katherine, instead of being Elena as Katherine or vice versa. It was a massive risk having one person in two roles, but Nina Dobrev pulled it off to a fabulous effect.

I’m going to have to stop, because I could literally rave about this show for hours. It’s stunning, it’s effects and plotlines are meticulously thought-out to ensure viewers aren’t cheated or thrown in a direction that didn’t suit the story, and the acting is breathtaking. All that’s left to say is, farewell season two and all your troubles…now, roll on series three.