Vampire Diaries: The Awakening / The Struggle

Vampire Diaries 1 + 2

With the release of Twilight came a boom in popularity for the paranormal romance sub-genre. Its roaring success encouraged many authors to churn out cheap carbon-copies in the hope of making easy money, but also lead to the re-releases of older titles that also focused on forbidden romances between human girls and boys who were far less ordinary.

The original Vampire Diaries first hit the shelves fourteen years before Twilight, though became better known following the release of the TV series of the same name in 2009. The initial series was written by L.J. Smith and consisted of four novels: The Awakening (1991), The Struggle (1991), The Fury (1991) and The Reunion (1992 – titled Dark Reunion in America). In recent years, this original run has been followed by three further trilogies titled The Return Trilogy (2009-11), The Hunters Trilogy (2011-12) and The Salvation Trilogy (2013-14).  For the purpose of today’s review, I will be looking at the first two novels.

Elena Gilbert is used to having things her own way. As the most popular girl in Fell’s Church, she has always been idolised by girls and had her pick of the boys. When she first sets eyes on stunningly handsome Stephan Salvatore, she knows that she must have him. Yet Stephan shows no interest her whatsoever, even going out of his way to keep his distance. For Elena this is unthinkable and it just makes her want him all the more.

Yet what Elena does not realise is Stephan hides a terrible secret. Although he looks like an ordinary teenager, he was actually born in 15th Century Florence and is struggling to resist Elena (who reminds him of his lost love). What Elena also does not realise is that Stephan is not alone. Another figure from his past has also come to Fell’s Church – his brother, Damon. While Stephan is desperate to fit in and live an ordinary life, Damon wants the opposite. He possesses a terrible power that Stephan does not and is intent on using to make Elena into his Dark Queen…

Although it was written long before Twilight and so no accusation of plagiarism can be made, there are a lot of similarities between the two novels. Both focus on the relationship between a human girl and a vampire, largely framed around the two interacting in a high school environment. In both stories the vampire is also stunningly handsome, yet self-loathing – feeding on animals while living in constant fear that he might one day kill a human. Stephan even possesses the ability to read minds – a skill that Edward Cullen also uses to his advantage. If these aspects of Twilight floated your boat then you’re probably going to get a kick out of Vampire Diaries.

I already mentioned in my Twilight review that this kind of story really doesn’t appeal to me. Yet while I can actually understand why people enjoy Twilight so much, I must admit I find it a lot harder to see just what the appeal is within The Awakening.

The plot has some bizarre pacing issues. In part, this is because the novel is only about 200 pages in length and so Smith evidently had to cut some corners in order to set up the relationship between Elena and Stephan within a relatively small word count. Personally, I found these time-skips to be rather jarring. The novel leapt from event to even with little time for character building in between. Stephan and Elena get together and then – BOOM – the novel jumps to a couple of months later with nothing more than a bit of exposition to say that, over this time, they had been slowly drifting apart.

This causes the novel to feel increasingly disjointed. Events are described to us at length, rather than allowing for them to unfold. Because of that, I found that I had a hard time caring about any of the characters. It was almost as though the novel was trying to exposit why I should feel something towards Elena and Stephan rather than giving me any real reason to.

The main problem with this was that I found Elena to be utterly detestable. At the very start of The Awakening, she is established as being a spoiled rich girl. The novel even goes as far as to outright state that she views others, particularly boys, as a means to an end (“Most boys, Elena reflected, were like puppies. Adorable in their place, but expendable”). She is so full of her own self-importance that she would cry if she felt like boys were ignoring her. Over the course of writing reviews for this blog, I’ve spoken about some really strong and well-rounded female leads such as Katniss in The Hunger Games, Saba in Blood Red Road and Candy in Abarat. Elena Gilbert does not make the list.

Other characters in the novel do fair slightly better. Although Stephan and Damon are actually rather uninteresting (despite being vampires), Elena’s school friends all display noticeably different personalities and are actually surprisingly memorable. Although I could not really understand why she would want to be friends with Elena, I did actually grow quite attached to Bonnie – the druid-mad friend with faint psychic abilities. Of all the characters in the novel, she was the only one I actually wanted to see live.

The Awakening does not even end neatly. If taken alone, it just kind of cuts out in mid story and did not offer any degree of closure. It did not even try to round up, ending with Elena standing in a graveyard calling out for Damon. As I was reading from the collected edition this was of less concern for me as I could immediately begin reading The Struggle, but I can only imagine how frustrating that it must have been for people who bought these books as they were originally published.

Fortunately, The Struggle is a much better novel than its precursor. While The Awakening almost exclusively focused on the relationship between Stephan and Elena, this took a backseat in this story to make way for building an actual story. Naturally, the romance still plays a major role (it is a romance novel, after all) but the absence of Stephan for a large portion of the novel gives rise to two separate plot lines – Elena’s avoidance of Damon and her frantic attempts to stop her rivals at school from unveiling evidence that wrongfully implicates Stephan as a murderer. Compared to The Awakening, the plot of The Struggle is interesting and compelling and left me curious as to how it would end.

As all of the characters are also more developed this time around, more time is spent fleshing out the friendship between Elena’s close circle of friends. It was also quite refreshing that the author saw no need to set up a love triangle between Stephan, Damon and Elena. This is a cliché that is very common in paranormal romances and I feared for a while that these two Vampire Diaries novels would go down the same route. Yet fortunately, this never happened. Elena’s love for Stephan remained true, while Damon fulfilled his role as the antagonist.

Even Elena seems like a completely different person in this volume. The stuck up valley girl of The Awakening is now utterly gone and is replaced by someone who is caring and driven in her goal to protect the boy she loves. It was really refreshing to see Elena displaying some positive character traits and I did actually start to like her during this novel. I really hope that she keeps this up and does not revert back to her old ways in future volumes.

Unfortunately, like the first novel, The Struggle has a very disappointing ending. Although it is not quite as jarring, the story still breaks off in mid flow in what can only be described as a cheap attempt to sell more books. It really does frustrate me no end when authors do this. A well written book will sell more books on its own. There’s really no need to stop on a cliff-hanger in an attempt to bribe people to read on.

Anyhow, to summarise, the first novel of the Vampire Diaries was a pretty painful read. It had little by way of story, a horribly dislikeable heroine and an ending that lacked any feeling of closure. However, the second novel is a vast improvement on this. It boasts a much stronger plot and actually begins to develop the characters beyond their initial cardboard personalities. I really hope that the quality continues to improve through the last two instalments of the series.

Vampire Diaries Volume 1: The Awakening and The Struggle can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Vampire Diaries: The Fury / The Reunion | Arkham Reviews
  2. Trackback: Shattered Blue | Arkham Reviews

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