Some innocence was lost in L.J. Smith’s story about the vampire brothers and Elena Gilbert. The sultry scenes between Stefan Salvatore and Elena were easily interpreted as hot make-out moments in the first novel of The Vampire Diaries. But in The Vampire Diaries: The Struggle, L.J. Smith’s second novel in the series, the innocence begins to gray.
Stefan took a backseat role in this second book. His reasoning was to provide Elena Gilbert with the option to desert him and live a normal, happy life – as was so frequently stated in the televised edition of this young adult series by Julie Plec. In addition to this emotional blow to the plotline, the author’s writing style seemed to lack the pristine sense of word choice and adjective use as found in the first novel. Yet these negative attributes were more than compensated for with the proper introduction of Damon Salvatore.
Elena Gilbert no longer walks the halls in the high school of Fell’s Church as the highly regarded “Ice Princess.” Suspicion, accusation, and notoriety are the feelings of her fellow classmates toward her because of her association with Stefan Salvatore. If not for their fellow classmate Tyler Smallwood, their love might have blossomed and become the greatest high school romance of their class. Tyler decided on a different fate for them, after his run-in with Stefan in the first book. He decided to enact his revenge on the couple in the second novel, looping in Caroline Forbes as an essential part to his devious schemes.
Queue in Stefan’s brother Damon Salvatore, also a vampire. Damon is quick to point out to Elena that his last name means “the savior,” especially when he rescued her from being caught in the criminal act of breaking and entering. The attraction between the slightly older brother and the notoriously self-centered, high school girl is undeniable, even to Elena herself. L.J. Smith demonstrates their relationship in this way:
She was falling. She couldn’t help but cling to him as the only solid thing in the rushing world around her. Then he landed, catlike, taking the impact easily.The Vampire Diaries: The Struggle, p. 140
Stefan had done something similar once. But Stefan had not held her this way afterwards, bruisingly close, with his lips almost in contact with hers.
“Think about my proposition,” he said.
She could not move or look away. And this time she knew that it was no Power that he was using, but simply the wildfire attraction between them. It was useless to deny it; her body responded to his. She could feel his breath on her lips.
“I don’t need you for anything,” she told him.
With lies and deceit, Elena kept her relations with Damon from Stefan. She even kept their odd relationship secret from Bonnie and Meredith, who remained true to her regardless of her falling reputation. But lies and secrets can only last for so long, and Elena knew her time with the other brother would eventually reveal itself. The concluding events come together so gloriously well and yet so devastatingly painfully that the book kept me hooked until the end.
As stated in the beginning of this book review, I find the second book to be less than brilliant when compared to the first of The Vampire Diaries series. The heroic deeds of the self-condemning Stefan were sorely missed. We the readers received instead the darker side of vampirism in the form of Damon.
Near the beginning of the novel, Elena acted juvenilely with Stefan – teasing him with her obsession and obvious femineity. This was rather frustrating because I like my heroines to have more substance than what Elena was portraying. Hermione Granger is a strong heroine I can respect, but that’s another story.
Stefan was absent throughout the majority of the book. He was referenced in Elena’s thoughts and speech, but he was essentially hidden throughout the second novel. Stefan and Matt Donavan had an almost brotherly bonding experience, but I’d rather have seen him fighting beside Elena. The story’s heroine instead fought her battles alone.
My complaints of the writing style disappeared when the author began to reveal the true form of Damon Salvatore. Using his vampiric charm, Damon weaseled his way into the hearts of all Elena’s loved ones. With these connections, he eventually found his way into Elena’s own bedroom to receive payment for his good deeds – a heady and sultry scene for certain, but minimized for the sake of the reading audience.
Unlike in the first novel where Damon vividly showed his cruelty toward his brother and his victims, Damon’s cruelty and dangerous nature is more frequently felt than experienced in the second volume. So much as to cause me to question whether Damon is fully bad. Elena wonders this herself, yet comes to no satisfactory conclusion.
Overall, I am still very happy to have bought the entire series before reading the first book. The conclusion to the second novel is way beyond what I could have ever imagined and makes up for some of the flaws I mentioned. New characters other than Damon were introduced and will likely have a part to play in later books, relationships I look forward to learning more about. I’ve left many of the details from the novel out of this review, because I hope my readers will pick up the series for themselves! The story is overwhelmingly gripping, and the third novel looks like it will take on an interesting twist based on the second book’s ending.